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Ayelet Waldman is going to change the American Jewish relationship to Israel

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The writer Ayelet Waldman and her husband novelist Michael Chabon have gotten a lot of attention for their outcry against the occupation in the Israeli pressthe English press, the anti-Zionist pressthe Iranian press, and the Zionist press. But they haven’t gotten much attention from the US mainstream. That is sure to change.

Haaretz has published a big piece on their forthcoming book project about the occupation. “The power couple of American literature wants to save Israel from itself. ” Waldman and Chabon have enlisted a group of “world-famous writers to document life under occupation.”

In that article, Waldman says things about Israel that for an American Jew are combative and rare. Born in Israel, she went back there for a writers’ festival in 2014 and needed to see the occupation for her conscience’s sake. She went on a Breaking the Silence tour of Hebron. And what she saw with her own eyes changed her life:

“I thought I’d see a few miserable people, a few settlers, some pressure between them and the Palestinians,” she recalls now (speaking Hebrew). “But when I got to Hebron, I went into shock. Literally. Totally. I couldn’t believe it. To see a road on which I was allowed to travel because I am a Jew and hold an Israeli passport, and opposite me a person who lives there and whose family has lived there for generations but who is forbidden to set foot on that road – that was a shock to me. I returned brokenhearted and furious. That evening I said that I would never come back here again, that I couldn’t understand how people can stand to live here.”

Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman

Here are more quotes from the bestselling writer in Haaretz:

“A war has two sides, but the occupation doesn’t have two sides. There is occupier and there are the occupied, and this book will be about the people who are occupied… We didn’t talk to the settlers in Susya. Why? Because that’s a false dichotomy. There’s a village whose homes were stolen and there are the thieves. I’m not interested in the thieves.
“Bibi Netanyahu has the biggest stage in the world. He spoke before a joint session of Congress in the United States – that is unheard of… If the day comes when Bibi feels that his voice isn’t heard, like he doesn’t have enough of a spokesperson, he can come to me and I will write a book for him, an entire book. I promise to make his silenced words heard. But Nasser, the father of unfortunate children in Susya whose house has been demolished time and again – Nasser has no stage, he has no way to get people to listen to his story. So we will be his stage in the form of this book. We will tell his story.”

Waldman is a liberal Jew who has done what liberal American Jews do, stuck up for prisoners and women and other causes. And the news here is: If you saw what I saw in the occupation, your life would change. Look at the picture Haaretz runs with the article– above–  of Palestinians waiting at the checkpoint to go to their jobs.

Waldman is saying, This is going on in the name of Jews, and it blew my mind. This is what the Palestinians’ life is like– because of Jews! She is not “anti Israel” like a lot of the people that say the things she says. But she shows no deference to any of the pro Israel shibboleths. She talks about Israel the way it is without anger or hyperbole. Almost matter of fact about the situation in Israel and American Jews. You can’t read her without knowing it’s honest on her part.

Chabon makes it clear that their book won’t allow people to escape to the minutia and nuance of every aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or an argument about two states or one state. Because this is simple: “It’s about human rights that are guaranteed.” Chabon:

You know what that means, and you know what you would not accept for yourself in terms of treatment. And you know that means the right to decent housing, freedom of movement, access to water, the right to earn a livelihood for your family, education. You just need to say to yourself: Are Palestinians getting all these things? And the answer is obvious: They’re not getting any of them.

It’s pretty obvious what needs to be done, and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether you have a right be here, if they have a right to be here, how are we both going to be here at the same time? All those questions that everyone is always talking about and fighting over – they’re irrelevant to this. This is about human rights, freedom, civil rights, civil liberties, all of those things. That’s what has to happen first, before anything else.

This is a big deal. Think about this book that’s coming out in a year. And think about the poor Israel propagandists. They will have to smear the contributors of that book as they tried to smear Waldman when this story first came out: all these moral busybodies who went to the occupied territory to call attention to what the world is ignoring. They will have to twist what they’re doing into something unholy and hate filled and anti Jewish. Who is going to be on the propagandists’ side of the defamation of Waldman and Chabon?

This book coming out in a year will be an important moment in the liberal American Jewish relationship with Israel. Chabon and Waldman, serious people who Jews are proud of, who they have naches [pride] from. And suddenly they are going to have to think of them as…. what? Self hating Jews? As the enemy?
Or as truth-tellers?
Yakov Hirsch

Yakov Hirsch is a professional poker player and a writer. His twitter handle is @Yakovhirsch and his articles are posted at

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10 Responses

  1. pabelmont on June 4, 2016, 8:04 pm

    Yakov, I don’t know how you relate to this upcoming book as “a professional poker player” or as “a Jew” (as I suppose). It would seem that neither “as” is needed since you can report “as” a human being. And I hope Americans who see this book — and the reviewer at NYT ! — will likewise review it “as” human beings.

    The problem in the mainstream USA, as also in Israel I should think. is that these two societies (not Americans generally, but the American mainstream corporatist media and policy-political elite exemplified by the Clinton candidacy) are devoted, convinced militarist-imperialist-interventionists; and the governing Jewish elite in Israel and perhaps most of the Jewish people of Israel as well are likewise devoted, convinced militarist-imperialist-interventionists [as shown in 1948 and 1967 and by the wars into Lebanon and Gaza most recently and the great popularity of settlement and land confiscation]. And people who hold these views, particularly in doctrinaire fashion, will be loathe to approve of a book which seeks to challenge the correctness of this world-view, even when limited to Israel’s exemplification of it.

    For all these reasons I doubt the book will get a fair review in NYT or on NPR. But one may hope, for there are some signs that the times are a-changing and even stalwarts such as NYT and NPR may, perchance, notice these changes and approve of them sufficiently to review this book.

    Who knows? Perhaps this book will receive the same degree of favorable notice in the USA that “From Time Immemorial” (Peters) once did. Perhaps Max Blumenthal will be a contributer and reeive favorable notice! We may always hope.

  2. Mooser on June 4, 2016, 8:44 pm

    A year is a long time.

  3. ritzl on June 4, 2016, 10:40 pm

    I hope she does her book tour with a Palestinian author from the West Bank or Gaza. I’m sure some are worthy.

  4. JLewisDickerson on June 5, 2016, 3:20 am

    RE: “Who is going to be on the propagandists’ side of the defamation of Waldman and Chabon?” ~ Yakov Hirsch

    I CAN’T RESIST: My money is on Dershowitz. Any takers out there?

    • Mooser on June 5, 2016, 12:11 pm

      “My money is on Dershowitz.”

      My money is on “no book”. In about a year.

      • MHughes976 on June 5, 2016, 4:09 pm

        Mine too. The Power Couple make some good points eloquently, for which thanks are due, but the liberal Zionist mists may close around them. A mind that is blown by discovering the segregated road system has not really been concentrating on the problem and may not start now.

      • ritzl on June 5, 2016, 7:59 pm

        I think I agree. Her conversion seemed almost too easy and/or abrupt. Maybe even flighty or trendy. But trendy is good. It implies a trend.

        Calender marked.

  5. Kay24 on June 5, 2016, 10:57 am

    Zakaria just interviewed Airbnb’s Nathan Blecharczyk, and oops he forgot to ask about the homes rented out in squatter lands. Zakaria has failed, but his bosses are happy.

  6. dahnjeff on June 6, 2016, 4:12 am

    I’d preorder the book if I could. I’m afraid the Zionists will kill it before it ever gets published.

  7. Andrew5 on June 7, 2016, 7:56 am

    Another “liberal zionist” outraged at the Occupation but in denial of the source of this Atrocity.
    Zionism i.e. a colonial-settler state based on a religious and ethnic orthodoxy founded through the brutal displacement and dispossession of non-jewish Palestinians.

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