A pro-Israel speaker comes to campus. Anti-Israel, often anti-Semitic, activists pressure the university to disinvite him. If that fails, they try to physically prevent him or her from entering the building where the speech is to take place. If that doesn’t work, they flood the room with their people and shout the speaker down. That scenario is so common that it doesn’t rise to the level of news — at least outside of the Jewish community.
Seeing their success in stifling speech, the thugs have turned their attention to literature. In April, Hesh Kestin’s book, “The Siege of Tel Aviv,” was published. Kestin, a journalist- turned-novelist, posited the conquest of the Jewish state by Muslim forces in a surprise attack. Led by Iranian troops, the invaders massacred Israeli leaders and pushed all the country’s Jews into Tel Aviv, getting ready for murder on a mass scale. While all this is happening, the United States and the West sat on their hands.
Shortly after its publication, the (mostly) Twitter attacks began, many apparently by people who hadn’t read the book. One such criticism, echoed in an Amazon review (almost 80 percent of those reviews I encountered gave the book high positive ratings), was that the “anachronistic spelling” Moslem was used — “the favored spelling of white supremacists.” In the press release, it was Moslem; in the book, it was Muslim.
Kestin’s real offense is that he is a Zionist, a person who believes that we Jews deserve a state in our traditional homeland, the land of Israel. And he’s not afraid to advocate his views in writing.
So far, nothing in this case is surprising. People who want to see the Jewish state disappear shout down pro-Israel speakers — or in this case try to stop the publication of a pro-Israel novel.
What is shocking was the book’s publisher’s reaction. In a very short period of time, Dzanc Books went from suggesting that critics give the book a chance and read it before savaging it, to folding completely under the barrage of intense condemnations, canceling publication and even destroying all copies in its possession.
The problem is with the publisher. After abandoning its own writer in a most craven way, it may have serious credibility problems. The company also may have problems with people like me who will be unwilling to buy or review its books.
Ironically, Kestin, my editor in the early 1980s at Newsview magazine out of Tel Aviv, is thriving, shifting to self-publishing the book, and selling it on Amazon and his own website.
But this episode reflects a wider — and a very worrisome — trend in American life: The idea that the rules of democracy demand that we listen to views of others with which we disagree is dying. I can envision shouting-down matches — and maybe worse — in 2020 between Trump supporters of a closed America and those on the left who advocate for open borders. Ditto with pro- and anti-abortion rights advocates.
What can we do? If those people and institutions that are supposed to be the guardians of our democratic ideals — including political leaders, university officials and yes, our publishers — stopped caving in when the hooligans threatened mayhem, that would be a good start. Show them that intimidation doesn’t pay, and we’ll get less such behavior.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the direction we’re heading. As this episode again illustrates, it’s a tough time to be a pro-Zionist advocate or a little-d democrat.
Aaron Leibel is a former editor at The Jerusalem Post and Washington Jewish Week.