The Guardian has recently given the American author Cynthia Ozick a platform, following the shortlisting of her novel Foreign Bodies for the 2012 Orange prize for excellence in fiction written by women. This is the writer who declared in a Wall Street Journal 2003 op-ed titled, “What does the ‘Palestinian nation’ offer the world?” that
‘the Palestinians have invented a society unlike any other, where hatred trumps bread. They have reared children unlike any other children, removed from ordinary norms and behaviors.’
This ‘cultural grotesquerie’ amounted to an ‘orgiastic deluge of fanaticism and death’, she maintained.
For the leftwing newspaper’s series, ‘My hero‘ last week, Ozick lauds George Eliot as ‘a novelist who did not eschew politics or polemics’ and adds that ‘John Blackwood, Eliot’s publisher, was unforgiving towards her Jewish and Zionist themes, as he saw them, evolving in Daniel Deronda’. Over at the Irish Left Review, Raymond Deane reminds us that Edward Said wrote in The Question of Palestine ‘that by paying no attention to the effect Zionism would have on those people already living in Palestine “Eliot is no different from other European apostles of sympathy, humanity, and understanding for whom noble sentiments were either left behind in Europe, or made programmatically inapplicable outside Europe.” … There is no echo of such a critique in Ozick’s encomium to the novel,’ and Deane argues that this ‘blinkered advocacy needs to be read in the context of earlier articles by Ozick.’
Cynthia Ozick has kept up her polemic against Palestinians and their supporters since the publication of the 2003 WSJ piece. In one piece she legitimises the IDF’s targeting of Palestinian civilian homes in Gaza by saying they are ‘weapons depots’, as Deane notes:
In a 2006 review of the play My Name is Rachel Corrie (based on the diaries and letters of a young American activist crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer) she refers to “the culpable Palestinian origins of the current fighting” and “the brutal cynicism of Rachel Corrie’s handlers, eager, for propaganda value, to bait bulldozers and tanks with the lives of their young recruits.” Corrie’s engagement with the oppressed is described as “slumming” and her espousal of Gandhian ideals dismissed as “neo-Marxist paraphernalia and hate-America jargon” (for a celebrated novelist, Ozick writes execrable prose). The play itself is “a show trial. And there are Jews in the dock.”
Elsewhere, a reviewer of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, finding herself the subject of a nasty attack by Ozick that ‘constituted an embarrassing and unedifying spectacle’, wrote “In the past, I’ve been moved by Ozick’s work and respect her considerable literary gifts. This piece, however, had the shrill, defensive tone of an abuser attacking the victim who brings an abuse to light.”
The quality of Cynthia Ozick’s literary prose is not at question here, but her vocal anti-Arab sentiment is surely worthy of at least a question in homages such as this. ‘One would hardly suggest that Ozick should be excluded from consideration from the Orange or any other literary prize because of her repulsive views’, continues Deane:
What is astonishing is that (to the best of this writer’s knowledge) not one single media outlet has raised the issue of Ozick’s anti-Palestinian racism. What this tells us, once again, is that such vile attitudes are not deemed worthy of mention when mere Palestinians are their object. One would hardly imagine that the anti-Semitic historian David Irving would be deemed an acceptable candidate for the Wolfson History Prize, but the vilification of Palestinians and the negation of their history that are Ozick’s ideological stock-in-trade raise no critical eyebrows.
Phil wrote up Ozick’s contribution to the CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) 2007 conference on fighting “Jewish defamers of Israel”: ‘Cynthia Ozick went on and on about Michael Lerner in a meanspirited way, saying that he dropped out of the Jewish Theological Seminary and wound up at Naropa. Who cares?’ Exactly. And why should a novelist who is also an openly ethnocentric polemicist be regarded with such reverence by progressive media outlets?