Friday, December 30, 2016

Finished Exodus

I finished Leon Uris's, Exodus.

As noted, I read it about 30 years ago and when I was visiting the Cactus Wren Bookstore in Yucca Valley, in September, I picked up a used copy.

What struck me so powerfully this time around is how unabashedly pro-Israel is Uris in the book. And I was also struck by so many of the historical and political themes that are essentially timeless, including the existential nature of Arab and Islamic hatred of the Jews, as well as the key political issues arising out of Israel's establishment as a nation-state, the wars of Israel's independence, especially the refugee crisis (and Uris's discussion of it as a completely manufactured crisis by corrupt Arab dictatorships to generate international condemnation of the Jewish state).

It is, in other words, a book to make leftist heads explode.

In any case, I thought I'd google around for some of the contemporary debate. It's interesting.

Start with Martin Kramer, "Exodus, myth and malpractice":
Exodus by Leon Uris must rank high on any list of the most influential books about the Middle East. The novel, published in 1958, popularized the story of Israel’s birth among millions of American readers. The 1960 film, based on the book and starring Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan, reached many more millions. Exodus is still of interest, not for what it says about the creation of Israel (the commander of the ship Exodus said Uris “wrote a very good novel, but it had nothing to do with reality. Exodus, shmexodus”), but for what it reveals about mid-twentieth-century America. So more inquiry into the American context of Exodus is welcome—provided you get the facts right.

Last fall, Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, offered his audiences an account of how Leon Uris came to write the book. In a speech at Brooklyn Law School, Khalidi made this claim:
This carefully crafted propaganda was the work of seasoned professionals. People like someone you probably never heard of, a man named Edward Gottlieb, for example. He’s one of the founders of the modern public relations industry. There are books about him as a great advertiser.

In order to sell the great Israeli state to the American public many, many decades ago, Gottlieb commissioned a successful, young novelist. A man who was a committed Zionist, a fellow with the name of Leon Uris. He funded him and sent him off to Israel to write a book. This book was "Exodus: A Novel of Israel." Gottlieb’s gambit succeeded brilliantly. Exodus sold as many copies as Gone With the Wind, which up to that point was the greatest best-seller in U.S. history. Exodus was as good a melodrama and sold just as many copies.
Khalidi made a similar assertion in another speech a few weeks later, this time at the Palestine Center in Washington...
Keep reading.

Kramer really tracked down the origins of this claim of a "modern public relations" "melodrama."

He goes on:
The purpose of myth

In sum, the Gottlieb “commission” never happened. Uris’s biographers dismiss it, Gottlieb’s most knowledgeable associate denies it, and no documents in Uris’s papers or Israeli archives testify to it. It originated as a boast by Gottlieb to another PR man, made almost thirty years after the (non-)fact. And given its origin, it’s precisely the sort of story a serious professional historian would never repeat as fact without first vetting it (as I did).

Yet it persists in the echo chamber of anti-Israel literature, where it has been copied over and over. In Kathleen Christison’s book, it finally appeared under the imprimatur of a university press (California). In Khalidi’s lectures last fall, it acquired a baroque elaboration, in which Edward Gottlieb emerges as “the father of the American iteration of Zionism” and architect of “one of the greatest advertising triumphs of the twentieth century.” What is the myth’s appeal? Why is the truth about the genesis of Exodus so difficult to grasp? Why should Khalidi think the Gottlieb story is, in his coy phrase, “worth noting”?

Because if you believe in Zionist mind-control, you must always assume the existence of a secret mover who (as Khalidi said) “you probably never heard of” and who must be a professional expert in deception. This “seasoned” salesman conceives of Exodus as a “gambit” (Khalidi) or a “scheme” (Christison). There is no studio or publisher’s advance, only a “commission,” which qualifies the book as “propaganda”—an “advertising triumph.” In Khalidi’s Brooklyn Law School talk, he added that “the process of selling Israel didn’t stop with Gottlieb…. It has continued unabated since then.” It is Khalidi’s purpose to cast Exodus, like the case for Israel itself, as a “carefully crafted” sales job by Madison Avenue mad men. Through their mediation, Israel has hoodwinked America...
Now, also check Haaretz, "The 'Exodus' Effect: The Monumentally Fictional Israel That Remade American Jewry":
The pantheon of Jewish-American novelists is as populous as it is distinguished. Among its titans are two Nobel laureates, Canadian-born Chicagoan Saul Bellow and Polish-born Isaac Bashevis Singer; a justly celebrated string of Pulitzer winners from Edna Ferber through Philip Roth to Michael Chabon; and the creators of such works as "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Catch 22."

Yet, a half-century ago, when a single book transformed American Jews as no other work has done, before or since, its author was none of these.

The book was "Exodus" - and like its creator, Leon Uris, it was savaged by critics and academics, and resoundingly ignored by literary prize committees. When the book appeared in 1958, however, it sold in the millions. It was said that it was nearly as common to find a copy of "Exodus" in American-Jewish households as to find the Bible - and, of the two, not a few Jewish households apparently had only "Exodus."

Tailoring, altering and radically sanitizing the history of the founding of the State of Israel to flatter the fantasies and prejudices of American Jews, Uris succeeded well beyond his own wildest dreams, essentially remaking his eager readers and himself as well. That is, he helped foment a significant change in his fellow Jews' perceptions of Israel and, indeed, of themselves.

"As a literary work it isn't much," sniffed David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding prime minister, still in power at the time "Exodus" was published. "But as a piece of propaganda, it's the best thing ever written about Israel."

Some 40 years after the novel's publication, the prominent Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said would ruefully remark of its demonized treatment of Arabs that "the main narrative model that dominates American thinking still seems to be Leon Uris' 1958 novel 'Exodus.'"

Then see the very critical Alan Elsner, at the Jewish Journal, "Rereading Leon Uris’ ‘Exodus’: a disquieting experience."

I'm sure there's lots more commentary, but you get the idea. For good measure, here's one more, from Adam Kirsch, at the Tablet, "MACHO MAN: Exodus recast Israel’s founders as swaggering heroes and secured Leon Uris a place on the Jewish bookshelf even though, as a new biography shows, he was a mediocre writer and a troubled person."

As you can tell, leftists love to unload on Uris. But the book is awesome, and your view of it will shape your view of the man.