Recommended new books; book reviews

May 23, 2004


1. Those who forget the past
2. Still life with bombers
3. The return of anti-semitism
4. Why blame Israel?
5. Israel: Life in the shadow of terror
6. Yasir Arafat
7. Arafat's war
8. Slobodan Milosevic


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach a list of seven recommended new books, followed by three book reviews.

(In all seven cases, the writers or editors of these books are longtime subscribers to this email list, but even if they weren't, I would be happy to strongly recommend them.)

The first five books deal with anti-Semitism, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and in some cases media coverage. All these books have been published in recent weeks and in some respects make use of original material published on this email list. The other two books are new biographies of Yasser Arafat published last fall.

1. "Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism," edited by Ron Rosenbaum (Published today by Random House.) This book includes essays and reportage by Paul Berman, David Brooks, Bernard Lewis, David Mamet, Philip Roth, Amos Oz, Frank Rich, Simon Schama, Marie Brenner, Edward Said, Melanie Philips, Barbara Amiel, and some 35 others, including myself. (About half these contributors are subscribers to this email list.)


2. "Still Life With Bombers: Israel in the age of terrorism" by David Horovitz (Published by Knopf, New York.) David Horovitz is the editor of "The Jerusalem Report" and a regular commentator on CNN International and elsewhere. A positive review of this book will be appearing on Sunday in the New York Times Books section.


3. "The return of anti-Semitism" by Gabriel Schoenfeld. (Encounter Books). Gabe Schoenfeld is the senior editor of "Commentary magazine," one of the world's leading publications dealing with Middle East and other issues. Gabe has also written for the New York Times among other publications.


4. "Why Blame Israel? The Facts Behind the Headlines," by Neill Lochery (Icon Books, London April 2004). Neill Lochery is director of the Center for Israeli Studies at University College, London. This is an unusually fair and accurate account of the Israeli-Palestinian from someone who is neither Jew nor Arab.


5. "Israel: Life in the Shadow of Terror," edited by Shraga Simmons (published by Targum / Feldheim / books). Shraga Simmons has written and edited extensively on Middle East affairs, particularly in regard to media coverage. This book includes a collection of about 75 pieces on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute by Elie Wiesel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Natan Sharansky, Yossi Klein Halevi, and others including a shortened version of my essay "Jeningrad."


6. "Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography," By Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin (Oxford University Press). Barry Rubin is director of GLORIA (the Global Research in International Affairs Center), in Israel, and is the author of numerous books. Judith Colp Rubin was correspondent in Israel for several American newspapers.


7. "Arafat's war," by Efraim Karsh (Grove Press). Efraim Karsh is a professor at King's College, London, and is currently a visiting professor at Harvard University.



I attach three book reviews:

1. "Slobodan Milosevic: a biography," by Adam LeBor. Reviewed by Tom Gross, last Sunday in the New York Post.

2. "Why Blame Israel? The facts behind the headlines." Reviewed by Stephen Pollard, Mail on Sunday (UK), May 16, 2004.

3. "Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography," by Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin. Reviewed by Tom Gross in The Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2003.



Milosevic: a biography
By Adam LeBor
Yale university press

New York Post
May 16, 2004
Reviewed by Tom Gross

Slobodan's Serb Story
By Tom Gross

British journalist Adam LeBor has produced a highly readable new biography of Slobodan Milosevic, the man associated more than any other with the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and its descent into a series of wars and ethnic massacres of a kind not seen in Europe since Hitler (though they were not of course on the same scale).

We learn how Milosevic, a mediocre albeit ambitious provincial Communist Party official, became a ruthless warmonger, who launched and lost four wars in the space of a few years. A former bank manager, who enjoyed shopping trips to New York, he ended up as the first head of state to be charged with genocide.

A little over a decade ago he entertained a succession of British and French dignitaries at scenic Yugoslav hunting lodges, and at the 1995 Dayton, Ohio, peace talks, despite his role in ethnic atrocities that had already occurred, he was greeted as a sympathetic "ally" and a "peacemaker." Today his home is a 9 foot by 15 foot cell in an old Nazi jail near The Hague, where he is on trial for genocide in Bosnia and war crimes in Croatia and Kosovo.

While this isn't an authorized work, Milosevic agreed to let his formidable wife Mira speak to LeBor. He and Mira, who is regarded by many as the power behind the throne, have been exceptionally close ever since they met and fell in love in high school, where they were known to classmates as "Romeo and Juliet II." Because of his access to Mira, and to other important witnesses, LeBor has been able to produce a rewarding portrait, which has much to offer all interested readers.

LeBor gives a revealing account of Milosevic's childhood, which was darkened by his father's suicide. He describes his early career in banking, his rise to the top in politics, his success in whipping up Serbian nationalism over the Kosovo issue in the late 1980s and his use of criminal networks in the Balkans to consolidate his grasp on power.

He chronicles his courting of Western diplomats and politicians, his reliance on violent paramilitary gangs (some recruited from the raucous supporters of Partisan Belgrade soccer team) and the whole course of the career that led to his present internment. We also learn that throughout this bloodstained period Milosevic would relax by singing French songs at the piano, and that he remained a warm and caring family man. (LeBor also tells us that today, in jail, Milosevic enjoys reading Ernest Hemingway and John Updike, and listening to Celina Dion and Frank Sinatra on a portable CD player. "My Way" is one of his favorites.)

Though not in any way minimizing his culpability, LeBor suggests that Milosevic may have been assigned too large a share of blame by the world at large for the wars that ravaged Yugoslavia.

Nationalist leaders from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia bear a heavy responsibility, too. Chief among them was the Croat leader, the late Franjo Tudjman, a former Communist general who ended up a virtual fascist. (He was an anti-Semite, courting Croatian voters by exclaiming, "Thank God my wife is not a Jew," and he reintroduced the World War II Croat fascist flag, which for Serbs has the same resonance as the swastika has for Jews.)

Indeed, the biggest single act of ethnic cleansing was not carried out by Serbs, but directed against them, when Tudjman's army drove the centuries-old Krajina Serb communities from their homes in 1995. But for a full explanation of those events we will have to wait for an account of Tudjman's life and motivations, which is as insightful as LeBor is about Milosevic.

(Tom Gross is a journalist specializing in international politics.)



Why Blame Israel? The facts behind the headlines, by Neill Lochery
Reviewed by Stephen Pollard
Mail on Sunday (UK)
May 16, 2004
[Note: Stephen Pollard is a subscriber to this email list]

Reporting, comment and analysis of the Middle East are bedeviled by ignorance. Much of that ignorance is willful, when facts are ignored and minds closed to reality. In recent years, for instance, it has become the received wisdom that the terrorism to which Israel is now regularly subject is a product of its own behavior towards the Palestinians. Israel, in other words, only has itself to blame.

Neil Lochery's superb 'Why Blame Israel' is a useful antidote to this grotesque distortion of reality. Lochery has no religious affiliations with Israel, but as Director of the Centre for Israeli Studies at University College, London, is well placed to describe the reality of Israel's situation. Although he apportions blame where appropriate, his purpose is not to convict but to explain, and to deal with the many untruths which bedevil reports of the Middle East conflict. Take the most basic issue: Israel's strength and size. There are some reporters who give the impression that Israel is a giant nation, forcing its strength on its tiny, defenseless neighbors. Yet its population is a mere six and a half million ' roughly the size of Scotland ' and it is surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs who will be placated only when it and its inhabitants are wiped out. Geographically, it is so small that one can stand at one end and see the other side ' surrounded by vast Arab lands.

Lochery makes clear that mistakes have been made by all sides in the conflict, but that there are two fundamental problems which lie at the root of the current crisis. Israel is the only democracy in the world surrounded by countries bent on its destruction. The Arab and Palestinians' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist meant that, from the start, Israel has had to focus overwhelmingly on its own security and defense. More recently, supposedly more moderate Palestinian leaders have not only refused to renounce the suicide bombing tactics of the likes of Hamas, they have, to varying degrees, given them the space in which to operate.

Lochery shows how, in much of the reporting of the conflict, basic facts are either ignored or deliberately misreported. Take the so-called massacre which, we were told, took place in Jenin in 2002. The Israelis had information about terrorist activity in the refugee camp. Their response was to take military action. It is, of course, perfectly legitimate to question whether or not they were right to do that. What is not legitimate is to portray what happened as a massacre, as many of the reporters, spoon fed lies by the terrorists' supporters, then did.

They then compounded the lie by implying that the Israelis had effectively destroyed the camp. A subsequent UN inquiry made perfectly clear that no massacre took place (as became obvious after the event to anyone who visited the site). But because it suits the agenda of some reporters to portray the Israelis as butchers who oppress the Palestinians, massacre it was, evidence or not.

And the fact that, as an aerial picture of Jenin made clear afterwards, the Israeli action was confined to an area which, in relative terms, was smaller than a goalmouth compared with a football pitch, was barely mentioned. It didn't fit the pre-ordained picture.

Lochery's title 'Why Blame Israel' - is slightly misleading. His focus is entirely on cohate issues such as how Israel came into being, the wars it has had to fight to save itself, and the so-called peace process. All that is critical, and his dispassionate laying out of the facts is sorely needed. But to answer his question requires something rather different: a look at just why it is that so many are so unwilling to recognize these facts, and so willing to ascribe all blame in the Middle East to Israel. And that means looking at two inter-related themes: anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. Israel is seen as the US's staging post in the Middle East, and its culture of democracy and western thought is entirely alien to the Arab states; the two fuse with the now widespread anti-Americanism into a potent cocktail of hatred.

Beyond that lies the oldest hatred of all, that of the Jew. A full answer to the question 'why blame Israel' must, in the end, deal with anti-Semitism. Yes, there are political reasons to blame Israel. And yes, there are strategic reasons. There are indeed many valid reasons why Israel can be blamed for some of its problems. But, as Lochery's analysis of the facts makes clear, they don't add up to a convincing explanation of why it is that Israel is now so consistently maligned.

That requires the addition of an extra factor: anti-Semitism.



Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography
By Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin
(Oxford, 354 pages, $27.50)

Reviewer: Tom Gross

The Wall Street Journal
August 22, 2003, Page W10, Weekend Arts Section

The Relentless Career of a Confidence Man
By Tom Gross

For more than four decades, since he founded Fatah in 1959 and then the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1964, Yasir Arafat has enjoyed the flattering glare of the international spotlight. Whole generations of generals and peace envoys, a half-dozen U.S. presidents and entire Arab regimes have come and gone, but Mr. Arafat has kept himself in power -- even as he has failed his people and pursued policies that have added to their distress. Other Arab leaders have long since stopped trusting him, taking it for granted that he will not honor the agreements he has signed. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak once referred to him, in the presence of Secretary of State Warren Christopher, as "a son of a dog." Mr. Arafat is one of the inventors of modern terrorism and continues to instigate it to this day.

Despite this, a multitude of admirers and apologists in the West -- and even in Israel itself -- have been taken in by his pose of moderation, at least until recently. As a result, he has visited nearly every royal palace and presidential residence in Europe and was a guest of honor at the White House several times. He has even won the Nobel Peace Prize.

How did this happen? As Middle East scholar Barry Rubin and his journalist wife, Judith Colp Rubin, show in their admirable, impressively documented "Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography," he is one of the great con men of modern politics. Even those who know what a slippery character Mr. Arafat is may be surprised to learn from the Rubins' account just how deceitful he can be.

He claims to have been born in Jerusalem, for instance, but was in fact born in Cairo. He has told tales of single-handedly stopping an Israeli tank column in the 1948 war, though the evidence places him in Egypt at the time, far from the fighting. He has stated that he was an officer in the Egyptian army defending Port Said during the 1956 Suez war; the truth is that he was in Czechoslovakia, attending a Communist-sponsored student congress.

More broadly, he has alleged that there have been massacres of Palestinians where none have occurred. He has talked of PLO victories when it has suffered heavy losses. Some of his falsehoods in recent years have been utterly fantastic -- that there was never a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, that Ariel Sharon is planning to settle 500,000 Afghan Jews on the West Bank. But that hasn't stopped some journalists from taking them seriously.

Part of Mr. Arafat's success undoubtedly derives from the image he has cultivated. From early on he grasped the importance of public relations and developed personal trademarks that are now world-famous: the stubble beard; the headscarf carefully draped to resemble a map of Palestine (including the whole of Israel); the military uniform, which he has insisted on wearing even at peace-signing ceremonies, as if he had come straight from the battlefield. And Mr. Arafat knows how to turn on the charm. When an American journalist brought his little daughter to meet him last year in Ramallah (shortly after Arafat's Al Aqsa Brigades murdered several Israeli children), the Palestinian leader spent half the interview playing with her.

But beneath the apparent warmth is ruthlessness. Mr. Arafat has never hesitated to order violence or to encourage it, including violence between different Arab groups. He has worked on the assumption -- a correct one, as it turns out -- that while exasperated Arab leaders might wash their hands of him, the Americans whom he has so much reviled will step in to save him. This was as true in Beirut in 1982, when Mr. Arafat was allowed to flee to Tunis, as it was in April of last year, when Secretary of State Colin Powell rushed to Mr. Arafat's Ramallah compound to help pressure the encircling Israelis to back away from expelling him.

In general, experience has taught him that, far from marginalizing him -- as foreign leaders have repeatedly warned him it would -- terrorism pays. Already by November 1974, the PLO's record had included plane hijackings, letter bombs, the assassination of America's ambassador to the Sudan and of Jordan's prime minister, the Olympic Games massacre, the slaughter of 21 Israeli schoolchildren at Maalot and 52 Israelis -- mainly women and children -- in Kiryat Shmona. That was the month in which he was invited (by a vote of 105 countries to four) to address the United Nations General Assembly.

As for political tactics, the Rubins remind us, Mr. Arafat is often astute, positioning himself between competing Islamic, Marxist and nationalist Palestinian groupings. From as early as the 1950s he had contacts with both the KGB and the CIA. One of his closest allies was Saddam Hussein, yet Mr. Arafat was the first foreign leader to visit Tehran after Khomeini seized power in 1979. (He arranged for Khomeini's son to receive training at a PLO camp in Lebanon.) Even today, though the Western media talks of a "new Palestinian prime minister," Chairman Arafat retains control of almost all the key elements of power in the Palestinian political arena and security services.

But what has it all added up to? Misery, strife and murder, among much else, and stalemate. The Rubins, along with documenting his corruption and misrule, make clear how much Palestinians and Israelis alike have suffered from his refusal to entertain, with any sincerity, a two-state solution to the crisis in the Mideast. But then he may fear, with some reason, that ending the Palestine conflict will end the fawning attention of the world's elites and his grip on power.

(Mr. Gross is the former Jerusalem correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and the New York Daily News.)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.