Image: children in Gaza, via Motaz Azaiza.

The Inroads listserv began in 1997 as a means to link Inroads readers and others interested in policy discussion. With more than 100 subscribers, it offers one of the few chances for people of diverse views to grapple with social and political issues in depth. To subscribe, write to Inroads at inroadsjournal@gmail.com and we will add your name to the list.

Contributors to the Inroads listserv have engaged many topics since last October: Ukraine, immigration, housing prices, Donald Trump, the deaths of Henry Kissinger and Brian Mulroney, identity politics and others. But sooner or later they have kept coming back to the war in the Middle East.

We have already featured highlights from two exchanges on the war: one on self-defence and proportionality in late October and another on the International Court of Justice ruling on the plausibility of Israeli genocide in January. Here we present excerpts from three of the many other listserv exchanges that have explored aspects of the war.

November

November 27

REG WHITAKER

Speaking a few weeks ago, prior to the temporary hostage-exchange truce in Gaza, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “the price of justice cannot be the continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians. Even wars have rules. All innocent life is equal in worth, Israeli and Palestinian. I urge the government of Israel to exercise maximum restraint. The world is witnessing this, the killing of women and children, of babies. This has to stop.”

These were relatively critical words from an ally of Israel. Not surprisingly there was reaction to his statement, from all sides. Little reaction could be described as civil or restrained.

First, from the street: protesters chanting “ceasefire now” stormed into a Vancouver restaurant where Trudeau was dining later the same day, accusing him of “killing kids” since he had stopped short of asking for a ceasefire.

Second, in what amounts to an official Israeli response, on X-Twitter Benjamin Netanyahu angrily rejected Trudeau’s advice: “It is not Israel that is deliberately targeting civilians but Hamas that beheaded, burned and massacred civilians in the worst horrors perpetrated on Jews since the Holocaust.”

So street protesters are accusing the Canadian prime minister of complicity in the slaughter of innocent children in Gaza while the Israeli prime minister is in effect accusing him of complicity in a new Holocaust.

The conflict in Gaza is ghastly: the New York Times points out that more women and children have been killed in Gaza in two weeks than have perished in two years of the Russia-Ukraine war. But the so-called “debate” about Gaza is almost as ghastly, with antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech and physical attacks matched by baseless accusations of antisemitism and Islamophobia designed to discredit pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian arguments with racist smears.

Obviously emotions run perilously high on both sides when what amounts to an anti-Jewish pogrom by Hamas on October 7 is followed by a lethal assault on the Palestinian civilian population by Israel. But does this explain the extremist rhetoric of so many not directly tied to either Israel or Palestine?

Looking at the roots of this frenzy of rhetorical extremism, one fundamental confusion can be discerned. Israel is a state which, though reasonably claiming to be the Jewish homeland, can be entirely identified neither with Judaism as a religion nor with the Jewish people as a whole. States may claim a close connection with particular nations or peoples (we speak of “nation-states”) but the two are never one in reality, as opposed to self-serving nationalist state rhetoric. Not all Jews are citizens of Israel and indeed many Jews are critics of Israeli state policies, especially of the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians. This does not make Jewish critics of Israel antisemites, nor does it make non-Jewish critics of Israeli state policies antisemites. Unfortunately, the Israeli government and Israeli lobbyists abroad have all too often adopted precisely that canard to stifle legitimate criticism, whipping out the antisemitism card every time a critical voice is raised.

Some critics of Israel are indeed antisemites, just as some supporters of Israel are Islamophobic. But hatemongers attaching themselves to a legitimate movement do nothing to discredit the larger body. It is not antisemitic to be critical of Israeli policy, but it is antisemitic to blame Jews, rather than the Israeli state, for the unrestrained assault on Gaza. On the other side of the barricades, Hamas, like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, is not representative of all Muslims.

Blood feuds have no logical end, save the total eradication of one side by the other. Hamas and some reckless pro-Palestinian protesters flaunt the slogan “from the river to the sea,” taken by many to indicate a (totally unrealistic) war aim of eradicating Israel. “From the river to the sea” has also been flaunted by Netanyahu and indeed appears in the founding constitution of his Likud party, indicating the ultimate aim of a Greater Israel that would deny any statehood or other form of national self-determination for the Palestinian people.

It is the unwillingness or incapacity of too many participants in the wider debate over the Gaza catastrophe to make the necessary, if difficult, distinctions between Jews and the Israeli state and between Hamas and the Palestinian people that has helped poison the debate so virulently. It must be said that in the Western world there is no genuine equivalency in the position of the two sides. Because of the memory of the Holocaust, Israel assumes a position of privilege that in effect preempts much official sympathy for the plight of the stateless Palestinians and too readily credits Israeli state’s self-serving claims that not only criticism of Israel but even recognition of Palestinian rights or mention of their subordination under Israeli occupation is evidence of antisemitism.

Germany, which has accomplished a remarkable coming to terms with its dreadful historical role in the Holocaust, has taken hypersensitivity to signs of renascent antisemitism to an unconscionable extreme, criminalizing public display of Palestinian symbols and public advocacy of Palestinian rights as unacceptable manifestations of antisemitism – simply because they challenge the Israeli state. But surely the Holocaust is not a perpetual Get Out of Jail Free card for a state which, after all, postdates the Holocaust and has engaged in some questionable activities of its own, including conquest, occupation and settlement of Palestinian land.

Official Canada, like the United States, is not exempt from this instinctive pro–Israeli state bias. But in both countries it is apparent that a younger generation, including many younger Jews, are not so readily convinced that the fight for Palestinian rights is just another chapter in recurrent antisemitism. Unfortunately too many of these protesters have been as careless in making fundamental distinctions as their pro-Israeli opponents, and sometimes actions have been taken that demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to legitimate Jewish concerns.

When I heard that pro-Palestinian protesters had infiltrated and then disrupted the Giller Prize for Fiction event (allegedly in protest over investment by the prize’s sponsor, Scotiabank, in Israel), I was dismayed by targeting of a cultural event with no direct connection to Gaza. Dismay deepened with the news that the Giller 2023 winner being honoured was a young writer named Sarah Bernstein: the optics were appalling. Interestingly, however, Ms. Bernstein later appeared as a signatory to a letter from a number of writers asking that criminal charges be dropped against the protesters, in the name of free expression. Nothing is simple in this most complicated matter.

Just how messy this can become is illustrated by the hate speech charges being brought by Toronto police against a group of protesters who defaced an Indigo bookstore with red paint and posters targeting Indigo CEO Heather Reisman for her support of the Gaza invasion. To the police it is simple: Reisman is Jewish; hence this was an antisemitic hate crime. To protesters, Reisman is the most prominent face of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the leading force in the Canadian Israeli lobby. CIJA, as its name implies, makes no distinctions between the Israeli state and the Jewish community: to CIJA they are one and the same. I am not privy to the minds of the protesters and cannot be sure that Ms. Reisman was being targeted solely because of her Israeli advocacy, but surely there must be a space where a public personality can be legitimately criticized for her advocacy on behalf of a foreign state without her religious/ethnic identity being deployed to block criticism.

Gaza embodies Hegel’s thought that the essence of tragedy is the war of right against right. It would be sad indeed if the debate over Gaza turned out to be the war of farce against farce.

STEPHEN NEWMAN

Reg,

I agree with everything you say, with the exception of the last bit. First, you misstate the facts. Toronto police have not accused the 11 people who vandalized the Indigo bookstore at Bloor and Bay of hate speech. They have been charged with “mischief and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence,” the indictable offence being the aforementioned mischief. I looked up the criminal offence of mischief. It is defined by the Criminal Code as “the wilful destruction of property,” which pretty much describes the act of vandalism.

But the police also commented on the motive of the perpetrators. They said that the offence was “hate-motivated.” Toronto police define a hate crime as “a criminal offence committed against a person or property that is based solely upon the victim’s race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.” In short, the police believe the vandalism at Indigo was motivated by Jew hatred. I think that this will be difficult to prove. But I also won’t be surprised to hear the defendants and their supporters claim that the charges are an attempt to stifle freedom of expression. This “defence” is risible. No one can plausibly argue that the defendants had no means of expressing their opposition to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza other than to vandalize the Indigo bookstore in downtown Toronto. One of the accused is a well-known professor of sociology at York and surely enjoys access to numerous public forums.

I also want to quibble with you on the subject of antisemitism. I agree entirely that politicians like Netanyahu cynically use accusations of antisemitism in an attempt to discredit their critics. That said, antisemitism is all too real. In my lifetime antisemitic talk has pretty much disappeared from polite society. When I was growing up this was not at all the case. As a public high school student it was not uncommon for me to hear antisemitic comments expressed in a very casual way by my non-Jewish classmates. After all, antisemitism has been built into Western culture for over two thousand years. It was preached from the pulpit. It made its way into classic literature (e.g. Shakespeare) and popular culture (Agatha Christie). People I met in rural Wisconsin, where I held my first teaching position in the 1980s, still used the phrase “Jew you down” to describe bargaining over the price of items for sale.

I tell you these anecdotes to convey a sense of why Jews are very sensitive on the subject. Overt antisemitic comments might no longer be acceptable in polite society, but we Jews cannot help suspecting that they are still there, just beneath the surface. And when push comes to shove, it doesn’t take much to bring out submerged antisemitic attitudes.

Which brings me back to the vandalism at Indigo. You don’t see it as being in the least way antisemitic. I have my doubts. As I said, the perpetrators included a distinguished professor of sociology. As it happens, her specialty is protest movements. I would expect someone like that to be sensitive to the symbolic meaning of action. I certainly wouldn’t expect her to be surprised that many in the Jewish community saw in her targeting of Heather Reisman an echo of past antisemitic acts targeting Jewish store owners in Germany and other European states in the last century. A sociologist ought to know the role historical memory plays in shaping a community’s identity.

In short, I think she knew very well how her act of protest would be understood by Ms. Reisman and by the Jewish community. She knew, or ought to have known, that it would be interpreted as a threat. If her genuine purpose was to protest the death and destruction in Gaza, she could have chosen a different way to communicate her opposition to Israel’s war against Hamas. Of course I do not know for certain what she or the others who were with her that night were thinking; still, I cannot help suspecting that reenacting a frightening scenario etched into the communal memory was deliberate. And to me, that carries the odor of antisemitism, even if the perpetrators were not consciously motivated by antisemitism.

November 28

ARTHUR MILNER

I agree with Stephen Newman about a lot: I, too, liked Reg’s article, but the end raised a flag. It seemed to me that the vandalism at Indigo went beyond legitimate protest – though I wouldn’t call it antisemitic.

I would ask, “Do non-Jews have an obligation to be sensitive to many Jews’ sensitivities?” They should be, of course, as a matter of common courtesy and also tactically, but is it an obligation?

Recently, someone named Josh Gilman wrote an article (posted to Facebook) titled “Why you might have lost all your Jewish friends this week and didn’t even know it.” He wrote, ”When you are Jewish, you are always aware that there is a large population in the world that wants to kill you,” and “(There is) a category of friend that every Jewish person has in their mind. Who would I run to? Who would hide me (from the Nazis)?”

Let me say, briefly, that this is the opposite of my experience. Since the age of 18 I have lived almost entirely outside a Jewish community and I have not once experienced antisemitism.

So what do we do about (perfectly understandable) Jewish hypersensitivity?

I don’t know. I would say, in Jews and in Palestinians, we have two populations suffering from PTSD. The causes (the Nazis for the former and Zionists/Israelis for the latter) are real.

It doesn’t augur well for a “negotiated settlement.”

December

December 22

CRAIG JONES

Strange as it seems to us, Hamas (and ISIS, and Hezbollah, and the Houthis) are fixated on the next world – not this one. Their struggle is existential – as they understand it – not about this world, but about eternity. And God is on their side – of that they have no doubt.

The same is true of the extreme right in Israel. They have long memories of their treatment in Europe and Russia – and they have nowhere else to go (like the Palestinians who are despised by the rest of the Arab world).

There is no resolution absent a fundamental reordering of their base reality.

LANA BATEMAN

The Palestinians are despised by the rest of the Arab world, is that right? Is that why there have been massive worldwide protests in support of the Palestinians?

December 24

CRAIG JONES

My deepest fear is that the Israelis will give the Palestinians the war that Hamas wants – and that appears to be what is happening.

But from the standpoint of Israeli survival, the destruction of Hamas is imperative or October 7 will be repeated until hell freezes over. And from the standpoint of Hamas (ISIS, Hezbollah, and the Houthis) the destruction of Israel – and every living Jew on Planet Earth – is nonnegotiable.

I wish there were more outrage over Hamas’s diversion of billions of dollars of humanitarian aid into tunnels for the conduct of war. What has Hamas – the governing entity of Gaza – done to protect the Palestinian people from the IDF? Nothing.

The hardest thing for us Enlightenment products to get our collective heads around is that Hamas and the extreme Orthodox Israeli right are acting out a script that dates – at least – to the Babylonian captivity (c. 600 BCE), and perhaps earlier. It is an extremely complex history, but it casts a long and very dark shadow.

We should suffer no illusions: if Hamas gets its way, it will mean the ultimate extermination of Israel and every living Jew. And the Israelis know this.

Lana asks “why there have been massive worldwide protests in support of the Palestinians.”

Because judgement is easy while deep understanding of history is hard: most people are clueless about the long and extremely complex history of this region and its multiple ancient and overlapping conflicts. That’s why.

The Palestinians are victims, to be sure, of ancient and recent history, of venal leadership, of toxic religious orthodoxy, of Arab tribalism, of Israeli occupation, of European colonists, of – you name it.

RONALD BEINER

As regards the following: “We should suffer no illusions: if Hamas gets its way, it will mean the ultimate extermination of Israel and every living Jew. And the Israelis know this.”

Yet Netanyahu persuaded the Likud to boost Hamas and feed it resources! (On a smaller scale, he also cultivated ties with false friends like Orban and Putin.) How could this not be suicidal? How could the Israeli public not hold him directly responsible for this devastating recklessness and lack of basic prudence?

LANA BATEMAN

Craig, you’re the one who said the Palestinians are despised by the rest of the Arab world. I asked why then are there worldwide protests in support. Your conclusion seems to be that the only reason someone would protest mass slaughter is that they’re too quick to judgement and on the whole naive/clueless about this overly complex issue.

To throw up one’s hands and judge this issue too complex in the face of 8,000 dead children is a coward’s argument.

CRAIG JONES

Lana,

You ask “why there have been massive worldwide protests in support of the Palestinians.”

Sadly, tragically, the answer is antisemitism.

Understand: I do not condone the actions of any side. There are no clean hands in this part of the world.

The origins of this conflict – the wellsprings of this animosity – originate outside our understanding of history, rationality, logic. If you want a villain, blame religion. That’s the one thing that all sides have in common: all believe that God is on their side and that God will ensure their victory.

December 25

LANA BATEMAN

You can attribute mass worldwide support of the Palestinians to antisemitism if you like. I’m more inclined to believe it’s the live-streamed ethnic cleansing.

The underlying issues of this war are not all otherworldly and religious. In fact, I don’t even find it overly helpful to frame this conflict in terms of religion. My in-laws are Christian Palestinians – it hasn’t protected them over there. You don’t have to be Muslim to take issue with the use of military explosives on an enclosed area full of children. And certainly not every Jewish person agrees with Israel’s actions – in fact many of them are right there at the protests, side by side with the Palestinians and everyone else who cares about this issue.

Israel wants the Palestinians’ land. And they’re using every opportunity they have to ethnically cleanse those regions that remain to them – whether by outright murder or by destroying every last bit of the infrastructure that makes life livable, to the point that the Palestinians will have no choice but to leave. That’s why they’re targeting hospitals, schools, homes, churches, refugee camps, food sources and water supplies. They have not exactly been quiet about their intentions.

Likewise, I am tired of reading discourse on the Palestinian people that seeks to paint them as extremists by nature; a barbaric bunch motivated only by their raging antisemitism, despised even by the rest of the Arab world. (I happen to have lived with one for ten years, and our occasional spats have yet to result in a single rocket attack or human shield.)

RONALD BEINER

Dear Lana,

I certainly don’t believe that everyone participating in pro-Palestinian protests is an antisemite. And I certainly don’t believe that every Palestinian is an extremist. I do believe that Palestinians are right to have felt horribly mistreated by the Israelis even before this awful war started (a war provoked by Hamas). And I would be thrilled to see the Palestinians obtain their long-overdue state, reuniting the West Bank and Gaza under genuine Palestinian sovereignty when (if) it proves possible to remove Hamas from power in Gaza.

Still, there is a puzzle about the global anti-Israeli protests being debated by you and Craig that is deserving of reflection. It is widely reported that there have been up to 400,000 deaths in Yemen’s civil war since 2015, due both to direct military action and to the resulting humanitarian crisis. Obviously, many of these are civilians, including perhaps 11,000 children. If every human life is equally valuable (which I believe is true), shouldn’t there be protests of equal scale, or in fact on a much larger scale, protesting all these tragic deaths in Yemen? Have there been any such protests? I struggle to find an answer to this puzzle other than the following: that the two conflicts are viewed on the basis of an ideological narrative according to which the Israeli killing of Gazans is morally outrageous in a way that the killing of Yemenis by Saudis isn’t. If you can supply an alternative interpretation, I’d be happy to hear it.

LANA BATEMAN

I cannot speak to the intentions of every protester. As to myself, I care deeply about this conflict because it impacts people who are close to me. I think one thing that makes this unique is the live-streamed nature of it. For so long we in the West have had the comfort of seeing casualty numbers only in the abstract, with just the occasional image of devastation making it through to the news. Not so here. On Twitter and Instagram and TikTok anyone with a passing interest in the subject is sure to come across images daily that will shake them to their core. (Just yesterday I saw a young child bleed out in his parents’ arms after being hit in the neck by shrapnel.) Add to that this basic fact: in the West our leadership is not only failing to take a stand against Israeli war crimes but is actively providing the money, weapons and political cover to facilitate them.

REG WHITAKER

Of course the war in Yemen and the war in Gaza are both conflicts in which large numbers of civilians have been victimized. But counterposing Yemen to Gaza for purposes of argument about Gaza is a dodgy business, redolent of the “whataboutism” that deflects arguments that are specific to one situation by referencing something else somewhere in the world for the purpose of undermining one’s opponents’ argument. Critics of the BDS campaign against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank ask, “What about Chinese treatment of the Uighurs or Tibetans? Why aren’t you protesting these occupations?” Which makes as much sense as if the campaigners to “free Soviet Jewry” back in the 1980s were countered by “What about the Blacks under the apartheid regime in South Africa?”

In any event, there is a simple reason why Gaza stands out for Canadians in a way that Yemen does not: the longstanding Jewish community in Canada has lobbied successfully to make support for Israel a keystone of Canadian foreign policy. There is nothing inherently wrong in this, of course, but today there is a growing number of people of Muslim, Palestinian and Arab background who see the conflict in Israel in a different light and are making their views known. Moreover, since the Israel/Palestine issue has been made so central to Canada’s role in the world, many, many Canadians who are not directly connected to either community have formed strong views about what Canadian policy on Israel/Palestine should be and what it should not be. It’s just a reality that Yemen, however terrible its condition, does not have these close ties touching deep chords here.

December 26

RONALD BEINER

Reg,

The point was not about why Canada in particular cares about Israel/Gaza. Rather, the point was that the whole world is up in arms about Israel and makes not a peep about equally bad stuff going on elsewhere.

None of this is to apologize for the brutality of Israel’s response (which Hamas anticipated and in fact hoped for). But it is indeed a case of selective outrage – which seems pretty obvious.

March

March 24

HENRY MILNER

Arthur,

As I understand it, your position is that there is one strong bad guy and one weak good guy. The only resolution that could help the good guy would be from a stronger (international) intervenor forcing it. In the meantime there is nothing to be done, since the bad guy cannot be expected to accept that all fault lies with him.

On the other hand, if you start from the position that there is fault on both sides, however unequal, then you have a chance at getting the stronger guy to negotiate.

ARTHUR MILNER

Bad? Good?

There is fault on both sides, everywhere, always. All armies at war rape and torture, no? What do you expect from young men, armed to the teeth and hired to kill?

But what we know about Israel is that it will never give up the occupied territories unless forced. It might agree to, as it did, more or less, in Oslo, but it will never follow through. That time they assassinated the Prime Minister to put an end to the foolishness.

As for the Palestinians, the central government is too weak to adequately enforce control, so one faction or another will always disrupt any attempt to negotiate a settlement.

Given all that, both sides must be forced to accept a settlement that will have to look much like the Arab Peace Initiative. And given the mutual hostility, foreign troops will be required. That is a long shot, but anything else is a waste of time.

What possible reason does Henry have to believe that Israel will agree and follow through this time, under any circumstances?

But Israel is endangering the world; it must be forced. And we now have an opportunity.

March 25

GEOFF WHITE

A major international intervention, as compelling as the argument for it may sound, would be fraught with all manner of difficulties and the usual unintended consequences, including some truly horrendous ones. Such an operation would be bound to result in direct military conflict with Israel, not to mention Hamas and some Arab states and Iran, with terrible losses of lives on all sides.

United Nations enforcement operations have been rare and produced ambivalent results. The most important of these was the Korean War, and despite years of peace and prosperity for South Korea, North Korea poses one of the greatest threats to international security today. We might make reference to the first Persian Gulf War, the NATO intervention in the Balkan states leading to the Dayton Accords, and the war in Kosovo which did not quite win UN approval. The outcomes of these have been less than optimal. (The first Persian Gulf War might have been an exception but for the terrible decision of the United States and United Kingdom to double down 13 years later to unseat Sadam Hussein.)

But were there an unlikely decision by leading powers to enforce militarily a settlement in Israel and Palestine, which would likely not receive the support of Russia and China, how would they summon the vast resources to make this work, especially in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine which is already stretching national budgets? We must bear in mind also the U.K.’s incapacity around the time of the founding of Israel to foster a peaceful transition in accordance with the international consensus at the time. The U.K. withdrew to allow the matter to be settled militarily between the Zionists and the Arabs. (The case of Afghanistan casts a grim shadow.)

All countries will have their own interests to consider in joining an international military effort to enforce a two-state solution. Would Canada be part of such an effort when our armed forces are already understaffed and our matériel wanting? Would Canadian men and women wish to attach themselves to such an operation so distant from our shores? The politics of our Jewish and Muslim communities would make such commitment particularly difficult.

In the face of these challenges, I extend my best wishes to President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken who are trying to defuse the crisis. I hope that, in the coming years, diplomacy will be able to bring some semblance of peace – even to revert to the status quo ante of unsatisfying and unresolved conflict. That situation would at least be a better starting point than where we are now.

LANA BATEMAN

In my eyes it’s not about good and bad. It’s about what human beings are capable of when they have absolute power over another group and no consequences for their actions. When you have soldiers brazenly filming their own war crimes and posting them to TikTok, what conclusion can one take away but that they fully expect their abuses will continue to be treated with impunity?

I find myself with little patience for reading justifications that prop up this idea that Israel is powerlessly playing into the hands of Hamas, who’ve sadly left them no choice but to commit genocide. It’s the cliché of the abusive husband – look what you made us do.

If people continue to kid themselves about Israel’s intentions, their actions will continue to baffle.

March 26

ARTHUR MILNER

Thank you, Geoff. It’s hard to disagree with anything you say. A major international intervention would be both highly unlikely and fraught. Large-scale boycotts, divestments and sanctions – not the formal BDS, but limited to ending the occupation – could work, but are unlikely.

But it’s worth noting I’m not the only dreamer. This is from Jim Zogby of the Arab American Institute:

(The early Zionists) believed that the colony they would build would be a “rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”

This deeply racist mindset found its best expression in the 1960 film Exodus that transposed the American “cowboys and Indians” storyline onto the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – with Israelis as pioneers seeking freedom for themselves and their families, facing hordes of savages who sought only to kill them. The conflict was thus reduced to “Israeli humanity versus the Palestinian problem.” And what was needed was a way to defeat, subdue, or solve the “problem” so that Israeli humanity could realize their dreams …

If (the White House) saw Palestinians as equal human beings, they would tell the Israelis to stop bombing. They would remove the block on UNRWA. They would support a UN resolution that would send international forces into Gaza and the West Bank, ending the illegal Israeli occupation of both. And they would set up an international relief and reconstruction effort not only to rebuild Gaza, but also to send in teams of doctors to address the physical and psychological wounds of this war.

March 27

GEOFF WHITE

Thank you, Arthur. I noted in the link you copied the reference to the 1960 film Exodus, starring Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint and a lineup of American and British stars of the day, and based on the novel of the same name by Leon Uris. I can think of no clearer examples of the exercise of “soft power” than these “blockbuster” works. I believe Jim Zogby is right to have identified these as having set the attitudes of so many involved in setting policy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – even up to today. I can attest to how reading that robustly written novel influenced my own initial views of the conflict in the 1960s, and – truth be told – I still savour, in remembrance of things past (and I deliberately use the Proustian phrase), the feelings it inspired in me at the time.

For someone working in the cultural sector as you do, it may as inspiring as it is appalling in this case that a work of art can have such a profound impact on the state of public and official opinion – even over decades. The more so when the work is of independent, rather than state-sponsored, origin. No deliberate Israeli government campaign of cultural diplomacy could have done a better job. Exodus, the novel and the film, would make a great subject of historical and cultural investigation and analysis.

ANDRÉ BINETTE

The Ten Commandments is being shown on television this week. Another example of religious soft power by Hollywood which had a bearing on Western public perception of Israel as land rightfully belonging to Zionists. What a Hollywood film will never show is the call to genocide that follows the Moses-led return to the Holy Land in the Bible. The foundational book of Judeo-Christian civilization is full of blood and slaughter. The Middle East right now is following a script that was written a long time ago. Wide-scale horror is its deep-seated psychological and cultural DNA. It always has been an epicentre of hate with dreadful consequences for humanity.