Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Michael Oren's New Book

Max Rodenbeck, the Economist's Middle East correspondent, has reviewed Michael Oren's new book Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present. But I'd recommend skipping his review and looking at Zach's piece about Oren's appearance on The Daily Show with John Stewart instead. Zach also has some interesting thoughts on the challenge that Oren's book might present to the orthodox Saidians who unfortunately run the American academy.

I refer to Rodenbeck only because he directs several barbs at Oren, including this one:
Important context is missing from some of the book’s pages ... There is much gory detail about the Armenian genocide, but scant mention of the fact that Ottoman Turkey faced repeated invasion by a Russia whose czars, disastrously for the Ottomans’ Armenian subjects, claimed leadership of all Orthodox Christians. At several junctures, Oren paints Europe as stubbornly resistant to American policy, without adequately substantiating the charge or explaining European motives. We hear nothing of how America’s fateful, post-World War I decision to restrict immigration helped push desperate Jewish refugees toward Palestine.
Rodenbeck's "missing context" is a non sequitur, as the Russian czars' claims to leadership over Orthodox Christians was irrelevant to the large majority of Ottoman Armenians who belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church, not the Eastern Orthodox Church. As for America's decision to limit Jewish immigration in the interwar period - it was as morally reprehensible as the British refusal to allow those desperate Jewish refugees to immigrate to Palestine in order not to antagonize the local Arab population.

Rodenbeck also "calls out" the "American-born Israeli scholar" Oren for getting the causes of the 1982 Lebanese war wrong:
Commendably, in a work of such scope, there are very few errors of fact or omission. Yet, as a reserve major in the Israeli Army, Oren ought to know that Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was not provoked by the P.L.O. “regularly striking” at Galilee. Yasir Arafat’s group was certainly an elemental threat to the Jewish state, but had actually been observing a long, American-brokered cease-fire before Ariel Sharon’s drive to Beirut.
Indeed, as a reserve major in the Israeli Army and a veteran of that war who served in the paratroopers brigade, Oren ought to and probably does know a lot more than Rodenbeck about the causes of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. For example, he probably knows about the PLO's numerous violations of the 1981 cease-fire, which made life in Israel's north increasingly intolerable.

1 comment:

Zach said...

As far as the 1981 P.L.O-Israel cease-fire is concerned, it's not incorrect to say that Arafat's organisation held to the letter of the agreement. The Palestinian violations of the accord were, to be clear, the work of organisations outside of the P.L.O umbrella, such as Abu Nidal's group that attacked the Israeli ambassador in London. This attack was cited by Begin as the casus belli for the 1982 invasion.
Now, we're all educated enough to know that in many cases the differentiation between groups like Fatah, the P.F.L.P, Black September, and Abu Nidal may be purely academic, but there are some academics who argue that maintaining a cease-fire with the P.L.O was felt to be a threat to Israel. I am not sufficiently informed on the subject, my main sources being Khalidi (not entirely impartial...) and the Schiff/Ya'ari book "Israel's Lebanon War," which is more of a military history. But they both assert the same thing: Israel felt that maintaining a cease-fire with the P.L.O was parallel with legitimising the organisation, and thus unacceptable.
Thank you for the blurb. It means a great deal coming from the writers of Kishkishim.