Michael Chabon Shoos Away Pesky Jews

The Forward describes Michael Chabon’s tour of Hebron in what could read like a scene out one of his novels, not that I’ve completed one, admittedly.

Jewish settlers were dogging Chabon’s group, telling the participants that their guide was feeding them lies as he explained the restrictions on Palestinian life in the West Bank city. Indeed, the soldier who had read his novels was one of a group who had been following Chabon’s tour, presumably trying to keep the settlers’ confrontation from escalating. Chabon thanked the soldiers when one recognized him.

Here he is, Pulitzer Prize winning Michael Chabon, literati of the American Jewish world, digging for intellectual fuel for his anti-“occupation” politics. “Digging” is the apt verb, because the tour of the West Bank for 24 novelists was led and sponsored by the extremist, ideological NGO “Breaking the Silence” dedicated to defaming the IDF. I presume Chabon wasn’t provided nuance into Hebron life or taken to other settlements where Israelis and neighboring Arabs coexist. He got the typical soundbites against the “occupation”, of which the “embarrassing” Jewish settler is a fixture. Just take a look at the picture included in the article:


Oren Ziv/ Activestills

And lo and behold, this strange-looking creature tries to insert himself into the scene, this Jew with an annoying beard, shouting: “They’re telling you lies!” This pesky Jew, who lives in the biblical city where Jews have been indigenous for millennia, but who is such a boor; otherwise, he would have been a fan Chabon’s work. This pesky Jew lurks in the background, as Chabon takes a tour of the unjust “occupation”, later commenting: “To dehumanize others dehumanizes you.” Wait a minute? Didn’t his group just dehumanize that pesky Jew settler, who only invites terrorist attacks against him for being so annoying? Does his statement apply to Muslim Palestinians as well, who dehumanize each other with an ideology that encourages violent anti-Semitism, the suppression of women, and the denial of history?

If Chabon sought to honestly understand realities of life in the West Bank, he would have heard what that pesky Jew had to say. He might have actually found that they have common ground. Those pesky Jews also seek to “[e]xperience the history and the past and the narratives that shape me without this vituperative hateful layer of supposed holiness spoiling it….”

As evidenced by the Forward article, this “vituperative hateful layer” has been laid by Break the Silence staffers who would make terrible writers because they present stock characters: the poor, oppressed Palestinian and the pesky, “illegal” Jewish settler.

Ironically, it’s Jews who believe in the Jewish right to thrive in Hebron who fought against the system of governance that Chabon calls the “occupation” instigated by the Oslo Accords. Hebron Jews fought against Oslo, which divided Hebron into Jewish and Muslim ghettos. It’s Oslo that turned IDF soldiers into de-facto border patrol. It’s Oslo that armed the Palestinian Authority to cock guns against those pesky Jews. The “occupation” would only be exacerbated by the chimerical two-state-solution. But we’ll probably never hear these pesky voices in the forthcoming book of essays on the “Israeli occupation” that Chabon and his writer-wife, Ayelet Waldman, will edit.

Chabon understands the power of books, especially fiction, to change society, saying: “[i]t is a strength to have a point of view, to implicitly or explicitly say to the reader, ‘Here is where I am coming from, and this is what I saw and this is what I thought of it and what I made of it and how it made me feel.’”

The tour organizers understand that novelists and intellectuals, rather than scantily clad celebrities who probably wouldn’t be welcome to perform in the Palestinian West Bank anyway, are more influential in shaping global discourse on the Israeli-Arab war.

I could go on and say how Chabon deeply resents the Jewish self-actualization represented by Israel and even more so by Jews living in Judea and Samaria (for why else would he write a novel about a Jewish State set up in Alaska?). I could go on to say how Chabon is doing a disservice to his craft by shooing away other voices and taking all-expense-paid propaganda tour of Israel. I could go on and say that he’s a tribalist – not a universalist – more concerned with the image of the “Jew” than civil rights.

I’d rather turn my focus to those pesky “settler” Jews. Rather than chasing after the likes of Chabon to make their case for their human right to live on ancestral Jewish lands, it’s high time for this community to take charge of their story, not only by inviting intellectuals to see the world through their eyes, but through creating new literature with broad, emotional appeal, as I have endeavored in my novel The Settler. Let Jews who see the moral confusion embodied by the division of the land spell out new, reality-based ideas for governance, human rights for all, and peace, as only fiction and books can.

And if they ever do, Michael Chabon would make a fabulous, pesky “Jew” character.


Orit Arfa

Orit Arfa is a is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Visit her website: www.oritarfa.net.

Daily Updates

Delivered straight to Your mailbox


By signing up, you agree to our terms