An artist’s collage juxtaposes the real-life conditions Palestinian workers face in the occupied West Bank with Scarlett Johansson’s role as SodaStream spokesmodel. (Courtesy Electronic Intifada)
Outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, activists demonstrate against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his peace proposal, Jan. 29, 2014. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
A Jewish settler (unseen at left) places the Israeli flag on a road sign as Israeli troops encircle Palestinian villagers protesting the army’s cutting branches off olive trees on a road leading to the illegal Jewish settlement of Tekoa, south of Bethlehe
Dr. Eyad El Serraj at a 1993 press conference in East Jerusalem denouncing Israel’s use of torture. (Ruben Bittermann/Photofile)
U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (l) and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Jan. 22 press conference closing the Geneva II peace talks on Syria. (Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August/September 1997, pg. 99
Open Secrets: Israel Nuclear and Foreign Policies
By Israel Shahak, Pluto Press, 1997, 193 pp. List: $18.95; AET: $16.
Reviewed by Norton Mezvinsky
As a critic of Zionism and as an opponent of Jewish exclusivity, Israel Shahak is special. He possesses in-depth knowledge of Israeli society, Jewish culture and the history of his people. His humanitarian concerns and commitments are extensive; his work as a human rights campaigner in the state of Israel is enormous. His impressive ability to analyze problems rationally may be partially attributed to his scientific training and his many years of teaching and doing research in organic chemistry at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.
Although detesting some aspects of Israel's character, Shahak loves his adopted country. From 1945 when he arrived in Palestine at the age of 12, after having spent four years in the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp, he has not desired to live elsewhere. In leveling his criticisms of certain Israeli policies, some aspects of traditional Judaism, much of American Jewish society and Palestinian and Arab politics, Shahak is fair-minded, probing and fearless.
In his latest book, Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies, Shahak demonstrates, as he has done in previous writings, that Israel can only be understood from the inside. He argues convincingly that mainstream media coverage of Israel in the United States is therefore often both inadequate and misleading.
This book consists of some of Shahak's written reports, containing commentaries upon articles that appeared in the Israeli Hebrew press between 1991 and 1995, and of brief chapter prefaces, written by Shahak in February 1996. The supporting documentation and the logic employed in argumentation are impressive. Among Shahak's major themes in the book are:
1) Israel aims at establishing hegemony over the entire Middle East and in order to do this has considered among other tactics the extremes of pre-emptive strikes against Syria and Iran. Although Israeli policies have a global aspect, as evidenced by Israeli involvement in such diverse countries as South Korea, Kenya and Estonia, those policies directed outside the Middle East have been subordinated to regional aims.
2) Israeli policies, especially as they affect the Palestinians, have an ideological aspect, based upon discrimination. This discrimination, inherent in Israel's character as a Jewish state, amounts to a form of apartheid based upon religion and is directed not only against Palestinians but against all non-Jews.
3) The United States has supported Israel almost blindly since the 1960s for two reasons: Israel serves U.S. interests not only in the Middle East but around the world. Shahak believes that when it is inconvenient for the U.S. government to become directly involved in a particularly unsavory act or in supporting a heinous regime, the U.S. calls upon Israel to do the job.
Less controversial is Shahak's recognition that Israel and its lobby wield tremendous influence in the United States. Shahak provides insights here that are often far more penetrating than what has been written by others. In his analysis he scathingly criticizes much of the organized and individual American Jewish support of Israel. He also provides some valuable information from the Israeli Hebrew press. An example is documenting the pressure that caused U.S. Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a former National Security Agency director and former deputy CIA director, to announce on Jan. 20, 1994 that he would not serve as President Bill Clinton's secretary of defense. The decision by Inman, who had raised troubling questions about the U.S.-Israeli relationship in his previous positions, negated the threat that under his leadership the United States would investigate Israel's nuclear buildup.
4) The freedom of the Israeli press has greatly increased in the 20 years between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s. One of Shahak's most startling arguments is that the Israeli left has been more hostile than the Israeli right to progress in this field, as well as in other areas of human rights.
5) Israeli-Arab trade, ongoing since 1967, rests largely upon deceit and corruption on both sides and includes vegetables and drugs. This trade, which progressed through April 1991 despite the Arab boycott and has increased since that time, has benefitted both sides economically. Within this context Shahak argues that Israel consistently has opposed any developments that might lead toward democracy in neighboring countries.
Shahak reserved a part of his ire for the Palestinian political leadership. He charges that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, his henchmen and most Palestinian intellectuals have failed to study seriously the Zionist ideology of Jewish exclusivity and therefore have "only themselves to blame for being stunned by all the developments in the 20 months after Oslo."
Noting the severe decline of the standard of living in the Gaza Strip since Arafat's arrival, Shahak mentions that Arafat does the dirty work for his Israeli bosses by ruling with brute force. Shahak predicts that a "naked Palestinian dictatorship" could evolve and that this could result in the worst-ever oppression of Palestinians.
Open Secrets is especially valuable reading for those people interested in Israel and its policies but who do not or cannot read the daily Israeli Hebrew press carefullly. Little of the information and few of the insights in Open Secrets can be found in other books that focus on Israel and the Middle East.
Open-minded readers who may find parts of Shahak's analysis controversial and who may question or disagree with some of his commentary should nevertheless be impressed by his argumentation and be moved to re-think some of their own opinions. For all these reasons, Open Secrets is an excellent book for required reading in history, political science and/or international affairs courses in which there is consideration of Israel in the Middle East.