The Evil Review of Books

John Rentoul

cov3505 221x300 The Evil Review of BooksThe London Review of Books pretends to be a sophisticated intellectual journal that publishes fine writing, often at some length. Which, some of the time, it does. It also publishes some appalling so-called leftist tosh, such as Mary Beard writing that America “had it coming” on 9/11, and it is rigidly anti-Israel.

That is because it is owned and edited by the evil Mary-Kay Wilmers, who deserves the description not just because her name is an anagram of Cruella de Vil. Boyd Tonkin’s brilliant profile of her in The Independent recently explains why, although he would never use such crude language:

When it comes to global politics, Wilmers has steered the journal into a dispiriting backwater of left-liberal academic orthodoxy. On the Middle East, it speaks with a single – and, by its foes, well-documented – party-line voice of blanket hostility towards Israel (for Wilmers, “a mendacious state”). She says that the Palestinian scholar-activist Edward Said “converted” her to this animosity. Yet her LRB lacks Said’s scathing, even-handed scorn for all the region’s terrible regimes. Neither do you find there much echo of the faith in the liberating, unifying power of art that led Said and his friend Daniel Barenboim to bring together Israeli and Arab musicians in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

In November 2011, the LRB published a mammoth essay by North Africa specialist Hugh Roberts: the sort of political blockbuster that under Wilmers often eats up space for books. It not only trounced Western intervention in Libya – fair enough – but in effect sought to rehabilitate the country’s defeated tyrant. In a dignified response, Libyan novelist Hisham Matar – who lost his own dissident father to Gaddafi’s death camps – noted that “with an air of ethnocentric contempt”, Roberts “disregards the will of the Libyan people”. The Western leftist expert, armed with a one-size-fits-all theory, outranks the suffering citizen of any nation run by thugs who spout radical platitudes to gratify the ageing class‑of-68 in the Senior Common Room: the LRB at its worst.

But if it is invective you want, try Howard Jacobson in Saturday’s Independent:

Let’s ask a few questions, if you are wondering why I call it intolerance, about what Mary-Kay Wilmers might mean when she labels Israel “a mendacious state”, for it’s unusual to charge a country, rather than the people who happen to be running it at any particular time, with habitual lying. Would it make any sense to accuse the LRB of mendacity, regardless of its editorship, and if I were to do so, what would be my meaning? That an ineradicable dishonesty inheres to it, inheres to its pages, clings maybe to its typeface, no matter what change of personnel there might be over time, no matter what shift in direction or ideology? And wouldn’t I thereby be suggesting that it can never change, that it always was and always will be, in all its constituent parts, an organ of lies?

Always was and always will be, because if anything less were meant, the accusation could be levelled universally, all states being mendacious some of the time.

If we now look at the charge as it applies to Israel, we are presented with bleak implications indeed. If Israel is essentially, once and for ever, at all times and in all seasons, mendacious, then nothing can be hoped for from persuasion, no election can make a difference, no transformation of the mindset of its population alter what it does or what we think of it. Short of annihilation, the lie, which is intrinsic to its existence, must last for ever.

So if the eternal mendacity doesn’t inhere in its politicians or its people, where is it to be found? Presumably only in Zionism itself. The philosophy ab ovo, not its evolution, not the wrong turns it may have taken over the years, for that would not make the state mendacious, only those who have misdirected it. And not in false or deluded interpretations of Zionism, not in betrayals of it, but in the very aspiration itself, born sometimes out of idealism and hope, and sometimes out of desperation and terror, that Jews should have somewhere of their own to live, since they were manifestly not welcome elsewhere. The question must then be asked: if not Zionism, what? If Zionism was mendacious from the start, then what, in the circumstances in which Jews found themselves, would have been true?

Now, that is what I call writing.

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  • creggancowboy

    Ho Jo still with The Indy? Blackhurst did not sack him then? Unlike Jody McIntyre fired for telling the truth. Nice toy for Yevgeni though eh?

  • Yola Miryam Hurwitz

    What indigenous ethnic group are you talking about? Jews (despite expulsions at various points in history) have inhabited the Middle East for millenia, as well as other people — however, it is only the former group whose right to live there is questioned, even though they are indigenous.

    And you British, remember how your own country settled many lands while killing off much of the native populations and expelling them from their land; the natives are still facing the consequences after three hundred years — namely, countries like Australia, New Zealand, Belize, South Africa, the USA and Canada.

    You leftists are yourselves hypocrites in your failure to acknowledge these British injustices. You are as usual just trying to make Israel a red herring in your attempt to divert attention away from the injustices of the many unsavoury regimes in this world.

  • Heffo

    Very angry and defensive piece, one wonders why

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