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Pro-Israel Clampdown Hits the World of Books and Ideas

Last week we wrote about heavy attacks coming down on activists—on campuses and in street protests—who stand up for the Palestinian people in the face of the mounting wave of Israeli massacres in Gaza. (See “Supporters of Palestine Face Vicious Repression,” which has been updated this week to cover more such attacks.)

But the pro-Israel/U.S. forces are also taking aim at novelists, journalists and others who reveal a glimmer of the ugly history and present reality of Israel, or even a sense of the basic humanity of Palestinian people.

Viet Thanh Nguyen… Canceled!

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen


Viet Thanh Nguyen    Photo: Wikipedia

Viet Thanh Nguyen is the acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer and other novels and nonfiction works. He was scheduled for an event on October 20 at New York’s 92nd Street Y (originally the Young Men’s Hebrew Association) to discuss his new memoir with novelist Min Jin Lee. The Y is a major venue for literary events in New York City, seating 900 people. Nguyen has appeared at the Y a number of times before.

On October 18, a letter “demand[ing] an end to the violence and destruction in Palestine” was published in the London Review of Books. The letter denounced “the deliberate killing of civilians” by any side of the conflict, but was focused on calling for an end to Israel’s siege and bombardment of the people of Gaza, including citing allegations that Israel’s actions amounted to “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.”

Nguyen was one of the letter’s 750 signatories. Less than two days later—hours before it was to begin—Nguyen’s event was canceled.

This event was not even slated to discuss the war in Gaza. Nguyen was being canceled—barred from a major cultural venue—purely because he has publicly criticized Israel. 

This marks a serious escalation in the repression of voices critical of Israel. It was already the case (as we wrote last week) that college students and other activists were being doxed and threatened with corporate blacklisting. But it is a whole other level if this can be done to an established author of Nguyen’s prominence. Regardless of the specific intent of the Y’s board, this amounts to a serious threat to every public figure that they better “watch what they say” when it comes to Israel.

Minor Detail… Canceled!

Adania Shibli, author


Adania Shibli    Photo: Wikipedia

In another outrageous incident, the Frankfurt [Germany] Book Fair—one of the largest literary events in the world—canceled the presentation of an award to Palestinian author Adania Shibli, and also canceled a panel discussion she was to be on. The book fair organizers stated that “In light of the terror against Israel” it would be better to give her the award after the fair ended! And they declared that they wanted to “give Israeli and Jewish voices additional time on our stages.” It is important to point out that fair opened on October 17, by which time nearly twice as many Palestinians as Israelis had been killed in the war. Mainly these were Palestinian civilians and about one in four were children. So where was the concern for that terror?

A “left-leaning” German newspaper attacked Shibili’s novel (Minor Detail) bluntly, claiming it portrayed “the State of Israel as a murder machine.”

According to reviews, Minor Detail builds on an incident during Israel’s so-called “War of Independence” (the war to drive Palestinian people from their homeland so as to establish a Zionist state with a large Jewish majority.) In 1949, a squad of Israeli soldiers near the city of Negev came upon a group of Bedouin people, slaughtered everyone except for one young girl, who they then gang-raped and murdered.

Is this story true? Yes, it is well-documented—in fact the soldiers were tried and convicted by Israeli courts. 

But the more crucial question is: Was this incident an “aberration,” a shameful blot on the glorious Israeli armed forces? 

And the answer to that is NO! In fact, this “incident” was a concentrated expression of the campaign of massacre and terror that characterized the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in the “War of Independence.” (See: The Case of Israel: Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism, especially pages 9-10.) By punching one small hole in the mythology of Israel’s history, books like this open the door to people uncovering the whole hideous reality of not only “history,” but current reality.

Case Of Israel Bastion Of Enlightenment Or Enforcer Of Imperialism


A Day in the Life of Abed Salama … Canceled!

Another book that is being attacked is A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, by Jewish-American journalist Nathan Thrall. After the Hamas attacks, book events that had been scheduled for Washington, New York, London and Los Angeles were all canceled or postponed.

Author, Nathan Thrall


Nathan Thrall, author    Photo: Judy Heiblum

According to a review, this book tells “the story of a terrible accident in the West Bank. On a poorly maintained stretch of highway, a bus carrying Palestinian schoolchildren overturned, killing or injuring many of those on board. Thrall used this tragedy as a route into the greater and more complex tragedy of Israel and Palestine, looking at the numerous and horrifying iniquities that the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank are forced to endure.” It portrays “Israel’s dominance of Palestinian lives is presented as absolute and totalizing.”

And again, the first question is: Is this story true? Thrall is a highly respected journalist and analyst and the facts of his story are not disputed. And again, the more important question: is this an aberration, are Palestinians normally treated as full citizens with equal rights and humanity, or does Thrall’s book, as the review quoted above says, reveal “numerous and horrifying iniquities that the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank are forced to endure”?

The answer to this—it is not an “aberration”—also answers the question of why pro-Israel forces do not want this book to even get a hearing in the world.

Some Basic Truths About the U.S.-Supported Israeli War Against Palestine, by Bob Avakian


A Wave of Event Cancellations

Nor are these the only cases of “thought suppression,” by any means. The New York Times reports that “a growing number of events highlighting Palestinian culture, society and politics ... have been called off or put on hold since the war began.” This included a concert in London featuring three young Palestinian musicians, the Boston Palestine Film Festival (which decided to hold the festival online-only), and a conference at the Houston Hilton of The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. 

All these were canceled for “security concerns.” This fear cannot help but be fueled by the repression—including doxing and blacklisting of activists and the banning of protests—that we described last week. And there were reportedly threatening/racist demands posted on social media for the cancelation of the Houston conference.

The Driving Force

The driving force of these attacks is that public support for Israel, and tolerance for the ongoing slaughter of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians, including at least 1,500 children, rests on a completely upside-down story about Israel’s history and nature. “Tiny, democratic Israel, standing alone against a sea of sub-human Arab barbarians.” When the reality is, as Bob Avakian puts it this week: 

Israel, backed by “western” imperialists—and above all, the U.S.—is the dominant and oppressive force in its relation with the Palestinian people. Israel was founded, 75 years ago, on the basis of massive terror against masses of Palestinian people, and has carried out repeated atrocities against the Palestinian people ever since. This is a matter of historical fact.

Defenders of imperialism and Zionism recognize this as a historical fact, which is why they are so fearful of any bit of it getting out, why they insist that there can’t even be a conversation about what the real history is. And it is a historical fact that decent people around the world have to fully confront, casting away any prettified illusions of the monstrous nature of what imperialism and Zionism have done and are doing, and acting to bring about a different world.

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