A few weeks ago, I picked up a book at a bookshop in Leichhardt with the curious title of “Israel vs Utopia” – by Joel Schalit.  Over the last weekend, I completed the book and found its various insights worth reading.

I was reminded that just as there was an upturn in leftist anti-Israel sentiment in the early 70’s with the end of the Vietnam war, so was there an upturn in anti-Israel sentiment in the late 80’s after the collapse of South African apartheid. .. that “the energy that had been bound up with efforts to undermine the South African government from afar was suddenly free to be redirected” .. suggesting that the changing circumstances were more of an important influence than any specific change in the Israel-Palestine conflict itself…  Schalit also provides background to Carter and the “apartheid label”.

To my surprise, Schalit spends time seriously discussing the meaning of one of my favourite movies Don’t mess with the Zohan including writing that “While dishing out punches, Sandler captures the existential condition of the average American who, in the wake of 9/11, suddenly realized that the world could no longer be kept at a distance”

He also provides an unusual perspective about conversations in San Francisco about whether a store will boycott Israeli products and states “While many Jews find themselves enraged by the very idea that the staff of an independent grocery store would vote on a boycott – “who do they think they are, the government?” a friend asked me afterward – they would profit by exploring what inspired such actions.  The fetishization of Israel, which has increased in both frequency and intensity since 9/11, testifies principally to the frustration Americans feel at being excluded from decision-making at home”

and adds that the concept that “All politics is local” helps explain “why it seemed natural for the Rainbow Grocery’s staff to be discussing a boycott of Israeli goods without the slightest concern that such an action might appear hypocritical” … “and they were doing so without wringing their hands about the racial politics of San Francisco, including the fact that the projects on the other side of the hill hold one of the city’s largest concentrations of poor African-Americans”.

Ultimately, a major disappointment of Schalit’s book is that he seems to attribute the failure of Israel-Palestinian peacemaking entirely to Israel;  the inability of the Palestinians to make a deal with Israel is ignored. It reminds me of a cartoon where all you see is one person throwing punches – only in the last frame do you appreciate that the cartoonist has failed to show that the opponent has also been throwing punches.

A link to Schalit’s blog is here – he is currently living in Germany.. and to some critiques of the book, which was published in 2009… looking at links from Schalit’s blog, I am pleased to not miss this news item about Andy  Borowitz where Saudi Media fall for Obama Muslim Joke 

And finally, a Wikipedia reminder of Utopia.  Aah!

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2 thoughts on “Utopia?

  1. Agreeing on the merits of Zohan is an important connection, Joel. Good luck with your book.
    Just last week, a Muslim work colleague of mine was telling me and others in the lunch room how much he enjoyed Zohan. I must take in my DVD copy to lend to other colleagues.
    An illustration of Zohan’s relevance also occurred today – a Sydney radio interviewee said that Australian soldiers in Afganistan are frustrated by an army legal regulation that results in them having to free Afganistanis before they have the opportunity to obtain intelligence from them. The policy, which the soldiers call “catch and release” was one of the complaints that Zohan had; after his great effort to catch terrorists, they were released by the Israelis soon after.
    One other anecdote in “Israel vs Utopia” that resonated with me was the contrast between how an Israeli living in California was able to have a pleasant exchange with an Arab at a restaurant, yet was then verbally assaulted by a U.S. woman who had recently returned from a few months in Hebron. It reminded me of a previous blog item about Khaled Abu Toameh – http://localhost:8888/jca/?p=1620 where he found some students on US campuses to be more aggressively anti-Israel than Arabs that he talked to in the West Bank. As the Persian saying goes “The bowl shouldn’t be hotter than the soup”