The saga of Carla Cohen, owner of Washington DC’s pre-eminent independent bookstore Politics and Prose, continues as we conduct an e-mail exchange that began after her original decision to cancel Saree Makdisi’s appearance at her bookstore because he advocates a one-state solution.
Once Carla changed her mind and re-invited Makdisi I was inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, even though she wrote that my e mail to her was so insulting she wished she could take back her re-invitation.
I no longer give her the benefit of the doubt after our most recent exchange. Carla talks a good game. She knows how to talk about political inclusiveness when she feels wounded or insulted politically. But when she’s the one doing the excluding, then she’s perfectly content to do it. Now, keep in mind that the following is from a bookstore owner who had disinvited an author because his politics were allegedly too hot to handle:
Politics is about addition, not about reading everybody out who doesn’t adhere to your position. I guess it all depends on whether you see your role as indulging yourself or influencing other people.
If she believes what she’s writing then why did she “subtract” Saree Makdisi before re-“adding” him?
When I suggested to her that she follow up on her invitation to Makdisi by inviting a panoply of authors writing on the I-P conflict from a variety of viewpoints she replied in disappointing fashion:
We are not a forum for free speech, nor are we a Middle East Improvment [sic] Association.
To this I replied that it seemed to me that there were many popular books written on the subject (I listed the Walt-Mearsheimer book and Jimmy Carter’s books as examples) and that it shouldn’t be too hard to mix education and commerce in a successful combination.
Carla detests the Walt-Mearsheimer book (without having read it apparently), as quickly became clear in this message:
I wouldn’t call that a bestseller. In fact we have only sold 40 in the past six months.
The Israel Lobby is currently ranked 1,164 in Amazon sales almost a year after its publication. I don’t know how she judges a bestseller. But if that was the ranking for my book I’d be damn happy about it. Does she think their publisher would’ve given them a $750,000 advance for a book that wouldn’t sell? Could it be the fact that she hates the book might influence how few copies have been sold in her store?
The next part of the exchange is really unbelievable as it shows either she hasn’t read the book, gleaned all her talking points about it from Jeffrey Goldberg’s smeary review, or both:
I am curious as to why you consider the book progressive. It is anti-Aipac to be sure, but it is really out of this world, or at least out of my world. Do you think the media is controlled by Jews?
Walt and Mearsheimer don’t claim the media is controlled by Jews. But Abe Foxman says they do. Did Carla read the book? How did she reach this false impression? And if The Israel Lobby is out of Carla’s world is it any wonder that Saree Makdisi is; or that virtually any Palestinian would be?
Carla Cohen closed the door to her mind about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long ago. In fact, the “closing of the American Jewish mind” is an apt phrase to describe her views about the matter.
Following up on Carla’s claim in the Washington Post that she worked for peace in the Middle East, I urged her in what I thought were sincere terms to redouble her efforts because of how dire the situation was. You can judge for yourself how brittle and defensive this person is:
What gives you the right to ask me to promote peace? You are so unbelievably condescending.
Whereas I suspected previously her sincerity in re-inviting Saree Makdisi, now I’m certain there was none. I marvel that a woman running a bookstore dealing with politics would have such an insular perspective on one of the world’s most important and dangerous political hotspots.
I’m not sure what your problem is here with Carla Cohen. Her store did host Mearsheimer and Walt last fall. Does she have to like their book too?
And you’re right, Mearsheimer and Walt write in their book that the Jews don’t control the media. They just write that the “pro-Israel lobby” controls the media, a lobby which led by and composed primarily of, um, Jews. Yeah, big difference.
“Mearsheimer and Walt write in their book that the Jews don’t control the media. They just write that the “pro-Israel lobby” controls the media, a lobby which led by and composed primarily of, um, Jews. Yeah, big difference”
actually – as I’m sure those who have read the book, and are not so arrogant as to declaim it without having first read it – they say something to the effect that ‘the only place in the world where Jews do control the media is Israel, which is far more open to discussion and criticism than America’.
In a previous posting on this subject you stated that “one-statism” is a “legitimate” position. My question is “legitimate” to whom? The vast majority of Israelis view “one-statism” as a code-word for throwing us Jews into the sea. But let’s say that the official statements of those who advocate this are really true, they just want Israel to dissolve itself ” peacefully”. How many people in OTHER countries would view discussion of the dissilution of their state as a “legitimate” position? Thousand of people have died to create and defend the state of Israel and hundreds of thousands of others have made major sacrifices for this state. Do you really expect them do accept your defintion of the dissolution of their state as “legitimate”? Or is the opinion of millions of Israelis about their own county irrelevant in your eyes?
In previous posting you yourself have stated that that it is ILLEGITIMATE to make the claim that “there is no such thing as a Palestnian people”, even though there are those who do. It seems you are being rather arbitrary in defining one which offends a lot of people (who happen to be Jews) as “legitimate” and another, which happens to offend Palestinians as “illegitimate”.
Carla is typical of the majority of “Jewish progressives.” She’s a ‘good German’ and any criticism of Israel beyond that of “mistakes were made” and she reverts to being a zionist loon. These people are beyond the pale and it calls into question all the hoopla over ‘J Street” and the like. These people don’t care at all about the suffering of the Palestinians. The just want to posture as “heroic Jews”.
Richard Silverstein says
@Eric: Frankly, I’m shocked that you don’t acknowledge the MAJOR diff. bet. those 2 formulations. The pro-Israel lobby is a very specific phenomenon. It is not all Jews. And included in the pro Israel lobby may be non-Jews as well. You imply that there’s no difference which means you’re essentially accepting the anti-Semitic canard advanced by Goldberg & his ilk.
Carla doesn’t have to like their book. But if she wants to diss it she has to accurately characterize its arguments. Otherwise, she’s not credible.
Richard Silverstein says
@bar_kochba132: You refuse to distinguish bet. what I actually support and what I say is a legitimate position. Saying something is intellectually or politically legitimate is far diff. than saying it is the position I support.
I don’t agree that the “vast majority of Israelis view one-statism as a code word for throwing Jews into the sea.” The vast majority of Israelis who don’t understand the diff. bet. a 2 state and a one state position may feel this way. But that is not a “vast majority.” And just because someone BELIEVES something doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. One state simply means that Israel will not be a Jewish state and that Jews will be living along with Arabs in a single state. If you or anyone who believes what you wrote above confuses that for being thrown into the sea it only means that they don’t have a clue about what they’re talking about. Or else they’re Arabaphobes who believes these people are the devil incarnate.
It happens quite often actually. Take Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. What’s going to happen to northern Ireland? Will it remain separate? Be absorbed into the Republic? What about West & East Germany?
I am not saying the majority of Israelis will ever support a one state solution. That’s why I think it won’t be successful & why I support 2 states.
Richard Silverstein says
You make a very serious error if you believe that Carla supports J Street & if you confuse her views of the I-P conflict with J Street’s views. To her, J Street would be a slightly less other-worldly Jewish experience than hearing Walt-Mearsheimer talk.
It’s people like this woman who help impede genuine debate in the US, even though Israel allows and encourages it within its own borders. Maybe if she’s so opposed to conspiracy theories about ‘Jews controlling the media,’ she should stop re-enacting them and throwing fuel on that fire. The point that there are many books and authors who would draw a crowd is excellent and one I’m sure to which she’s impervious.
But she said it herself, her bookstore is not a place for free speech. A shining example for bibliophiles everywhere. I hope her patrons realize that’s her position on free speech in her establishment.
Peter H says
As I’ve said before, Bar_Kochba132 favors a “one-state” solution in Israel-Palestine, just one where Israeli Jews have all the power and Palestinians in the “judea and Samaria” & Gaza have no rights.
Mary Hughes-Thompson says
I used to hope for two states, but after visiting occupied Palestine several times since 2002 I realize there’s no possibility of there ever being a state for the Palestinians. Palestine is riddled with Jewish settlements, many of which, such as Ariel, are well-established cities and which continue to eat up surrounding Palestinian lands to create more homes, more “security zones” and more access roads for Jews only that lead to other settlements. Add to that the land stolen to build apartheid walls around these areas, well inside Palestine. Even if the military left, in which case they might return some of the Palestinian land they are using for bases and roadblocks and checkpoints and sentry towers to its rightful owners, it is clear to anyone who has visited the West Bank that the settlements are there to stay. Even the occasional talk after visits from Condi of dismantling “illegal outposts” is a joke, and when an attempt is made to follow through it becomes a game between soldiers and settlers, with both sides knowing who will win. In Bil’in the army continues to build even after Israel’s own courts have ruled this illegal.
An article in today’s Haarertz http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/992214.html gives an example of the lengths to which settlers go to continue in the face of Israeli law and even their own religious laws:
“Rabbi: Religious settlers can violate Shabbat to build:
Concerns that the High Court of Justice might put a stop to the construction of new homes in the West Bank settlement of Ofra have led to the extraordinary step of keeping the work going seven days a week, irrespective of the religious prohibition against labor on Shabbat”
After the histrionics that accompanied disengagement from Gaza, I doubt anyone seriously believes Israel will remove its settlements from the West Bank, and without their removal there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell there could be a Palestinian state. There’s nothing there with which to make one. Palestinians can’t get from one place to another because of the network of roads and settlements from which they are denied access.
So it has become increasingly clear to many people, including Saree Makdisi, that it will have to be one state. I agree with Peter H that people like Bar_Kochba132 already favor one state. They make no secret of what they want: “Transfer” is a word often used for what Israel would like to do to Palestinians and even to its own Arab population. What zionist Israel wants is all of the land with none of its people (except Jews)
It’s ironic that Israel has created the monster which could destroy it as a “Jewish” state. In time it could actually become a democracy.
Ira Glunts says
I do not know if Carla supports JStreet. If Richard says she does not, I imagine that is true.
However, David’s larger point is well taken.
“These people don’t care at all about the suffering of the Palestinians. The just want to posture as ‘heroic Jews’.”
A harsh and troubling generalization, but it contains very much more than a grain of truth. I include Brit Tzedek, Americans for Peace Now and Israel Policy Forum among groups that have members and policies that prove this statement is sadly more the rule than the exception.
BTW, Mearsheimer and Walt are giving a talk in Tel Aviv tonight.
IS THE ISRAEL LOBBY GOOD OR BAD FOR ISRAEL?
A public debate, with the participation of the American professors
JOHN MEARSHEIMER (University of Chicago)
STEPHEN WALT (Harvard University)
the authors of “THE ISRAEL LOBBY” which created a storm in the United States, Thursday, June 12, 2008, at 8pm, BET SOKOLOV Press Club, 4, Kaplan Street…
Regarding Israelis viewing “one-statism” as a code-word for “throwing the Jews into the sea”, I must point out that the charter of FATAH called for all Jews who arrived after 1917 (the Balfour Declaration) being required to leave the country. Now, the Palestnians may or may not have changed that, but even if it is not technically operative, the memory of the original resolution is still there. Add to that the virulent Judeophobia that comes out of both the official media of the Palestnian Authority and HAMAS organs, and the memory of massive suicide bombings that killed or wounded thousands of Israelis, and Israelis believe they have reason to fear living under Arab rule. After all, the one-state model has already been implemented in Lebanon. How is that working out for the minority groups there?
Neither Mary Hughes-Thompson nor the writer of the Ha’aretz article claiming that religous Jews are now supposedy able to violate the Sabbath in pursuit of building settlements knows anything about Jewish law. The work is done by non-Jews. Normally, non-Jews are not permitted to work for Jews on the Shabbat, except under certain well-defined conditions, and building one’s home in Eretz Israel is one of them. There is nothing remarkable or original in this ruling.
Richard Silverstein says
I agree: Jews should be concerned about the prospect of living together with Arabs in a single state. Their respective histories have been deeply troubled. So should Arabs be concerned living in a single state with Jews. For the same reason.
The problem I have with yr perspective is that it sees the sins on one side only. The sins are on both sides. If there WERE ever to be a 1 state solution (not saying there ever will be) it would have to ensure the ironclad rights of whatever group happened to be the minority & it would have to guarantee the independence of the various organs of government along w. checks & balances as in the American system.
A very thoughtful post. Thank you.
Ira: Some irony – probably easier to have this kind of talk in Israel than in US.