Plowshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel

By Ben-Atar, Doron | Shofar, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Plowshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel


Ben-Atar, Doron, Shofar


Plowshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel, by Arno J. Mayer. London and New York: Verso, 2008. 432 pp. $34.95.

When Arno Mayer retired following a solid career at Princeton, his agent suggested he write a memoir. Mayer decided instead to write Plowshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel - a highly critical history of the encounter between the Zionist "colonialist master[s]" and die Palestinian "native subalterne]" (p. 370).

The book opens with a long polemical prolegomenon pillorying Israel for being "blinded by hubris and self-righteousness" (p. 88). Mayer understands the"logic" of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's position on the Holocaust (p. 55) and attributes all that has gone wrong in the Middle East to America's "drive for global hegemony" (p. 80) and Israel's "transformation into a ghetto with a siege mentality" (p. 76). But the opening salvo is hardly confined to Israel. Mayer squeezed into this section his views on a wide range of controversies, from the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s and the rise of the Taliban, to the two wars against Iraq and to the debate over Iran's nuclear program. Mayer explains that "the length and digressiveness" of the prolegomenon are "due to my [his] propensity for thick contextualization" and that its shortcomings are "inconsequential" compared to other scholars' "Judeocentric reductionism" (p. xiii).

If the writing weren't so long-winded, I would recommend the book for its sheer entertainment value. Mayer is so determined to prove the satanic qualities of mainstream Zionism that he comes across as a parody of a pretentious bigoted snob. The book features disdainful comments about Eastern European Jews "who clung to a pre-emancipated, self isolating Judaism" (p. 163), primitive Middle Eastern Jews and their right wing politics, and cunning American Jews and their manipulative lobby. And he doesn't do better with the Palestinians. While he sympathizes with their sufferings, he portrays them as backward (sometimes noble) passive victims devoid of any human agency.

Some elements in Plowshares into Swords ate plain silly. Jews massacre and Arabs respond. Terrorism is a "historical constant" that expresses "weakness, despair and defiance" (pp. …

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