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Kosinski, Others Back Israel at Writers and Artists Forum

May 26, 1988
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Novelist Jerzy Kosinski abandoned his role as moderator of a Middle East peace debate to make an uncharacteristically strong statement of identification with Israel, based on his Jewish roots and his experience as a Holocaust survivor.

As a result, Kosinski swung a panel of writers who were meeting to discuss the unrest in the administered territories firmly to the right.

“When it comes to being a Jew or Israel, I can’t be reasonable,” Kosinski told audience members at a public forum sponsored by Writers and Artists for Peace in the Middle East, at New York’s Park Avenue Armory.

“I have seen in four years of my life one third of all those who I could feasibly call on gone. So it was with all but two of my family members.”

Kosinski said that Israel had demonstrated “an extraordinary state of restraint” in controlling the rioting by Palestinian Arabs. He described the riots as “a continuation of riots that took place in 1920 and 1929 — basically old hat.”

Among the three principle speakers, only Letty Pogrebin, a leading feminist writer and editor of Ms. magazine, advanced a position sympathetic to Israelis who favor a “territory for peace” solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Pogrebin’s views backing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and an independent Palestinian state were contrary to those of both William Phillips, a professor of English at Boston University and editor of Partisan Review, and Dr. David Sidorsky, professor of philosophy at Columbia University.


According to Phillips, the unrest “is not an uprising by a minority group fighting or protesting for its rights,” but rather a “war, a continuation of a long war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

In addition, he said, the war “is not really being fought on the West Bank, but American television.”

Sidorsky said the Palestinian unrest was only one aspect of the larger Arab-Israeli conflict.

“It is a painful but realistic choice” to deemphasize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of seeking peace with neighboring Arab countries, said Sidorsky.

Pogrebin’s address took the form of a denial of a services of “cant’s,” starting with and assertion that “Israel has no one to talk to” and ending with “we need the territories for security.”

These “can’t” statements, said Pogrebin, are “calcified barriers to the truth” and have become “loyalty statements” in the Jewish community.

According to participants, Pogrebin was disappointed that Kosinski failed in his role as moderator to insure a fair debate. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick, who chaired the event, acknowledged in an interview Wednesday that Kosinski took “a rather weak position as a moderator,” but said his remarks were otherwise a “landmark, milestone event.”

It seems “very, very important that he, after finding it too difficult for a long while, found it necessary to make a declaration of the importance of Israel after the Holocaust,” she said.

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