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Jewish novelist Michael Chabon rails against fictional ‘occupation’

Michael Chabon at a book-signing. Credit: Charlie Reiman via Wikimedia Commons.
Michael Chabon at a book-signing. Credit: Charlie Reiman via Wikimedia Commons.

By Stephen M. Flatow/JNS.org

As a novelist, Michael Chabon has a vivid imagination. One of his novels centers around a world in which there is no state of Israel, only a large Jewish refuge in Alaska. Chabon’s imagination was on full display last week, when he toured Israel and denounced an “occupation” that exists only in his mind.

Together with other American Jewish critics of Israel, Chabon visited Hebron. Afterwards, he told The Forward that “the occupation [is] the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life.” Now keep in mind that 80 percent of Hebron is occupied by the Palestinian Authority. But for some reason, Chabon is concerned only about the 20 percent controlled by Israel.

The Israeli military presence in that small part of the city is necessary for one simple reason: Hebron’s Arabs have a long history of massacring their Jewish neighbors. Evidently, that reality does not trouble the visiting novelist. No, somehow the fact that Israeli soldiers protect the city’s handful of Jewish residents is—to quote Chabon—“the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life.” That tells me only that Chabon, like many pampered prize-winning novelists, has not seen many injustices.

Chabon’s knowledge of Middle East history is likewise brimming with fiction. He explained to The Forward that he first began criticizing Israel during the 1982 Lebanon War, when he was “reading about the massacres in the refugee camps. I was like, wait, Israel? Is that what they are doing?”

Well, no, Michael, that was not what “they” were doing. It was what the Lebanese Christians were doing. No sane person ever accused Israel of perpetrating massacres in Lebanon; the most Israel was accused of was failing to foresee that the Christians might wreak vengeance on their enemies. Of course, it’s all too easy for a novelist sitting in the comfort and safety of the United States to demand that Israel adhere to absurdly unrealistic standards of behavior.

Chabon also told his interviewer that he visited the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which is inhabited mostly by Arabs. Jews are “illegally taking over houses and these people are fighting for their neighborhood…[American Jewish donations are] going to support the takeover of Silwan.”

You would think a writer would be a little more careful about his choice of words. Chabon’s language reminds me of white racists in the 1970s who were “fighting for their neighborhoods” against African-Americans who were supposedly trying to “take over.” Sorry, Mr. Chabon, but there is nothing “illegal” about Jews purchasing houses in a mostly Arab area, any more than there is anything wrong with African-Americans purchasing houses in a mostly white area. It’s called integration. Welcome to the 21st century, Michael Chabon. South African apartheid is gone and Arab apartheid deserves the same fate.

Chabon mentioned in the interview that he is co-editing a book of essays “marking 50 years of Israeli occupation.” Bookstores should place it on the fiction shelves. Israel stopped occupying the Palestinians back in 1995, when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin pulled Israel’s forces out of the cities where 98 percent of the Palestinians reside. It is only in the minds of purveyors of fiction such as Michael Chabon that Israel is still “occupying” them.

Chabon’s own essay in the book concerns one Sam Bahour, “a Palestinian-American businessman who moved to Ramallah to build the Palestinian economy in the wake of the Oslo peace accords, only to watch the Israeli occupation deepen around him.” Fascinating! Ramallah is the capital of the Palestinian Authority regime. There are no Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. Yet somehow Sam Bahour, in Ramallah, is “watching the Israeli occupation deepen around him.” Now that requires a powerful imagination indeed.

Michael Chabon is a talented novelist. Unfortunately, it seems that when the subject is Israel, he has trouble separating fiction from reality.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

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