Page 127 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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LOWIN / DAVID GROSSMAN’S USEFUL FICTIONS
119
it even appears to mirror the Jewish ethical stance which preach­
es survival at (almost) any cost.
A problem arises, however, when the real hero, modeled on
the book’s fictional one, turns out to have a real life with real
opinions. Ironically, Grossman, in his need to have a hero, does
not seem to notice that in painting Shehade’s heroic stance he
is at the same time painting the portrait of a hateful racist.
Shehade makes sweeping, recognizably anti-Semitic, general­
izations. “The Israelis,” he says, “are rude, noisy, vulgar, and
uncultured,
as they are everywhere
(TYW,
p. 150, my emphasis).
He has also somehow discovered that “here in Israel, there is
no civilization”
(TYW,
p. 155), of all things. In a novel anti-
Semitic twist, he attacks Hebrew as the language of an inferior
culture. After all, he asserts, Hebrew has absorbed more Arabic
words than Palestinian Arabic has absorbed Hebrew words. Far
from demonstrating the cultural poverty of Hebrew, this phe­
nomenon might just as easily be interpreted as displaying the
openness of Hebrew speakers to the “other,” and their efforts
to try to understand and assimilate the other’s culture. Does
it not at least border on linguistic racism to blame Hebrew for
Arabic’s unwillingness to assimilate it? Finally, Shehade’s racism
reveals itself even in his most philo-Semitic utterances. “At the
beginning,” he avers, “I believed the Israelis were a sort of new
race”
(TYW
p. 152).
The problem, however, lies, not with Shehade, but with
Grossman’s apparently naive acceptance, without comment, of
Shehade’s ou trageous fictions. He places the blame for
Shehade’s vitriol on Israel’s actions, and by so doing chooses
to avoid a truism about anti-Semitism: that anti-Semitism is not
a function of what Jews do or do not do. Is it possible that,
in his need to find someone on the model of his own fictional
Abu Khatem to admire, he has remained deaf to the meaning
of Shehade’s diatribe against the Jews? When, in the next chap­
ter, Grossman paints the portrait of the father of an Arab ter­
rorist, he finally comes to his senses. After presenting Moham­
med Ali’s similarly outrageous statements about Israelis, without
comment, Grossman steps back to assert his own value system:
“I could not find in myself any sympathy at all for Ali Al-
Kalileh’s father, lamenting his son. . . . I reserve my sympathy
for the real victims, for his son’s victims”
(TYW,
p. 191).
This statement does not perhaps entirely redeem Grossman’s