Psychologist Dr. Phyllis Chesler’s latest
book is a marked departure from her previous 12 - which included
the ground-breaking "Women and Madness," published
With publication of "The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It" (Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, $24.95), the 63-year-old Park Slope resident enters the explosive Isaeli-Arab conflict decisively on the side of the Jews.
Chesler, raised in Borough Park and a Zionist since she was a young girl, says she’s lived in both the Islamic and Jewish worlds and has worked in Israel as a feminist. She is co-founder of the Association of Women in Psychology and the National Women’s Health Network.
Her decision to write "The New Anti-Semitism" came, she says, after years of listening to anti-Israeli sentiments among fellow activists and feminists - even before the start of the latest Infitada in 2000.
"I tried to be a moderate voice," Chesler told GO Brooklyn. "But when they lynched the two reservists in Ramallah [in 2000] and the Western media did not draw back in horror, I just wept. I realized Jewish history was repeating itself.
"After 9-11, I thought everyone would understand. But that didn’t happen."
Chesler is referring to an incident in which two Israeli reservists were beaten to death and, according to Chesler, "The Palestinian crowds cheered when the smiling murderers proudly displayed their hands smeared with Jewish blood."
So when Chesler’s agent asked her in September 2002 what she would most like to write about next, she answered, "There is really only one subject that is on my lips, and in my heart and on my mind. And it’s anti-Semitism."
Chesler finished "The New Anti-Semitism" in March, after "working around the clock, reading, learning, administering the research and doing the writing in a white heat." The result is a passionate, highly personal and well-documented polemic about the new anti-Semitism, which she maintains is the last acceptable prejudice in a politically correct, multicultural world.
Chesler says she is most troubled by "Islamic fascism against Israel," followed by terrorism against the West and Western values; what she believes is a betrayal of Jews, Israel and the truth by intellectuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish; and the failure of Jews to recognize and refrain from what she described as the demonization of the Jewish state.
According to Chesler, a small part of Arab suffering is due to humiliation and war, but "90 percent is due to Arab leadership." On the other hand, she says, Islam has "a long history of persecuting non-Muslims," which, she maintains, continues today.
"You can’t become a citizen of Jordan if you are a Jew," she points out. "But intellectuals are not saying, ’Let’s not invest in Jordan.’"
Anti-Arab feeling among Jews in Israel is not due to racism, Chesler says, but rather a result of the Arab decision in the 1920s not to accept a Jewish presence in the region and the years of fighting that followed.
"Arab Israelis have more freedom and a higher standard of living than their counterparts in Arab states," Chesler says, but admits that they are not treated as first-class citizens (they are not accepted into the army, and thus ineligible for certain loans and scholarships), a situation she says needs correcting.
"In 1948 the State of Israel was officially launched in the world in part of what was once the Jewish biblical homeland," she writes. "This geographic area was also inhabited at the time by Arabs, who had also lived there for generations. The Arabs refused to accept the Palestinian state that the British and the United Nations offered them. Instead, the Palestinians and five Arab nations attacked the new and tiny nation of Israel."
Chesler believes the criticial nature of much European opinion about Israel is a new form of Holocaust denial.
She quotes New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman as writing, "The anti-Semitism coming out of Europe today suggests that deep down Europeans want [Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon to commit a massacre against Palestinians so that the Europeans can finally get the guilt of the Holocaust off their backs and be able to shout: ’Look at these Jews, they’re worse than we were!’"
She rants against people she describes as "intellectual Jews," who she says often express anti-Israeli sentiments.
She says many Jews have "a real ambivalence about their Jewish Identity." The psychologist speculates this ambivalence may "include a real fear of terror and post-Holocaust shame they can’t deal with" or a belief that "if they’re the first to criticize religious Judaism, Zionists and other Jews, they’ll be the first ones spared." She equates this behavior to that of secular German Jews in pre-Nazi times who were integrated in German society.
Chesler lambastes Noam Chomsky (a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is Jewish) and Edward W. Said (a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, who is Muslim) both of whom have compared Israeli policies to those of Hitler during the Third Reich.
Another sign, she says, that anti-Israeli sentiments are really anti-Semitism, is that many people who protest Israeli actions are not terribly concerned about abuses in China, Bosnia or Rwanda.
"If someone has a global perspective, I have no problem," she says.
Chesler says Jews need to talk with other Jews who hold a variety of opinions - "with no intimidation, no bullying and no heart attacks." Critics of Israel should not be approached like "cult members" who need to be "de-programmed."
"If this book and other books [like ’The Case for Israel’ by Alan Dershowitz, with whom she has lectured] can get into college campuses and synagogue libraries, can lead to teach-ins and lectures and classes that are not hijacked by PLO supporters, then we have a shot at getting to youth, the uninformed, the misinformed, and especially to Jewish youth who are intimidated by their peers," says Chesler.
Although her previous books, "Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman," "Sacred Bond: The Legacy of Baby M." and "Women and Madness" have gotten ink in the New York Times, and she has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio, both have declined to either review "The New Anti-Semitism" or interview Chesler.
She charges that both media organizations have shunned her because they share the same anti-Israeli agenda that she criticizes in her book.
NPR spokesperson Jessie Sarmiento told GO Brooklyn that Chesler made a "wrong assumption," because "a decision [on whether or not to interview or review] would not be made for that reason."
"Lots of books come out every year. Obviously, not all of them can be reviewed," said Sarmiento. "We are a news organization that follows the standards of other respected news organizations in this country, not only providing for a balanced coverage, but providing a variety of voices."
GO Brooklyn received a similar response from Times spokesperson Toby Usnik. "We receive thousands of books each year and cannot review all of them," Usnik said in an e-mail. "We don’t have an anti-Israel agenda."
"The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It" by Phyllis Chesler (Jossey-Bass, $24.95) can be ordered at local bookstores including: BookCourt [163 Court St. between Dean and Pacific streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 875-3677], Barnes & Noble [267 Seventh Ave. at Sixth Street in Park Slope, (718) 832-9066] and A Novel Idea [8415 Third Ave. at 84th Street in Bay Ridge, (718) 833-5115].
©2003 Community News Group
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