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Saturday, 17 December 2011

Israel - Without A ‘Hitch’?

Hitchens: Zionism was a "stupid, messianic, superstitious idea.”

A friend  of my teenage years –  now also living in Israel – was always referred to as “The G***. Some people’s large, engaging personalities simply lend them to being thus referred.

But that’s the least of Christopher – ‘The Hitch’- Hitchens’ links to Jews and Israel.

Among the thousands of words published since the journalist and essayist died late last week, a good number have been devoted to his Jewish background.

Christopher.HitchensBut no-one – and nothing - I’ve read has suggested that this gene must account for his outstanding Talmudic talent for argument and debate. Where journalist, Toby Young refers to him as “the Cicero of the saloon bar”, I suggest he might be better dubbed as it’s ‘Rabbi Shammai’. The latter was the scholar who  led a 1st Century Talmudic school of strict interpretation and who, like Hitchens, may be described as a ‘contrarian’.

The Hitch insisted he was a devout atheist but I wonder if this was purely self-delusion. After all, when he discovered quite late in life  that he and his brother and fellow journalist, Peter were of Jewish stock he was thrilled.

Indeed he once told interviewer, Lynn Barber of a dream in which he was on the deck of a ship and was asked to make up a minyan (a 10-strong Jewish prayer quorum).

The Hitchens’ brothers  - like too many people on the edge of the Jewish community – discovered their heritage relatively late in life. It happened when Peter married a Jewish woman and introduced her to their elderly grandmother, known affectionately as ‘Dodo’.

Recalled Hitchens: “’Dodo said, 'She's Jewish, isn't she?' and then announced: 'Well, I've got something to tell you. So are you.' She said that her real surname was Levin, not Lynn, and that her ancestors were Blumenthals from Poland.

But he also told Barber that he was convinced why they had not been told of their background as children:

“'I'm practically certain I know her motivation. Dodo had had quite a thin time in the hat business and encountered some prejudice. She looked Jewish, whereas my mother didn't. And I'm sure she didn't want me to go through any of that - her plan for me was that I was to be an English gentleman - you can judge for yourself how well that worked out!'”

But unlike his non-Jewish best friend and fellow writer, Martin Amis, Hitchens had a robust loathing of Israel and Zionism, insisting during an interview with Charlie Rose in 2001 that  Zionism was a "stupid, messianic, superstitious idea." He claimed that he even dissuaded his mother from visiting Israel.

In his own memoir, Experience, Amis gives a graphic account of a disastrous evening two years before the Rose interview when he and Hitchens had had dinner with the American Jewish novelist, Saul Bellow. They were at his home in New England, Vermont and on their way there, Amis urged Hitchens to refrain from making anti-Israel comments but Hitchens ignored his request. Saul.Bellow

Amis writes: “I sat with my head in my palms, staring at the aftermath of the dinner – that evening’s road smash …  The theme of the discord was, of course, Israel … Then it was over, and we faced the silence  … Before him (Hitchens) in the silence lay the stilled battlefield: the State of Israel, thoroughly outmanoeuvred, comprehensively overthrown …”

Perhaps as I write, Bellow and Hitchens have enjoyed a happy reunion - discovering they are united by blood and love after all.

Article first published as Israel - Without A ‘Hitch’? on Technorati

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