- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

WALLED: ISRAELI SOCIETY AT AN IMPASSE

By Sylvain Cypel

Other Press, $16.95, 491 pages, paper

REVIEWED BY MARTIN SIEFF

The recent French presidential election taught anew the old truth that there are two Frances — the conservative, bold, pro-America France of Nikolas Sarkozy, who won, and the collectivist, avant-garde, left-wing France of Segolene Royal, who lost. “Walled” is a classic product of Ms. Royal’s France: It is worthy of note neither for its originality, which is negligible, nor its quality, which is execrable, but for what it reveals about an all-too-common Western mindset — the old obsession with blaming the West and its allies for the sins of their destructive enemies.

Sylvain Cypel is a prominent left-wing French-Jewish intellectual, a senior editor for Le Monde and one anticipated, especially given the generous length of 491 pages, to have at least some original and arresting ideas. Instead, all we get is the depressing realization that, 35 years after Clint Eastwood and his director Don Siegel pilloried the ultra-liberal obsession with “understanding” killers while ignoring their innocent victims, the old genre is still very much alive.

Mr. Cypel has revived every negative stereotype of the left-wing French intellectual. His book obsesses on negative Israeli phenomena without acknowledging the very real dangers, sufferings and experiences that caused them or repeatedly renewed them.

Mr. Cypel repeats every left-wing cliche about Israel that has haunted the boulevards of Paris since the Six-Day War 40 years ago. Tiny Israel, smaller in area than most American states and with a population of only around 7 million, is still seen by him as an omnipotent regional superpower going from victory to victory.

The security threats it faces from Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are either not taken seriously or blamed on the intransigence of the Israeli state itself. There is no reference to the well documented continued inculcation of hatred in a generation of children subject to the control of the Palestinian Authority, or to the television network it controls that has even transformed Sesame Street and Mickey Mouse into advocates of genocide.

Mr. Cypel lived in Israel for 12 years. Whom did he talk to and what did he see? He must have lived, to echo Sylvia Plath, in his own Bell Jar all that time, moving in an enchanted bubble of his own moral superiority and intellectual self-regard, secure in his confidence that he already knew the answers to every question, so he never had to ask any of them.

Although this book is new it is already astonishingly dated. Mr. Cypel waxes loud in his enthusiasm and praise for Amir Peretz, the former Israeli trade union activist who won the leadership of the opposition Labor Party. He expresses confidence that Mr. Peretz’s emergence as minister of defense last year would mark a bold new era for the Jewish state.

Indeed it did, but not the way Mr. Cypel expected. Mr. Peretz, about the only contemporary major Israeli politician Mr. Cypel has any respect for, proved a catastrophically incompetent clown in his direction of the Israeli military last summer in the bungled attempt to oust Hezbollah from southern Lebanon.

Mr. Cypel’s bias distorts every subject he touches. The left-wing Israeli “New Historians” were not dispassionate “scholars” uncovering objective “historical truths” as he claims. Israeli historian Efraim Karsh, who has an Israeli Labor Party background, has written a scathing expose of their distortions, bias and political agenda in his 2005 book “Fabricating Israeli History: ‘The New Historians.’”

Mr. Cypel claims “there is no risk whatsoever that, if it leaves the territories, Israel will immediately disappear.” Apart from the fact that Iran’s leaders would have an even tinier target to nuke if they wanted to, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support this confident, astonishing statement.

Mr. Cypel claims Israel enjoys a superiority of “a thousand to one” over the Palestinians and “10-to-one” over the surrounding Arab nations. There is no military analysis or hard figures of any kind to back up these confident, sweeping and entirely random assertions. He remains sure that as soon as a Palestinian state is established, the Palestinians will immediately recognize Israel as an equal. Sadly, this assertion not only has almost no empirical evidence to support it, but it flies in the face of the 90 years of Palestinian opposition to the Jewish settlement enterprise.

Mr. Cypel cannot even deliver his bad ideas, biased reporting, sloppy generalities and distorted perceptions with any kind of style or entertainment. Reading through this book is like wading through a Louisiana swamp in midsummer. It is an exhausting, enervating and above all mind-numbing experience. Cliche piles upon cliche.

Even the otherwise witless Publishers Weekly blurb admitted the book was “heavy going — contentious, rambling, repetitious, full of dense philosophizing,” and that was from an adulatory reviewer.

There is much for which modern Israeli society and politics can be criticized. But Mr. Cypel is not the man to do it. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s wall is not a metaphorical symbol of closed and repressed minds, much as Mr. Cypel, in his typical bungled and ponderous re-interpretation of Sigmund Freud maintains — it is a successful defensive measure that stopped Palestinian suicide bombers from slaughtering Israeli civilians. And in so doing, it also vastly reduced, even if it did not end, the grim cycle of Israeli retaliation for such attacks. But Mr. Cypel, unlike Freud, is never content to allow a cigar to just be a cigar. The metaphorical symbolism of the wall is hammered home until it is running out of the ears.

It is the self-important pretentiousness of this endless, ridiculous book that grates above all. One longs for the legendary British satirist Michael Palin to emerge naked with an exploding cabbage, as he did in a classic “Monty Python” sketch, and exclaim with dignity, “Je suis un revolutionaire.” If one must accept the done-to-death metaphor of the walled-in mind, at least let it apply to Mr. Cypel and those like him.

Martin Sieff is national security correspondent for United Press International.

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