Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

Basic HTML Version

14
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
letter to
The Sunday Times
expressing their concern. Israel’s fu­
ture was for them, seemingly, a life and death matter and yet
again, this concern is rarely reflected in the fictional writings
of any of the novelists who signed this letter.
AMBIVALENCE TOWARDS ISRAEL
I now wish to suggest that this very silence is the sign of an
uneasiness, an unappeased tension. Precisely here in this com­
bination of obvious concern and conspicuous disregard we have
the evidence that the Jewish demon has not been exorcised.
It is just that it has shifted to a new location. The center of
tension has moved to Israel. If, in the year 1900, anxiety was
generated by the confrontation between the inner world of J u ­
daism and the irresistible fascination of the outer world of non-
Jewish culture, in the year 1992 this is no longer the problem.
Anxiety is now generated by Israel. Israel, as Charles Liebman
has remarked, is now the Jewish Problem and writers are no
more liberated from the Jewish Problem today than they were
100 years ago. Israel is too manifestly there. It cannot be ig­
nored. If we try to ignore it, it will pursue us in the headlines
of the daily papers. Israel is either too big or too trivial, either
too familiar or too strange. At moments of acute danger Israel
may seem as dear as life itself; at other times she must be
whipped and castigated for her intransigence, scorned for the
illiberal image which she projects. Israel, in short, is an inspi­
ration and a bone in the throat much as the Judaism of the
Ghetto was for Zangwill and his generation. And the reaction
will often be to exclude Israel from the world of imaginative
invention, leaving that subject to Leon Uris, John Le Carre and
other writers of political thrillers and adventure stories. Now
that the problem of assimilation has been solved, we will keep
our newly integrated American or British identities undisturbed
by the Israeli factor. Zangwill too, in his time, had tried to man­
age without writing about the Ghetto — the trouble was that
editors pestered him for more ghetto stories. He wrote to Clem­
ent Shorter, the editor of
The Illustrated London News
in 1893,
“I must resist the solicitations of editors to shut myself up in
the Ghetto.” Modern Jewish writers in the Diaspora will gen­
erally succeed better in keeping the Israeli “ghetto” out of their
fictions, preferring to devote themselves to the problems of the