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Simon Myerson "Simon Myerson" (UK)

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The Establishment: And how they get away with it
The Establishment: And how they get away with it
by Owen Jones
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who Knows?, 4 Sept. 2014
Given that the book is published today, it is astonishing how many people have reviewed it without reading it. Jones has asked for support online. That's fine, if perhaps a touch desperate. I'm sure he didn't ask his supporters to mislead and it is concerning that so many have. The likelihood is that the book is reasonable to mediocre (like most of Jones' writing) but the publicity will presumably be helpful to sales.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 4, 2014 4:38 PM BST


The Invention of the Jewish People
The Invention of the Jewish People
by Shlomo Sand
Edition: Hardcover

21 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Missing the Point, 22 Feb. 2010
Rather unhappily, those who approve of the politics behind this book give it high ratings - and vice versa.

The reality is that the first 2/3 of the book comprises reasonably well-expressed historiography which follows modern approaches to the Bible. That is to say that myths must be 'false' if they aren't 'true'. The proposition that myths are the result of stories retold and retold does not get much of a look in. So this part of the book isn't much more than a rehash of what has gone before. If it is new to you then it will be interesting, although the author's style is academic.

Then we get a long exposition of conversion and exile. Again, not much is new. The Talmud dealt with the numbers of converts by saying that converts were the descendants of the 'mixed multitude' which left Egypt with the Hebrews and then faded away. Those whose ancestors had genuinely identified with the Torah found their way back. The idea does not have to be taken literally to demonstrate the point that converts were 'adopted' by the religious establishment on religious grounds.

The difficulty is that the author again adopts an 'either/or' approach without discussing whether racial identity needs to be premised upon genetics. Logically, over thousands of years, genetic identity is diluted. Yet that does not stop people from England claiming to be English - and no one is running around with a syringe to see, via a quick blood test, if they were once actually Norman. Sand's problem is that he is reluctant to acknowledge religion as a common background. That is a nonsensical position to adopt - if you are assessing how people class themselves during the last 2,000 years, as Sand does, then religion is a key component. There isn't much point in having a debate in which modern notions of identity are forced on people who wouldn't recognise them at all.

The reason for this stance appears in the last third of the book in which Sand seeks to establish the proposition that Zionism is founded on a fiction. But that's a nonsense. Zionism appeared, like most other national movements, as a response to a need for group identity based on common goals and a shared history. Why that goal has to grow out of 'race' is beyond me. It didn't in Italy, although to an extent it did in Germany. It certainly didn't in the USSR. There is no reason why religious identity, particularly in a religion which idealises life in Israel, should not form the basis of a national identity. That certainly leads to issues which need to be sorted out: but whether triumphantly proclaiming that Jews are mistaken is going to assist in that is doubtful, at best. The reality is that - whether descended from Arabs, Khazars, Judeans or Christians - Jews overwhelmingly identify with Israel as their country. Sand clearly wishes that they wouldn't - as apparently do all too many of those who love this book.

The highpoint of this argument comes when Sand seeks to establish that Palestinians were once Jews. In so doing he sets up a choice which he does (and can't) acknowledge. If the Palestinians are therefore entitled to the land, is it on the basis of blood? And yet if, as Sand would clearly have it, blood is no basis for claiming a right to the land, then why on earth shouldn't the Jews be entitled to it on the basis of their religious and secular - although religiously derived - beliefs?

The answer to that question is entirely political and depends on your views about lots of other things. To pretend that this book adds anything to that question hints disquietingly at casting about for a stick with which to beat the Zionists. That is hardly new, and nor is the unwillingness of those who do so to admit it - although it may, at least, be a faint acknowledgement that treating Jews differently is wrong, even when you are calling them Zionists. Without the daft argument this would have been a better book. With it the sales go up.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 31, 2012 10:48 AM BST


The Question of Zion
The Question of Zion
by Jacqueline Rose
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 41 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Psycobabble, 28 Jan. 2007
This review is from: The Question of Zion (Hardcover)
Rose uses her skills to argue her case. That is certainly true. Her case is that Israel is so evil that its academics should be boycotted. That is so even though they have as much influence on government policy as she does on Blair and Brown.

Underlying such a call is a mind already made up and impervious to contrary argument. To take one example - Zionism did not trample on the rights of Palestinians. Rose says it did. She is wrong. Firstly, the Zionists bought land. That is only a problem if you don't want certain types of people to buy land. It seems to be a problem for Rose. Secondly, the Palesinians did not have any rights. They were the peasant class of a corrupt leadership. Thirdly, whatever discrimination and prejudice there is in Israel (plenty) it is a land in which people are free to come and go. Plenty of Jews have left Arab countries - forced out - and western countries - willingly. But very few Israeli Arabs leave for the life of luxury they could doubtless expect in Syria or Saudi Arabia.

It isn't that all of this escapes Rose. It's that she doesn't want to think it through. Like a number of academics who write books on topics which are outside their specialist area she thinks that because the University pays her salary she must be clever. But to write a good book on this topic you also have to be fearless, challenging of your own fixed opinions, able to change your mind, and reflective. Perhaps that's why it's a bad book.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 25, 2009 3:04 PM BST


The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land, Updated in 2008 for the 60th Anniversary of Israel
The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land, Updated in 2008 for the 60th Anniversary of Israel
by Donna Rosenthal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reality, 28 Nov. 2006
Focussing on the lives of real people with their hopes and dreams, fears and prejudices, and loves and hates makes a genuine contribution to understanding. Too many people view Israelis as "Zionists" or "Jews" instaed of as people. This is a huge step forward towards balance. And it is beautifully written and consequently, easy to read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 31, 2012 11:54 AM BST


Orthodox Judaism in Britain Since 1913: An Ideology Forsaken
Orthodox Judaism in Britain Since 1913: An Ideology Forsaken
by Miri Freud-Kandel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.95

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuinely thought-provoking, 18 Nov. 2006
This is an excellent book. It isn't quite what it says, because the analysis of the Chief-Rabbinate of Jakobovits is skimpy, but it is a real contribution to both history and debate. It is intensely thought-provoking: so much so that the questions thrown up by the book will hopefully provide a sequel (at least if Dr Freud-Kandel ever checks her reviews on Amazon).

The essential thesis is that a strong Chief Rabbi (Hertz) promoted genuine modern orthodoxy, albeit without managing to put in place the Jewish education necessary to underpin his ideology. Thereafter, a combination of a resentful lay-leadership and a religiously aggressive Beth Din spoilt the project. There is full coverage of the Jacobs affair.

The author defines modern-orthodoxy as an orthodoxy which recognises that it has something to learn from non-Jewish culture. I would have welcomed more discussion about this, especially as the author contends that SR Hirsch supported such an outlook initially. A case study (perhaps the treatment of women?) would add context and concrete example to the argument, but this is carping because it suggests another book. I also wondered whether there was an eliding of the distinction between what people thought and what people did. That I do not believe that the current text comes as dictated on Sinai does not mean that I don't think I have to eat kosher and wear tefillin.

The author is also clearly in favour of Hertzian orthodoxy and, if I have a criticism, it is that the reader would find it helpful to know precisely where the author stands. This is not unmediated history - the author comments that "During the Chief Rabbinates of Brodie and Jakabovits ... the value of intellectual engagement was callously undermined" - and so the basis from which the author proceeds would provide useful context for the reader.

But ultimately this book is a serious (and well-written) contribution to a serious debate. In the author's view, Minhag Anglia is not a quaint way of being Jewish in the UK which can be ignored everywhere else. It is, rather, a genuine and inclusive modern orthodoxy. If that is so - and the case is well made - then the subject is not simply important - it is critical. Buy this and see what you think.


The Politics of Anti-Semitism
The Politics of Anti-Semitism
by Alexander Cockburn
Edition: Paperback

9 of 74 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unpleasant, 30 Oct. 2006
If you want justification for criticism of Israel and reassurance that it isn't wrong to do so then you MUST buy this book.

But why should anyone need reassurance...?

This book would be immeasurably improved if a single contributor could find the empathy to acknowledge that the vast majority of Jews today express their Judaism in diverse ways with a common demoninator - Zionism. With that in mind an attack on Israel is an attack on Jews.

It should be obvious that there is a distinction between Judaism and Israel - and an attack on one is not an attack on the other. So, hey presto, no anti-semitism here! But that's just a cheap confidence trick.

The real issue is that, uncomfortable for these authors as it might be, there is little distinction between JEWS and Israel. And, if you accept as most people of goodwill do these days, that the oppressed define their own oppression, then an attack on one is an attack on the other. This book doesn't even acknowledge the argument. It's creepy.

PS - the other reviewer refers to the lack of "loyalty" of citizens of the US who support Israel but who aren't Israeli. That should tell you everything you need to know... Jews as 5th columnists/rootless cosmopolitans. That stuff is old - and dangerous.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 12, 2014 5:27 AM GMT


51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis
51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis
by Lenni Brenner
Edition: Hardcover

22 of 98 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars More of the Same, 4 May 2006
Brenner has a thesis, which proceeds from the conclusion he wants to find - namely that Zionism is evil. What better way to establish the fact than to link the Zionists with the Nazis?

There are 3 concerns about this book:

1. The proposition is plainly likely to be offensive to many people, not least the children and grandchildren of those who died. Now, offensiveness is not a reason to be silent. But it IS a reason for sensitivity. There is little of that discernible (to this reviewer at least) in this book. The problem is that a neutral version of the controversy Brenner posits would be sensitive: if there is no axe to be ground one would expect sympathy and empathy. The lack of it suggests the purpose is not neutral examination, but polemic.

2. Context is key. These were times so dark as to be almost unimaginable - certainly by comfortable (smug?) western liberals. There is little context to be found here. There is no real examination of the proposition that sometimes one has to reach accomodation with evil to achieve a greater good. Children got out of Nazi Germany because Zionists talked to Eichmann - who would refuse to talk in such circumstances? Brenner believes in guilt by association and tries to butress that belief with quotes which lack context. The result is not a contribution to historical debate - it is skewed history which relies for its effect on the ignorance and prejudices of its readers.

3. There is no attempt to look at what else Zionism is and was. Even if one grants Brenner's thesis, the debate is sterile. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was an avowed supporter of Hitler - against the British as well as the Jews. Does that make Jordan an illegitimate state? Simply to state the problem in this way demonstrates the intellectual paucity of Brenner's reasoning. Zionism, like it or not, has provided a homeland for people who no one would take in. Yes, that was arguably at the expense of other people. But in that case the debate is about hard choices. Brenner would rather the choice was easy - again that seems to be because he has an answer already and the problem is to phrase the question to give that answer. It's poor stuff.

Ultimately this book says no more than "this boy can't be nice because he mixes with other nasty boys". That is an argument most often heard, and best confined to, the school playground. Grownups will look elsewhere for real debate and argument.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 29, 2016 1:52 PM BST


Genesis: The Beginning of Desire
Genesis: The Beginning of Desire
by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh Wow, 18 Jan. 2006
This is hard going in some ways, because the author's ideas are so expansive that describing them in words is difficult. But, if you can read it (and I found that reviewing it together with the biblical section was a big help) it is amazing.
The book combines a traditional respect for past commentators with something genuinely new and gained from exposure to western civilization, culture and thought. If you ever wondered whether traditional Jewish approaches could live in the 21st century then read this.
The other thing that is so impressive is the way that biblical characters are discussed as if they did really exist, with thoughts and emotions that they must have experienced but with which the Bible doesn't deal.
The only note of criticism is that Ms Zornberg does like to drop her names. It seemed clear to me that she was well read and had thought intelligently about her reading. Telling us who she's quoting from (and sometimes it looks like the more obscure/intellectual the better) is an unnecessary distraction and slightly aggravating.
But I'm carping. This is well, well, worth buying and reading. The author should get some thanks for writing it.


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