At her book launch, Olson’s Indian ancestry gives hasbara-ist opening to use U.S. ethnic-cleansing excuse

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On Thursday night, I went to the book launch event for Pamela Olson’s memoir Fast Times in Palestine at the New School. For quite a while now, I’ve thought Pamela was going to become a star—young, smart, and cool and self-confident with a microphone in her hands. And for the issue of the Mideast, an exotically-unusual background: small town girl from Oklahoma, who would find herself spending several years in Israeli-occupied Palestine in the years after 9/11. The small town girl confronting big worldly, potentially dangerous experience-–whether in the city, or abroad, is one of the most classic of American literary themes—even as there are fewer small towns to come from. One large question would seem to be who will play Olson in the movie version?

But here the subject matter is Israel/Palestine so the usual bets are off. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) the book didn’t get a large publisher, though this is likely far less important with the publishing industry in upheaval. 

The launch drew about a hundred people. Olson read and answered questions posed by a Palestinian-American woman whose name I didn’t get (having arrived a few minutes late.) The book, which has been excerpted here, is a nuanced account of unique experience, and seems perhaps most of all testament to the Palestinian people’s remarkable capacity to endure and struggle against a sophisticated system designed to squeeze the life out of them.

A few interesting points came up in the audience question period. Olson had mentioned her great-grandmother who is an American Indian, and was talking a bit about Oklahoma, and the culture of Christian Zionism. And then a guy in the audience, young, American accent, mentioned that he was from Oklahoma too, and talked of the culture of land grabbing and settlement.

That gave an opening for a hasbara guy, who raised his hand to say that when Americans forcibly dislocated the Cherokees in the 1820’s, Jews had nothing whatever to do with it. He then went to praise Israel’s settlement of post-1948 Jewish refugees from Arab countries (an exodus which Israel hardly discouraged, seeking to bring as many Jews as possible into the country as a national goal) and added that Olson had not said anything the King Hussein’s war against the Palestinians in the Black September period, and why was that? Why hadn’t she written a pro-Israel book after her years on the West Bank? 

I wonder what really motivates these hasbara outbursts. Is going to contending events and interrupting with irrelevant questions job training to acquire a paid position, or is something young right wing Zionists really enjoy doing? Or do they think it’s persuasive? Anyway, he was given a polite answer and we moved on.

But the American Indian parallel is becoming a new anchor of Lkudnik argumentation: what right do you Americans have to lecture us about ethnic cleansing? You would assume that Israelis would recognize the weakness of an argument based on the premise that if evil was done in the past, it’s then totally alright to do it again to someone else, but evidently not.

I had to leave Olson’s event for a dinner before chatting with her, but quickly bought a book to give to my dining partners. I hope many do the same.

About Scott McConnell

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of the American Conservative. The former editorial page editor of The New York Post, he has written for Fortune, The New Criterion, National Review, Commentary and many other publications.

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