Courageous American intellectual, essayist, novelist, playwright and critic of American imperialism, Gore Vidal, died last week.
You wouldn't know though, from the obituaries in the Australian press (Man of letters last of his kind, AP/The Australian, 2/8/12; Insider author understood the world, Guardian News/Sydney Morning Herald, 3/8/12) that one of America's greatest minds had no trouble whatever understanding and deploring the bizarre and malign hold exercised by the Israel lobby over the United States' Middle East policy.
The only indication in the Australia press that Vidal had somehow escaped the 'Elephant? What elephant?' conditioning and cowardice that characterises most American (and Australian) intellectuals* came from a New York Times piece by Charles McGrath: "Some of his political positions were quarrelsome and provocative. Vidal was an outspoken critic of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians..."
There you have it, for The New York Times, anyone who criticises Israel, if not simply ignored or dismissed outright as an anti-Semite, may be accused of being "quarrelsome and provocative"!
That the US (and The New York Times) had a bit of an 'elephant' problem, was nothing new for Vidal. He was aware of it back in the 60s:
"As I left, I told [Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, editor of Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper and friend of its president, Gamal Abdul Nasser] that if I saw Nasser at the end of the week I was perfectly willing to present to the American public Egypt's case against Israel, just as Egypt would like it presented. Partly out of a sense of mischief (we hear altogether too much of the other side) and partly out of a sense of justice, I thought that the Arab case should be given attention in the American press. As of now it has been disregarded. In fact, a few years ago the Egyptians, despairing of ever seeing their cause presented impartially in the usual 'news' columns, tried to buy an advertisement in The New York Times. They were turned down. As a result, the Egyptians are somewhat cynical about our 'free press.' They are also quite aware that when Israel was founded in 1948 and the Arabs protested to Harry Truman, he told them with characteristic bluntness: 'I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.'** Heikal laughed when I told him that the Arab point of view might one day be given in the American national press. 'Your press would never let you,' he said with finality, as one journalist to another. 'Don't even try.'" (Passage to Egypt (1963), in The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal, Edited by Jay Parini, 2008, p 283)
And here's Vidal discussing the 'elephant' 30 years later, in his Foreword to the first printing (1994) of Israel Shahak's Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years:
"Sometime in the late 1950s, that world-class gossip and occasional historian, John F. Kennedy, told me how, in 1948, Harry S. Truman had been pretty much abandoned by everyone when he came to run for president. Then an American Zionist brought him 2 million dollars in cash, in a suitcase, aboard his whistle-stop campaign train. 'That's why our recognition of Israel was rushed through so fast.' As neither Jack nor I was an antisemite (unlike his father and my grandfather) we took this to be just another funny story about Truman and the serene corruption of American politics.
"Unfortunately, the hurried recognition of Israel as a state has resulted in 45 years of murderous confusion, and the destruction of what Zionist fellow travellers thought would be a pluralistic state - home to its native population of Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as a future home to peaceful European and American Jewish immigrants, even the ones who affected to believe that the great realtor in the sky had given them, in perpetuity, the lands of Judea and Samaria. Since many of the immigrants were good socialists in Europe, we assumed that they would not allow the new state to become a theocracy, and that the native Palestinians could live with them as equals. This was not meant to be. I shall not rehearse the wars and alarms of that unhappy region. But I will say that the hasty invention of Israel has poisoned the political and intellectual life of the USA, Israel's unlikely patron.
"Unlikely, because no other minority in American history has ever hijacked so much money from the American taxpayers in order to invest in a 'homeland'. It is as if the American taxpayer had been obliged to support the Pope in his reconquest of the Papal States simply because one third of our people are Roman Catholic. Had this been attempted, there would have been a great uproar and Congress would have said no. But a religious minority of less than 2% has bought or intimidated 70 senators (the necessary two thirds to overcome an unlikely presidential veto) while enjoying the support of the media."
These days the best indication of an individual's true worth as a man and an intellectual is to seek out the opinion of a leading Zionist shill on him and assume the opposite. As it happens, Israel's loudest voice in the Australian ms media, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, has called Vidal "no George Orwell" (Celebrity novelist insulted enemies with mocking style, The Australian, 2/8/12), so there you have it, folks; Vidal is America's George Orwell.
[*Characterised most recently by US geographer Jared Diamond's complete failure to mention the Palestinians and Israel's occupation when correcting Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney's misrepresentation of his Guns, Germs & Steel thesis, which Romney had cited to claim that Israel's 'success' vis-a-vis the Palestinians boiled down to cultural superiority. (See Romney hasn't done his homework, New York Times, 1/8/12); ** To correct Vidal, Truman was actually speaking to a group of America's diplomats in the Middle East (See my 21/4/10 post No George Marshall.).