Why I think every Canadian active in the struggle for Palestinian human rights should read this new book


I’m not recommending this amazing book by one of Israel’s most famous writers because I think you will like it. You almost certainly won’t. Nor did I.

But it is getting talked about. And has received quite a bit of press. Michael Enright seemed to like it in his interview with Shavit on CBC’s Sunday Morning on April 13th. . And Steve Paikin appeared so taken with Shavit that he didn’t even ask any difficult questions of him on TVO’s The Agenda. More on that later.

No, I thought Alex Kane’s review article in Mondoweiss entitled “Liberal schizophrenia and moral myopia” was right on the money. http://mondoweiss.net/2014/04/liberal-schizophrenia-promised.html

Shavit is so devoted to liberal Zionism that he excuses ethnic cleansing, a war crime, because it enabled the Jewish state”. – Alex Kane

Despite all that however, I learned a lot from reading the book’s 17 chapters, each dealing with different aspects of Israel.

I got an insight into:

  • the early Zionists who came to Palestine at the turn of the century
  • the early history of Israel (the kibbutz movement) and how they saw themselves as pioneers (and how little the Palestinians entered into their consciousness)
  • how the Israeli nuclear bomb program was developed
  • the mindset of an ostensibly “liberal” Israeli who does his military service listening to Palestinians being tortured in a prison in Gaza
  • the creeping admission by some Israelis that something terribly, terribly shocking was done by Jews to the Palestinians in 1948.
  • the incredible blindspot of a Liberal Zionist who is so committed to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, that he can almost completely rationalize and minimize the Nakba and its horrible consequences.

One chapter, entitled “Lydda, 1948” is an amazingly frank recounting of just one of several massacres of Palestinian civilians carried out by Zionist forces in 1948. (It was reprinted in the October edition of the New Yorker and caused quite a stir in the liberal Jewish community.) Astoundingly for any liberal Canadian, after a searing description of the gruesome Lydda massacre, for example, Shavit ends up saying it was all justified.

I will not damn the brigade commander and the military governor. On the contrary. If need be, I’ll stand by the damned. Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the State of Israel would not have been born. (…) They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people (…) to live. – Shavit

Many Canadians are still so impressed by those liberal Zionists who fiercely criticize the occupation of 1967, that they forget that they are still Zionists. (Enright and Paiken, for example, seemed to buy Shavit’s line that he was “on the left” because he wanted peace and is “opposed to the ’67 occupation”). But like many liberal Zionists, Shavit stands completely behind and defends the destruction of Palestinian civilization in 1948 as a justified act. And he chooses to all but ignore the fact that the NAKBA continues today for 5 million Palestinians locked in refugee camps around Israel’s borders.

“ We had to kill the Indians in order to birth America – but it was worth it”, wryly commented a Palestinian Canadian friend.

The book is a powerful insight into liberal Zionism. It should be read by all Canadian activists for Palestinian human rights, and in particular those who are still tempted (or who know people who are still tempted) by the idea that the main problem with Israel started with the occupation in 1967 and can be resolved by ending the occupation.


  1. Readers might be interested in this landmark interview which Ari Shavit conducted with Benny Morris, the first of the “new Israeli historians,” in 2004. In it, Morris justifies the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, bemoans the fact that the job was left unfinished and hints at more ethnic cleansing in the future. See “Survival of the fittest” at http://www.haaretz.com/survival-of-the-fittest-1.61345 and http://www.haaretz.com/survival-of-the-fittest-cont-1.61341

  2. I think you are right about Shavit and his book. More recently, he wrote an article in Haaretz explaining why Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He may be a liberal Zionist, but he’s not very liberal. But I do want to ask: what then is a liberal Zionist? You write “like many liberal Zionists, Shavit stands completely behind and defends the destruction of Palestinian civilization in 1948 as a justified act.” “Many liberal Zionists.” So presumably some liberal Zionists don’t. You write” “The book is a powerful insight into liberal Zionism.” Rather it seems to give powerful insight into a particular not-very-liberal Zionist. Or it gives insight into the contradictions people live with. I would ask: What would be a practical, non-liberal Zionist approach to Palestinian refugees? Does support for the two-state solution make one a liberal Zionist? Is being a liberal Zionist necessarily a bad thing?

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