Alfred Drey­fus as a pris­on­er on Dev­il’s Island, 1898

By now, the por­tion of the world that is inter­est­ed in truth knows this: on Octo­ber 17, an errant rock­et, fired from with­in Gaza, struck a park­ing lot, trag­i­cal­ly killing the Pales­tin­ian civil­ians who were shel­ter­ing there. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the wheels of pro­pa­gan­da move quick­ly, and this has put into motion protests and riots across the Mid­dle East, West­ern Europe, and many Amer­i­can cities and col­lege campuses. 

This is the response that Hamas count­ed on when it ped­dled its false­hood to a world eager to find fault with Israel. To be enraged by Hamas reports of an Israeli airstrike’s destruc­tion of a hos­pi­tal — and of 500 peo­ple dead or trapped beneath rub­ble — is a rea­son­able emo­tion­al response; to main­tain that rage towards Israel when, in day­light, it is clear that the hos­pi­tal in ques­tion has not been reduced to rub­ble, is bare­ly dam­aged, and that all evi­dence makes clear that the trag­ic loss of life was a result of rock­et mis­fire from with­in Gaza… well, that’s some­thing else entire­ly. It’s a famil­iar some­thing else.” 

To let neg­a­tive fic­tions inform one’s opin­ion, and dis­re­gard pos­i­tive truths when they dis­sent, is a trans­par­ent means of jus­ti­fy­ing biased hatred. 

This is a response that I had to have on hand when I received crit­i­cism for my sec­ond novel’s por­tray­al of Jew­ish char­ac­ters. The Fam­i­ly Mor­fawitz is not a sto­ry about Jews being good; it’s a sto­ry in which a fam­i­ly of Holo­caust sur­vivors stand in for the Gre­co-Roman pan­theon and play out a mod­ern retelling of Ovid’s Meta­mor­phoses. The Mor­fawitz fam­i­ly mem­bers – like the Meta­mor­phoses char­ac­ters on which they are based – are hor­ri­ble, cru­el, and self-cen­tered, and some read­ers and crit­ics alike sug­gest the novel’s poten­tial to rein­force anti­se­mit­ic stereo­types. I found this absurd, and not­ed in one inter­view that nobody read Wuther­ing Heights and con­clud­ed that all the Eng­lish are hor­ri­ble, and that it would be sim­i­lar­ly unlike­ly for an informed read­er to extrap­o­late from a book about Jews being bad that all Jews some­how are. More­over, I felt that it should not be the job of the Jew­ish fic­tion writer to dis­pel ancient stereo­types, or let a fear of them affect one’s work; for if it’s true that peo­ple are swayed by fic­tion, they are also swayed by real­i­ty, and they are gen­er­al­ly curi­ous enough to want to dis­tin­guish between the two. 

In light of recent events, this seems naive. It also should have seemed naive in light of past events. Specif­i­cal­ly, the dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Amer­i­can pro­gres­sivism that lib­er­al Jews world­wide are now expe­ri­enc­ing recalls the dis­il­lu­sion­ment expe­ri­enced by Theodore Her­zl while cov­er­ing the Drey­fus Affair — a dis­il­lu­sion­ment which birthed the mod­ern Zion­ist movement.

In 1894, the French Artillery offi­cer Alfred Drey­fus was base­less­ly con­vict­ed of sell­ing French mil­i­tary secrets to the Ger­mans. Drey­fus, an Ala­t­ian of Jew­ish descent, was sen­tenced to life impris­on­ment on the penal colony of Devil’s Island. Less than two years lat­er, new evi­dence iden­ti­fied the true spy, but this evi­dence was sup­pressed by senior mil­i­tary offi­cials. Not only did they know­ing­ly acquit the true cul­prit, but they then forged addi­tion­al doc­u­ments to bring new charges against Dreyfus.

Emile Zola’s J’Accuse…!” took up Dreyfus’s cause, stat­ing that — had Zola failed to do so — his nights would oth­er­wise be haunt­ed by the spec­tre of an inno­cent man, far away, suf­fer­ing the most hor­ri­ble of tor­tures for a crime he did not com­mit.” Zola’s let­ter then goes on to describe the affair in detail, and ends with nine accu­sa­tions against those who he felt were com­plic­it in the gross mis­car­riage of justice. 

While Her­zl no doubt agreed with Zola’s account­ing for the facts, his con­clu­sion was more fatal­is­tic. Above all,” he wrote in his diaries, I rec­og­nized the empti­ness and futil­i­ty of try­ing to com­bat anti­semitism.” While the French Zola want­ed to fight to make the truth known, Her­zl under­stood some­thing more sin­is­ter: the truth was known, it sim­ply was not impor­tant. To an estab­lish­ment that found it con­ve­nient to find fault with a Jew, exon­er­at­ing evi­dence was a dan­ger that could not be allowed to see light.

The Ahli Arab Hos­pi­tal inci­dent is the Drey­fus Affair of our time. Ini­tial reports blamed Israeli airstrikes for the explo­sion, par­rot­ing Hamas’s unsub­stan­ti­at­ed claims. Their sources were not­ed as Pales­tin­ian offi­cials,” or Health min­istry offi­cials in Gaza,” with­out explain­ing that both of these refer to Hamas. It did not take two years, as it did in Dreyfus’s case, for the counter-evi­dence to pour in, but by that time the dam­age was done.

The term use­ful idiot” was coined by Lenin to describe naive or cred­u­lous per­sons who can be manip­u­lat­ed or exploit­ed to advance a cause or polit­i­cal agen­da.” It’s been thrown around in the after­math of this report­ing, but that’s a flawed and care­less des­ig­na­tion of the behav­ior it seeks to describe. Trust­ing a Hamas report, when none oth­ers exist to refute it, push­es naivety to its extreme lim­it; fail­ing to clear­ly and unequiv­o­cal­ly cor­rect one’s pub­lic con­dem­na­tion of Israel, when irrefutable evi­dence comes to light, expos­es an agen­da that cares for nei­ther Pales­tin­ian lives nor truth when they get in the way of con­demn­ing Jews.

Those today who are com­pelled to speak the truth, as Zola was, by the knowl­edge of the vio­lent hor­rors unleashed on Jews when such false­hoods rot in pub­lic, are being drowned out by loud­er voic­es. Zola’s list had nine accu­sa­tions; ours is longer, and pos­si­bly end­less if some reck­on­ing with truth were going to be sat­is­fied. But while the list of com­plic­it enti­ties is inex­haustible, one might find that Jews them­selves are quite exhaust­ed. Exhaust­ed by the pre­tense that a Clean the World” sign with a Jew­ish star being dis­posed of is a com­ment on social jus­tice; exhaust­ed of hear­ing that the tear­ing down of Kid­napped” signs is some­how root­ed in resis­tance to colo­nial­ism; exhaust­ed of assur­ance that calls of Gas the Jews” are freak­ish, one-off inci­dents; exhaust­ed of try­ing to jus­ti­fy how a lead­ing pub­li­ca­tion could real­ly expect impar­tial report­ing from a free­lancer who has a his­to­ry of prais­ing Hitler.

In place of our Zola-like quest to scream the truth to a mob that does not want to hear it, Jews might rea­son­ably lean towards Herzl’s grim eval­u­a­tion: the futil­i­ty of attempt­ing to com­bat anti­semitism with rea­son. We can only hope that our assess­ment will not be as prophetic.

Daniel H. Tur­tel is the author of the nov­els The Fam­i­ly Mor­fawitz and Greet­ings from Asbury Park, win­ner of the Faulkn­er Soci­ety Award for Best Nov­el. He grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty with a degree in math­e­mat­ics and received an MFA from the New School. He now lives in New York City.