Tom Segev

Derisionist History

Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations By Avi Shlaim (Verso, 392 pp., $34.95) Avi Shlaim burst upon the scene of Middle Eastern history in 1988, with the publication of Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine. Before that, as a young lecturer at Reading University in England, he had produced two books, British Foreign Secretaries Since 1945 (1977) and The United States and the Berlin Blockade, 1948–1949 (1983), and several revealing essays on modern Middle Eastern historical issues in academic journals.

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Deep Denial

Toughened by their frontier ethos, steeled by serial wars, Israelis are not prone to flattery. Most, in fact, eschew using the closest equivalent to the Hebrew word for flattery--chanupa--in favor of the derisive Yiddish-derivative, firgun. An Israeli joke holds that the word, slashed by a red diagonal line, graces the exit from Ben-Gurion Airport, together with the warning, "You are now entering a Firgun Free Zone." Not surprisingly, then, several Israeli commentators reacted unflatteringly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

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Hope's Mistakes

  Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages By Jonathan Elukin (Princeton University Press, 193 pp., $24.95)  ALL HISTORIES have their sorrows,but those of Jewish history are more studied than most. The chronicles of Israel’s sufferings—the groaning under Pharaoh in Exodus, the Lamentations over lost Jerusalem, Isaiah’s consolations for her captivity—have helped the countless faithful of numerous religions explain God’s puzzling tendency to afflict his followers on earth.

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A History of Modern Palestine:One Land, Two PeoplesBy Ilan Pappe (Cambridge University Press, 333 pp., $22) Ilan Pappe and I walked a stretch together in uneasy companionship, but we have now parted ways. In the late 1980s and early 1990s we belonged to a group dubbed the "New Historians" of Israel, which also included Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev. This group, contrary to the conspiratorial image projected by our critics, was never a close-knit or monolithic school of intellectuals who plotted together around the table at Friday-night meals. Some of us barely knew one another.

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