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Rose-Colored Glasses

Jacqueline Rose, a noted professor of English in the United Kingdom and the author of many works of literary criticism, has stepped beyond the academic precincts where she first made her name to produce, over the past decade or so, a substantial opus dealing with Zionism and Israel.  Her books on these subjects possess the veneer of expertise and have been published by prestigious university presses. Princeton brought out The Question of Zion in 2005 and now Chicago has published her Proust among the Nations: From Dreyfus to the Middle East.  Jacqueline Rose has consequently acquired the status of an authority. 

Relevant Links
Zionism's on Freud's Couch  Alexander Yakobson, Katharsis. Jacqueline Rose’s psychoanalytic analysis of Zionism is not only an enterprise badly at odds with reality, but The Question of Zionism does not allow for any diagnosis of its subject other than one of pathology. (Hebrew; English translation by Sara Halper here.)  
Two Sisters  Daniel Johnson, Standpoint. Comparing Jacqueline and Gillian Rose, the former a vociferous and overrated campaigner against Israel, the latter a formidable and underrated figure in Jewish and Christian thought.
The Counter-Statists  Allan Arkush, Jewish Review of Books. Among Israel’s Jewish critics, some are uninformed and malevolent; others are learned and well-intentioned, but wedded to failed ideas that have long been justly forgotten.

This is unfortunate, since she often doesn't know what she is talking about.  The thinness of her learning is most apparent when she writes in venues where she is not subject to any serious fact-checking.  Take, for instance, her article "The Zionist Imagination" in the Nation in June of 2006 where she describes Menahem Begin recalling "the moment he issued the order for the revolt in 1937 against the British authorities in Palestine."  She's off by seven crucial years.  In a 2005 interview with openDemocracy, she sagely reports what Ahad Ha'am was saying in the 1930s and 1940s (many years after his death).  In the original version of The Question of Zion she cites a 1947 utterance of Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky (who died in 1940), but this blunder was somehow corrected in the subsequent paperback edition. 

If you think this is mere nitpicking, take a look at Alexander Yakobson's exhaustive and devastating analysis of The Question of Zion, and you'll see that it's just the tip of the iceberg.  The real problem with Rose, however, is not her factual errors but her bad arguments.  And they haven't been getting any better.

She is not, to be sure, the worst sort of anti-Zionist.  In Proust among the Nations she reminds us of her refusal in 2008 to sign a letter protesting Israel's sixtieth anniversary celebration because the letter equated Zionism with Nazism.  Instead, she tells us, she signed a different letter, one that merely "noted Israel's continuing oppression of the Palestinians as a reason not to celebrate."  But even if Israel were to pull back from all of the territory taken in the Six-Day War, it's unlikely that we would find Rose dancing in the streets on its Independence Day.

From her point of view, things went awry not in 1967 but in 1947, when the United Nations partitioned Palestine.  In the longest chapter of Proust among the Nations Rose lambastes the very idea of territorial partition as a solution to ethnic crises.  She approvingly cites historian Aamir Mufti's description of its imposition in Palestine as a repetition of "the very mode of thought, the historical process which, in the case of the Jews of Europe, it was intended to resolve."  In practice, she contends, partition had dire consequences, the ethnic transfer of masses of Palestinian Arabs and the subjugation of others, which amounted to the creation of "a new, still unresolved injustice."   

In The Question of Zion, Rose strongly regrets that this injustice was not forestalled by the creation of a bi-national state in 1948.  In her new book she doesn't dwell on this matter at length, but seeks to undermine the idea of Jewish statehood by other means.  Re-examining what is generally taken to be one of chief impetuses of Zionism, the Dreyfus Affair, she concludes that it is not the journalist Theodor Herzl who drew the right lesson from it but the novelist Marcel Proust.   

As Rose correctly notes, recent scholarship has shown that what happened to Dreyfus did not really play as large a role in converting Herzl into a Zionist as he himself later claimed it did.  But since there is after all "some truth" to the idea that "because of Dreyfus, so Israel," Rose endeavors to turn the tables.  Her "different version of the story" takes "from Dreyfus, a warning—against an overfervent nationalism, against infallible armies raised to the level of theocratic principle, against an ethnic exclusivity that blinds a people to the other peoples of the world, and against governments that try to cover up their own crimes."  These are all things of which Israel is guilty, according to Rose, and in ways that are strongly reminiscent of the nefarious forces arrayed against Dreyfus. 

As for Marcel Proust, who took up his pen against these same forces, he, it seems, brings to Rose's mind the combatants of the excesses of Zionism whom she admires, such as Jean Genet and Edward Said, and no doubt, herself.  Fortuitously enough, Proust also lined up against Zionism! Admittedly, there are "only two references" to the movement "throughout the whole of À La Recherche," but they are "unsympathetic to the point of disparagement."  We need hardly doubt that his opposition to Zionism was deep-seated, since he was a man "longing for a world of permeable boundaries," not partitions between peoples.  He is thus someone worthy of being claimed as a precursor.

Rose's eagerness to enlist Proust in her cause reminds me of the way some Zionists have done much the same thing with Spinoza, who can be credited with only one vaguely proto-Zionist utterance.  Neither claim holds water.  Nor can either of them serve as the anchor for a serious analysis of Zionism or Israeli policy—something with which it would in any case be unreasonable to expect Jacqueline Rose to provide us.  In the meantime, we can take a little bit of solace, however, from her refusal to equate Zionism with Nazism, even as she writes a book with no other purpose than to enumerate its similarities to what she herself identifies as "protofascism." 

Allan Arkush is a professor of Judaic studies and history at Binghamton University, and the senior contributing editor of the Jewish Review of Books.

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Bill Pearlman on February 20, 2012 at 6:22 am (Reply)
Her grandmother must have been Stella Goldschlag. The "Jew hunter." That's all she is.
Allen Z. Hertz on February 20, 2012 at 7:10 am (Reply)
Sad to hear about Rose's malevolence and the deficiencies of her scholarship. From the optic of modern human-rights methodologies, Jews, Judaism, the Jewish people, and Israel are positively "owed" both fairness and sound social science. In the same context, there is a "super-added" duty to apply to Israel the identical standards regularly applied to other countries in the same or similar circumstances. This obviously "requires" a comparative approach, by contrast with the lamentable targeting that is the hallmark of the modern Jew-hater, including those who hate Israel, the national home of the Jewish people. The rightfulness of the Jewish people in its ancestral homeland is not a topic that can be fully addressed merely in the context of 1948 or 1967. First, there must be appreciation of the 26 centuries during which the Jewish people has maintained real demographic and cultural links with its aboriginal homeland. This is well-documented historical fact, not nostalgia. Second, there is the post-World War I general application of the principle of the self-determination of peoples. At that time, several new countries were established for the self-determination of the great Arab people. Simultaneously, a series of declarations, resolutions and treaties stipulated that there would be "a national home for the Jewish people" from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The Jewish people's right to its homeland was not "created" by these post-World War I treaties. Rather,the Jewish people's right to its homeland was internationally "recognized" by these post-World War I treaties. For more than two millennia, the Jewish people has been affirming its historical connection to Eretz Israel, where some Jews have lived in every year since the time of the Bible. See Jews, Judaism, the Jewish people, and Israel cannot allow history and law to be hijacked by anti-Semites. International law is akin to an ongoing discussion about rights. In this context, the friends of Israel have a lot to contribute to the conversation.
zelda harris on February 20, 2012 at 7:12 am (Reply)
Its time someone picked up on Jaqueline Rose. She knows exactly how to manipulate; and since she is a very attractive woman (a wolf in lambs clothing), she gets away with it.
Anna on February 20, 2012 at 9:19 am (Reply)
Professor Rose is a distinguished academic in the United Kingdom. If we are to believe Professor Arkush's destructive diatribe, it would be hard to understand how Professor Rose could have risen to the prominent and respected position that she now holds. The only way to make sense of this is to conclude that Prof. Arkush objects to anyone who takes an independent view on Israel. He seems to be one of an increasing number of propagandists who believe that not even the slightest criticism of israel can be tolerated.
zelda harris on February 20, 2012 at 11:18 am (Reply)
Professor Rose, Professor Shlaim, Miryam Margolies, and other high-profile personalities in academic and public life will have something in their backgrounds which has caused their animosity towards Israel and the Jewish community in general.
Tevya Zee on February 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm (Reply)
A "Jew hater" by any other name is a "Rose" is still a
far stchtinken Rose.
Hershl on February 20, 2012 at 10:48 pm (Reply)
Big deal. A pretty face (debatable) and boobs; these are her sole credentials. Of course, as a British academic she must hate Israel.
Empress Trudy on February 20, 2012 at 11:19 pm (Reply)
I wouldn't give these SS wannabes even the attention of condemning them.
ej on February 21, 2012 at 9:47 pm (Reply)
Where are these two Proust references (volume and page in some English edition? Maybe Rose is wrong about Proust, maybe she exaggerates; but before Professor Arkush can say that "she often doesn't know what she is talking about," he should give his readers an opportunity to judge for themselves.
zelda harris on February 22, 2012 at 1:16 pm (Reply)
Enough on Jacqueline Rose. Ignore her or reveal her skeletons.
Witness on March 2, 2012 at 10:54 am (Reply)
Is anyone actually taking the position that someone who is successful in academia cannot, by definition, be wrong or racist? This shows ignorance about the history of where nearly all racist ideas and ideologies are first generated and disseminated. And to everyone making disgusting comments about Professor Rose's body and gender, enough with the misogyny. She may be wrong and a racist and fully deserving of disdain, but you demean yourselves with such comments, which you would never post regarding a male academic. Shame on you!

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