Orientalism and the Jews

Back in 1996, to honor Bernard Lewis on his 80th birthday, I organized a conference. The proceedings appeared as a book, The Jewish Discovery of Islam. Now there appears a new book, Orientalism and the Jews, edited by Ivan Kalmar and Derek Penslar, who develop other aspects of the subject. (Jacket blurb here.) It’s got some interesting pieces, but a few of the contributors are firmly in the orbit of Edward Said. I’ll grant them this: just as an Arab can be an anti-Semite (even though he’s a putative Semite), a Jew can be an (anti-Arab) orientalist (even though he’s a putative oriental). But the notion that Zionism in toto is just a variety of orientalism is riddled with contradictions, because Zionism is contradictory, simultaneously embracing (and repelling) East and West. There isn’t any room for such ambivalence in Said’s us-and-them framework, which is just one of its many flaws. Why anyone would still want to operate in such an intellectual straightjacket should be a mystery. But fashion slavery in academe has its rewards, and some of these authors are sure to collect them. (You can read the intro to the book here.)