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33 of 45 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars SPOILT BY POLITICAL PROPAGANDA, 14 Oct. 2010
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This review is from: The Finkler Question (Hardcover)
I think I should start by declaring an interest. I am a member of the Executive Committee of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, which seems to be one of the groups that Jacobson is targeting in "The Finkler Question". I think the novel is well-written and at times entertaining. But I agree with an earlier reviewer (TomCat) that the sections about the "ASHamed Jews" (which are actually a major part of the book, though many reviewers don't mention them) are crude political propaganda - which is surely very detrimental to a work of fiction - rather than satire. Of course I am biased against the novel, but it is such blatant political propaganda that it calls for a political response.

First: all these groups, including anti-Zionist groups such as JAZ (Jews Against Zionism) (JfJfP is not an anti-Zionist group) reject entirely the label imposed on us by Jacobson that we feel "ashamed" of being Jewish - on the contrary, we are asserting a universalist and prophetic Jewish identity of which we are proud and which this book repudiates. Instead, Jacobson retreats into tribal paranoia. The extreme paranoia about antisemitism in Britain, and the exploitation of the accusation of antisemitism in order to deflect criticism of Israel, are themselves worthy of satire.

I think true satire should contain some compassion and understanding for the characters, rather than the over-the-top fantasising in which Jacobson indulges. For instance, there's a founder-member of the ASHamed Jews who is obsessed with the fact that he is circumcised and spends his whole life sitting naked on a chair pulling at what remains of his foreskin in an attempt to lengthen it - he does this all morning and then spends the rest of the day posting written accounts and photos of his efforts on his blog. And the caricatures of real people result in one-dimensional, cardboard characters.

The book can be very inconsistent and illogical. At one point two non-Jewish characters are discussing the "ASHamed Jews" in a very puzzled way, asking why Jews living in Britain should be ashamed of Israel's actions, which have nothing to do with them - then later on, at an "ASHamed Jews" meeting, Finkler objects to the idea of a boycott of Israel, saying Israel is their "family" - "Whoever boycotted his own family?". So here it is clear that Jews ARE very much associated with Israel.

Against the background of Operation Cast Lead, the author writes of Finkler (with evident approval) "Gaza didn't do it for him" and (again with authorial approval; indeed Finkler stops being a character and becomes a mouthpiece for Jacobson's political views) Finkler doesn't understand why Israel's response is called "disproportionate". (According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, in Gaza 762 civilians and 330 combatants were killed - these figures exclude 248 police officers; 13 Israelis were killed, including four civilians.) I've recently been reading "The Punishment of Gaza", by the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy - a book containing articles expressing his anguish over the atrocities committed during Cast Lead; and to read Jacobson after that is truly appalling. I suggest that everyone who has lauded this novel reads Gideon Levy's book. As I've said above, if a novelist decides to spoil his novel by including large chunks of political propaganda, then he issues an open invitation for his work to be judged in political terms.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 42 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Oct 2010 23:00:36 BDT
G. Hanson says:
What a shrill and ridiculously reactionary review! You're seeing propaganda because you want to see propaganda, because you're part of an organisation with passionate viewpoints and spend much of your life searching for propaganda to challenge it.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2010 05:10:37 BDT
Brim says:
Absolutely right G.

Posted on 15 Oct 2010 17:18:36 BDT
L. Landau says:
I am so glad I am not the only person who finds the political views expressed through Finkler to be reactionary and illogical. Great to hear from someone who does have an interest in rational debate about Israel.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2010 17:31:38 BDT
G. Hanson, if it isn't propaganda, why is David Hirsh, who runs the Engage website, parading Jacobson's Booker prize as a political victory for Engage against groups like IJV and JfJfP?

For a good description of Engage, see this article by Ran Greenstein, which Hirsh himself has posted on Engage:

Engage like to make out that they are liberal and "critical of the occupation" etc etc., but in fact, as Ran Greenstein points out, they serve as "useful idiots" for Israeli state propaganda. Jacobson is a typical Engagenik and is putting forward Engage propaganda in "The Finkler Question". Look at this article by Jacobson, written in January 2009, during the brutal and unnecessary onslaught on Gaza, in which he says that, though the attack was not right or wise, "Israel could not have done other than it is doing". Exactly the same outlook comes out in the novel.

Look at this paragraph:

"we have no imagination of catastrophe as ovewhelmingly beyond and above us, of suffering and sorrow as inevitable or foreordained, determined by the discordant music of the planets, or in the giving and withholding of the gods. We do not, or we will not grasp that there exist differences which are eternal and intractable, needs that will never be satisfied or reconciled. Someone is always to blame in our understanding of human affairs, some politician, some social group, some country. "

This is just a way of absolving Israel from blame. Why protest or demonstrate against Israel? It is just the usual tragedy of life.....

Thinking it over, I think a novel written by a talented right wing Zionist who included political propaganda in a straightforward way in his book would be less flawed. I would disagree with it completely but might be able to appreciate it as a novel. The distasteful quality of "The Finkler Question" derives mostly from the falsity and dishonesty of its underlying political message.


In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2010 17:32:48 BDT
Many thanks, peacenik.


In reply to an earlier post on 19 Oct 2010 02:01:23 BDT
I'm grateful to Deborah Maccoby for the link to Ran Greenstein's article, which was a response to one by Prof Robert Fine. By the way, it can be read here where Fine responds, and then Greenstein replies to Fine's response. I thought Greenstein's article was amongst the very best I've read in favour of an academic boycott of Israel (which is not to say that I'm yet convinced that such a boycott is justified). His article is long and detailed, but the following extracts appealed to me especially:

" ... Why indeed single Israel out? First, we must recognize that Israeli state institutions are in fact not singled out at all. Can Fine really be unaware that his country and its allies have been boycotting the Hamas government in Gaza (and for decades had boycotted the PLO), have collaborated with sanctions campaigns at various times against Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Serbia, North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe and various other 'hostile' countries, have invoked international human rights legislation to prosecute political leaders and have used military force on a massive scale against some of these countries? None of these steps have been used against Israel. With the exception of few feeble legal enquiries, almost always opposed by the UK and the USA, Israeli war crimes and violations of human rights have gone unpunished. If Israel has been 'singled out' in this respect, it has been for a privileged treatment. ... "

" ... Having said that, there is an important point implied in Fine's article. To make the most of the potential educational value of the academic boycott campaign it must not become a punitive and externally imposed measure. Rather, it should be a step towards forging international links of solidarity and activism with Israeli and Palestinian progressive academics. Ideally it would help create a counterweight to the increasing pressure from right-wing forces that seek to silence critical voices at Israeli universities, including BGU.

"This may be the most important contribution of the campaign: to side with those fighting for change from within. Local activists in Israel/Palestine are subject to enormous pressure internally, and the only way they could sustain a campaign for change is by maintaining a constant exchange of information, solidarity, and a flow of moral and material assistance from the outside. It is only through such a dialogue that the campaign can move forward. ..."

Dr Brian Robinson

Posted on 19 Oct 2010 23:47:11 BDT
books! says:
Good review of this travesty.

..and if you feel like getting sick, read Jacobson's remarks in the UK Independent.

In short, Jacobson is a vile racist, a putrid writer and embarrassment to Jewish people everywhere.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2010 00:25:05 BDT
I don't think this sort of language is helpful, at least it's not helpful if you really want to help Palestinians. Play the ball, not the man. And your pseudonym is dodgy in the extreme.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2010 00:34:29 BDT
books! says:

Dodgy? How so?

In Jacobson's own public diatribes, he goes on about the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment in the UK following the Gaza massacre. In other words, he admits that Jews are--as a group-- being associated with Israel's policies and that this association has generated widespread revulsion and contempt.

Play the ball and not the man? That would surely be much easier if a clear distinction could be made. Rather, Jacobson's fiction and his public political statements and writings are entirely of a piece. In both cases, what we are treated to are racist polemics--only the genre is different.

Posted on 20 Oct 2010 00:41:25 BDT
books! says:
What we ought to be asking is why, out of the trillions of fascinating novels floating around, this piece of drivel, by a self-professed throwback to the 19th Century ("I'm a Jewish Jane Austen") wins the Man Booker at the same time that Nicole Krauss, another frothing Zionist with yet another book about Jewish suffering, Jewish angst, the rootless, misunderstood, wandering Jews, is on the cusp of winning the National Book Award.

Call me a conspiracy theorist. This stuff doesn't happen by accident.
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