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71 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding and full of insights: a 'must read', 3 Oct 2009
This review is from: A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem With Israel (Hardcover)
No-one who takes even the slightest interest in the world around them can have failed to notice the poisonous nature of some - on occasion, much - of the discourse about Israel from people whom the spin doctors call `opinion leaders'. Here are just two examples (both of which are too recent to be mentioned by Robin Shepherd). In August a number of public figures criticised the award by Barack Obama of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, the former Irish President, because she had presided over the UN's Durban Conference against Racism in 2001 which gave a platform to some profoundly antisemitic comments by some NGOs. Robinson's response was not to defend her record but to bizarrely accuse her critics of `bullying': "There's a lot of bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community." Ben Bradshaw - then a UK Health Minister - said much the same thing in January "Israel has a long reputation of bullying the BBC... The BBC has been cowed by this persistent and relentless pressure, and they should stand up to it." He was rewarded by Gordon Brown with promotion to the Cabinet, as the Culture Minister.

Both these statements are patently ridiculous and defamatory. The word `bullying' implies the successful use of force upon a weaker person to achieve an unjustified result. What `force' is it that `elements of the Jewish Community' used on Mary Robinson (and on Desmond Tutu who she also mentioned)? And did Israel surround Broadcasting House with tanks?

As Robin Shepherd correctly observes, such statements speak volumes about what he calls the `pathology' of Europe and nothing about the Middle East: "I mean, even when Israel deserves censure, even when there are good grounds for protesting at Israeli behaviour, isn't it blindingly obvious that the use of ridiculous and defamatory analogies with Nazism or apartheid, the repetition of entirely distorted renditions of the historical context, and the making of casual and reflexive denunciations of criminality gives Israel a free pass to ignore all criticisms, including the reasonable ones? Which school of political campaigning did these people go to?"

Robin Shepherd is eminently well qualified to discuss the reasons for the degradation of Israel discourse in Europe. He is now Director of International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society. Previously he was in charge of the Europe programme at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He speaks Russian, French, Slovak and Czech and has also served as Moscow Bureau Chief for The Times. As I wrote in the Jerusalem Post (1 August) Shepherd "has paid a price professionally as a result of calling for a more sober and less hysterical approach to Israel. Having written an op-ed on the subject in The Times in January 2008, he was subjected to fierce intimidation from the powers-that-be at Chatham House. It eventually led to his departure."

For those of us who have watched with growing disbelief the spread of anti-Israel falsehoods and misrepresentation from the fringe into parts of the mainstream in Europe, Shepherd's book strikes many chords. His key insight is that the atrophy process says little about Israel or the Palestinians - but everything about Europe.

Shepherd observes that `multiculturalism' has resulted in Europe throwing out the baby - the preparedness to defend liberal democracy and other Western cultural norms - with the bathwater - the colonies and the primacy of the nation state. The atmosphere is "depressingly anti-intellectual". "Denial is the order of the day. ... Belief has given way to relativism; passion to apathy; resolve to appeasement." This makes Europe the virtual antithesis of Israel, the democracy under fire which has a national religious culture. Europe is - for the moment - able to "dissemble about the true nature of Islamist terrorism" whereas Israel "has no choice but to confront it". Europe is contemptuous of using military power to defend liberal democracy but "for Israel it is an existential necessity".

The book is full of other insights as well, for example about the roots of the opposition to Israel post-1967 in what Shepherd calls the `radical Left'. With the realisation that the Western proletariat was not going to be an instrument for change, attention turned to liberation movements outside the West - for example, the PLO. Israel was simply `on the wrong side of the barricades'. I also found Shepherd's taxonomy of antisemitism very useful. He divides it into the `subjective' and the `objective'. The former applies to those who hate Jews and use Jewish manifestations - most obviously, Israel - to express that bigotry. The latter refers to the `object of attack' and describes instances of antisemitism where the perpetrator does not hate Jews but comes to the same irrational and bigoted conclusions as the former.

The final chapter is entitled "Contagion: Is America Next?" Shepherd enumerates the reasons why the quality of the Israel discourse in the US has not deteriorated to the same extent as in Europe, though warns that it could. Having seen Walt and Mearsheimer present their appalling apology for a book (`The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy) at Chatham House - where Shepherd was employed until only recently - one surely has to be alive to the risks.
Robin Shepherd has written a profoundly important book. It is hard to think of anyone who would not take something from it: those interested in international affairs certainly but also policymakers, legislators and those working in the field of community cohesion. It is beautifully written with many examples to support the thesis, but not so many as to draw attention away from the thesis. The research is meticulous with every reference sourced.

Many times in the book Shepherd laments the `anti-intellectual' quality of much of the discourse in Europe about Israel.

His book is the antithesis of that.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Dec 2009 01:31:49 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Dec 2009 01:35:02 GMT
S Wood says:
The two examples you cite in your initial paragraph are hardly examples of comments of a "poisonous nature" - it's widely - and quite reasonably - appreciated that there is a vocal Zionist lobby that wages campaigns against figures in the public eye who do not meet the exacting standards expected of that lobby. The use of Nazism is a rarity and not one that I would use, and is much more frequently - in my experience - wielded by supporters of Israel rather than opponents. That people who have been on the recieving end of Israeli aggresssion should use the term is understandable, and on occasion there are acts that bear similarities to those carried out by Nazis. The use of the analogy for apartheid on the other hand is fairly reasonable, two colonial states with a secondary other in their midsts, one has to only look at the increasing Bantustanisation (bit of a mouthfull but an accurate reflection) of the West Bank over the last few decades. I think the use of the term is a bit kind to the Israeli State, the level of violence they have used against the Palestinians (F-16's, Tanks, etc) is in excess of that used by Apartheid era South Africa.

Sounds like a book to be avoided from your review, for example "The book is full of other insights as well, for example about the roots of the opposition to Israel post-1967 in what Shepherd calls the `radical Left'. With the realisation that the Western proletariat was not going to be an instrument for change, attention turned to liberation movements outside the West - for example, the PLO. Israel was simply `on the wrong side of the barricades'." - that sounds like the sort of thing a few right-wing zionists might dream up in the pub after a few swallies, hardly of profound importance - even at the time. And, that hoary old assertion would be appear to have been summoned up for this book, ie. anti-Zionism=anti-Semitism: forgive me if I yawn. An "important book" - seems rather unlikely.

Posted on 16 Jan 2010 17:13:12 GMT
S Wood's comment sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Who are these customers who don't think his post adds to the discussion?

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jan 2010 19:26:26 GMT
S Wood says:
Oh thats nothing Eggball, I've had 40+ negative votes on comments, lists, reviews in one day though I suspect I've gradually accumulated the negative votes here. Nothing is also what they have to say. The only thing really novel about Shephereds effort is that he translates views and "analysis" that have been rife in the United States discourse into a European context for a British audience.

Posted on 3 Mar 2010 19:58:36 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Mar 2010 20:00:21 GMT
MNL says:
I found D.Stevenson's review to be aligned with my own view of the book. Robin Shepherd is lucky that for him the world is black and white rather than the many shades of grey in the world in which I live. I find it hard to understand that anyone can view the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians which has stretched over 90 years and decide that every action taken by one side (in this case the Israelis) is completely justified.
Shepherd's obsession with opinion formers, is also strange. I can see no evidence whatsoever that European governments i.e. the people really in charge rather than the 'opinion formers', have taken anything on board that these opinion formers allegedly spout. There are no sanctions against Israel, there is nothing more than mild condemnation when hundreds of civilians are being killed, there is no Navy escort for boats bringing food and essential supplies to Gaza, trade continues, there are no votes against in the UN, when Israeli hit squads use British, Irish passport in the execution of a Palestinian there is nothing more than a 'stern rebuke' and a week later the ambassador is having lunch with ministers, the list goes on. What exactly is the effect of these opinion formers? Whose opinion are they forming? Who are they?

The other problem I have is that authors like Shepherd can never imagine that people just disapprove of or criticize actions as they see them. They always have to be 'hating' Israel or 'hysterical' or have an ulterior motive. Plenty of people react to the situation and don't care what happened in the previous 90 years. When I see tanks crushing students in China I instinctively feel that is wrong, when British soldiers kill 14 civilians in Derry on a peace march, I instinctively feel that is wrong, when the IRA or Palestinian terrorists explode bombs in public areas I instinctively feel that is wrong and when the Israelis demolish large areas of Gaza killing hundreds of civilians I instinctively feel that is wrong. This doesn't make me an anti-Semite or a hater of Israel or a staunch supporter of Hamas because I criticise the Israeli government's actions.

I think Shepherd needs to get out more and mix less with intellectuals to get a more balanced perspective on life. The biggest opinion formers in the UK are probably the Sun and Star tabloids, and I would image Israel rarely gets a mention. The average European rarely gives two thoughts to anything happening beyond their personal horizon.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Mar 2010 20:42:42 GMT
MNL your view is aligned with D.Stevenson's because you're the same person (S Wood).

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Aug 2010 02:57:44 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 Sep 2010 21:57:55 BDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Sep 2010 03:19:58 BDT
A. Campbell says:
To: C.W. Bradbury

There is a major error in your first sentence. Jews had been returning to Palestine well before the Second World War. Under the Turks prior to 1914 10% of the population of Palestine were Jews. Immigration from Russia had begun earnest in the 1880s, but substantial communities of religious jews, especially in jerusalem had been living in Palestine before that - the Baedeker guide to Jerusalem from the 1850s puts the population of Jews there as over 50,000, almost a majority of thr city's population at that time. By World War Two the jewish population was over half a million. The story is complicated further in that the Arab population of Palestine also grew by immigration in the inter-war period, as the revival of the economy attracted Arab settlers from the surrounding territories. There was a major immigration of Jews into Israel following the declrataion of the State in 1948, but it came from not from Europe but from the Arab world - Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Iraq etc. (in all the analogies with apartheid, it is often forgotten that a majority of Israelu jews are of non-European origin). Finally it is an exaggeration to say, as many have done, that the Jews were absent from the country for two thousand years. Jews were scattered after the revolts against Rome in the first and second centuries, but there was a Jewish presence in the country throughout much of the period since them. Apart from Jerusalem, in which which the Jewish quarter of the Old City existed over many centuries, there were other communities such as the religious community at Safed, which was a centre of Jewish cabbalistic learning during the Middle Ages.

a campbell

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Sep 2010 11:31:42 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Sep 2010 13:13:30 BDT
Thank you for your very useful addition to our discussion Mr Campbell. You are of course completely accurate in what you say, but these earlier movements, despite their scale; were basically individual in character; the post 1945 influx was very different. Much larger numbers of Jewish settlers arrived, no longer regarding their new homeland as anything but the independent State of Israel, with an Israeli Government, Israeli army, legal administration etc....

This was a completely new and disasterous situation for the Arab natives, whose claim to Palestine is age-old and indisputable. Some Palestinians alive today being direct genetic descendants of the very Philistine's originally disposessed by Moses and his followers in Bible times. For confirmation of this, see Nat Geographic DVD, Quest for the Phoenicians.

As we watch ever deepening Arab/Israeli hatreds poison international relations today, I am ever more concerned about the ultimate effects this blatent diplomatic injustice will eventually inflict on the entire world.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Nov 2010 16:56:25 GMT
Yes, of course the Palestinians have descended from the Phonecians.. ops I mean the Philistines. We know this thanks to palaeontologists (who, by race, also connected to the Philistines via a little known peoples, paediatricians). Lol

Posted on 6 Nov 2010 10:20:40 GMT
Thank you S Wood for the negative vote on my previous comment. You can always bet on negative votes appearing almost instantaneously wherever S Wood is concerned.
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