Another Stellar Essay from Jessica Apple

Jessica Apple has another must-read essay up on the Nextbook site.

Here are the opening paragraphs:

As a child in Houston, safe within the miniature shtetl of my grandparents’ bayou-side home, I never felt my life was in danger because I was Jewish. I felt comfortable as a Jewish Texan and could easily have waved a Texas flag which bore a Star of David instead of the Lone Star. But more than ten years ago, by the time I decided to move to Israel, I knew Jewish had trumped Texan. Now I’m the mother of two Israeli-born sons, Tom and Guy, and I’m astounded, because last month during Pesach they cornered me and asked me if I’m really Jewish. “But you don’t know anything,” Tom told me after the Seder. “You just make up the words to the songs.” Then Guy added, “And you never went to the army. And you don’t even know how old Israel is going to be.”

“Sixty,” I said.

“No,” Guy said. “Fifty-ten. After fifty-nine comes fifty-ten.”

On Israel’s fifty-tenth birthday, from the window of our Tel Aviv apartment, the boys and I watched the Israeli Air Force flex its muscles with a celebratory air show. Tom and Guy saw a few planes swooping over the Mediterranean and then went back to something more interesting—their Sony PlayStation. I’d been curious to see Tom’s reaction to Independence Day, since the message he’d brought home from school after two months of back-to-back holiday studies had surprised me. After learning about Purim, Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Memorial Day, this is what Tom said: “Everybody wants to kill us. Haman, Pharaoh, Hitler, Arabs. Everybody wants to kill us.”

I can’t tell Tom he’s wrong. I do make up the words to songs in Hebrew (and in English). And I can’t lie to him and tell him that no one wants to kill Jews, nor do I want to diminish the suffering of our ancestors. But I had the notion that living in Israel I’d be passing on Jewish history and tradition to my children without the paranoia and fear my grandparents so expertly passed on to me.

Read the rest here.

More About That Other N-word

Today I found myself on a college campus, in the departmental offices for an academic area that essentially combines elements of ethnic studies and regional studies. The only identifying detail I’ll add is that the department is not one that focuses on Middle Eastern studies, Islamic studies, or anything similar.

Nonetheless, on a bulletin board devoted to editorials and articles directly related to the department’s focus, I found another item. With the falsely academic title of “Nakbah 101,” this small poster purported to instruct newcomers on the essentials of that subject, complete with explanations on “why Israel is a racist state” and “how the US contributes to the continuing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.” Toward the end there were tips on “what you can do” to “help.”

Alone in the hallway (save, perhaps, for a surveillance camera), I didn’t need anyone to tell me what to do. I removed the poster from the bulletin board. I was angry, yes. But I was also proud of my small, silent act of protest.

The New York Times and Another N-word

Last Sunday the New York Times provided a package of four articles on Israel, ostensibly to mark the country’s 60th birthday. I didn’t blog about the articles then, and maybe I should have.

But on the other hand, in this week’s Jewish Week Jonathan Mark has done such an impressive job tying all four pieces together–with some other commentary on how Israel is portrayed in the international press–that you’re probably better off reading his views than mine.

It’s not that I agree completely with Mark–I wouldn’t come down quite so hard on Jeffrey Goldberg, for instance, but then Goldberg has probably earned my eternal approval with his book, Prisoners. But Mark sure points out a lot of things worth noting. For instance, on the matter of Elias Khoury’s piece on Israel as “nakba”:

Sophisticated readers of the Times are by now so familiar with the idea that Israel’s birth is someone else’s “catastrophe” (nakba in Arabic) that nakba needn’t be translated anymore when it appears in a headline.

The Times considers the use of [Barack] Obama’s middle name, or the mention of his father’s religion, to be an unacceptable “smear,” but somehow it is not toxic or an unacceptable smear to allow nakba, with all its implications, to be used in a headline about the Jewish state. Racism is as real as Khoury’s anti-Zionism but on Martin Luther King day the Times wouldn’t give a segregationist a column to explain why civil rights was a “catastrophe,” with that other n-word in the headline.

Of course, nakba is used casually in the Arab world an in academic, just as that other n-word was once used casually in Alabama, and now nakba is normalized; Israel can reasonably be seen as catastrophic. If you’re charting Israel’s delegitiization, chart this: The Times, from 1948-1970, never used nakba once; it’s been used 40 times since 1998.

To read Mark’s full text, click here.

This Week In Jerusalem

Somewhat belatedly, I’m reading all about the first International Writers Festival in Jerusalem, which took place this past Monday-Thursday (May 12-15). And I’m wishing I’d been there.

You can read some of the press coverage here, here, and, in tandem with coverage of a similar event taking place to celebrate Palestinian literature, here.

Of course, all “boycott” talk I’ve found so far has to do with urges to boycott the Israeli-planned festival, not the Palestinian one (and I’m not going to do the proponents of that cause any favors by linking to anything explaining their “reasoning”). It seems that Nadine Gordimer, in particular, was the target of appeals urging her to cancel her participation. Kudos to Ms. Gordimer for resisting the pressure.