Politics, Prose and a Promise

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Since its opening nearly 24 years ago, Politics and Prose Bookstore has been characterized by its program of presenting authors. One of our primary objectives is to connect authors and readers. As we have grown in size, sales and reputation, our author events schedule has grown. We now regularly feature 40 talks in our adult section each month.

How do we make the choice among the scores of authors we are asked to host? The highest priorities go to Washington area authors and nationally known authors on tour. We also will schedule authors on topics that are of interest to our customers. Obviously, our goal is to sell books. We are not simply a forum for ideas. We schedule authors with new books from established publishers so that there is media attention behind the books.

Last month, we canceled an appearance by Saree Makdisi, who was to have discussed his new book, "Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation," at our store. Now, we do not usually vet books before we schedule the talks, since we book these events months in advance. Sometimes we will ask to see the book before arranging a talk to see if we can get behind it for the purposes of marketing it. Makdisi's book arrived after the event was booked.

When I finally got a chance to read his book, especially its conclusion, I was very disturbed. As an American Jew, I support Israel, but I disapprove of its policies in the West Bank. I have been active in organizations and in programs expressing my opposition to the occupation by Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians. Makdisi's critique of Israel was not what bothered me; it was his solution. He advocates one state in the place of the partition that was established by the United Nations in 1947. His solution would result in the elimination of the state of Israel. What could not be accomplished militarily would be accomplished demographically, since Palestinians outnumber Israelis. What is more, there is no guarantee that such a state would be democratic since, except for Israel, there is no history of democracy in the Middle East.

I feel that we in America, both Jews and Palestinians, have an obligation to lean on the United States to be a mediator to promote a peaceful conclusion to hostilities. My opposition to Makdisi's book is that I found no such commitment. He is highly critical of Israel but not of the Palestinians or the Arab nations.

I disagree with American Jews who will support Israel's policies under any and all circumstances. My hope is, given the climate of tolerance and cooperation in the United States, that Palestinians and other Arabs would also work for a solution that would be acceptable to all sides.

Nevertheless, I now believe that I was mistaken to cancel Saree Makdisi's presentation at Politics and Prose. We will extend an invitation for him to talk at the bookstore at a time that works for him and for us. He can present the ideas that form the basis of his book. Our customers can make their own decisions on whether they support Makdisi -- or disagree with him.

-- Carla Cohen


The writer is owner of Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse.

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