David Solway's Hear, O Israel!: A Feast for the Conservative Mind

Hear, O Israel!

By David Solway

Canadian Values Press (Mantua Books)

181 pages; $25

On September 10, 2001, Canadian David Solway was merely an acclaimed poet, educator, and literary critic, warming himself (and his unexamined 1960s-era left-wing views) on a tranquil Greek island.

On September 11, 2001, he became a prophet. Watching the collapse of the twin towers on a television in his local café, Solway experienced a worldview-shattering epiphany that drew him into a singular fellowship of Western liberal intellectuals -- Christopher Hitchens, Alain Finkielkraut, Michael Novak, and Nick Cohen, among them -- who had been shocked by 9/11 into a fearful awareness of Islamist triumphalism’s threat to the West. As if making up for lost time, these ideological converts have brought a special urgency to their newly embraced roles as political Cassandras, perhaps none more apocalyptically than Solway.

Since then, Solway has put his formidable intellect to the service of myth-busting. In 2007, he published The Big Lie: On Terror, Anti-Semitism, and Identity, an indictment of the left’s collusion with Islamo-fascism in demonizing America and delegitimizing Israel.

In a way, Hear, O Israel!, partially adapted from published articles, is a recapitulation and updating of perils that have proliferated since the publication of The Big Lie. But this time Solway dwells at greater length and depth on what the Talmud calls sin’at achim, or brotherly hatred, a dynamic throughout Jewish civilization, currently embodied in the intensifying standoff between fellow-traveling anti-Zionists and Israel’s defenders.

Hear, O Israel!’s chapter titles give a good sense of what preoccupies him: “We Are All Israeli,” “The Darkness of Anti-Semitism,” “A House Divided,” and “The Question” (in a nutshell: why are Jews -- not all, but a disconcerting number -- so prone to turn on themselves and make common cause with those who would delight in their extermination?).

Solway is an omnivorous researcher, rooting out polemical truffles from ancient religious texts, eminent historians, presidential speeches, imams’ sermons, academic treatises, today’s newspapers, and yesterday’s blog posts with uniform curiosity and a knack for artful synthesis, every debating point issuing from a tidy braid of thematic skeins drawn from a gamut of sources.

He is fiercely critical of intellectuals who permit ideology to trump scholarly integrity, coming down particularly hard on corrupted Jewish and Israeli academics. To illustrate the insanely convoluted lengths to which post-Zionist Israeli ideologues will go to vilify their country, for example, he contemptuously cites a thesis (accepted, even lauded) by Israeli sociologue Tal Nitzan, claiming that “the absence of military rape of Palestinian women is no different from military rape itself, since it ‘strengthens the ethnic boundaries … just as military rape would have done’ -- Palestinian women are obviously humiliated and relegated to inferior status in being so loftily shunned by Israeli soldiers.” That this self-loathing perversion of reason -- “non”-rape by Israelis equals racism! -- today passes for scholarship is a damning indicator of leftist academic culture.

Solway’s high-octane writing snaps, crackles, and pops with savage but disciplined indignation. He’s been criticized for his habit (far more prevalent in The Big Lie than here) of using $50 words where $10 ones would do, but I usually find his more recondite vocabulary has been chosen for precision, not pretension: I found “proprioceptive hatred” a deliciously original and evocative description of an English Jewish academic’s revulsion for Israel.

Solway brings a staggering litany of supportive data and citations to his argumentation, at once a strength and a weakness. It can be argued that because the anti-Zionist juggernaut -- academic unions, Israel Apartheid Week apparatchiks -- depends so heavily on a seductive cocktail of lies, distortions, and emotive “narrative,” the world needs the strong antidote. On the other hand, his mountains of evidence swathed in fulminatory prose will intimidate sensitive peaceniks, political fence-sitters, and cultural relativists -- which is to say, the kind of people who think Obama is The One. Which explains why Solway’s most respectful readers are hawkish Americans who cluster for comfort and motivation around U.S. conservative websites such as Pajamas Media and FrontPage Magazine, where Solway has found a congenial niche.

Like his prophetic forebears, Solway aims to afflict the comfortable, and most people avoid discomfort if they can. But for those who sing in the clash-of-civilizations choir he preaches to, or at least appreciate the clarity of its music, Hear, O Israel! is the best-annotated hymnal -- a veritable Google of political crimes and misdemeanors from the left -- they are likely to find amongst the sparse but vigorous crop of intellectuals defending Israel and the West today.