Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 30 July 2010
Mike Marqusee’s book If I am Not For Myself, newly available in paperback, is a fascinating, meandering sort of family memoir. From the subtitle “Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew” one expects an autobiography. As it turns out, it mostly tells the story of Marqusee’s grandfather Edward V. Morand, based on an inherited suitcase full of his old personal letters, newspaper clippings and so forth.
Morand (or EVM as he is referred to throughout) was an American lawyer, sometimes columnist and Jewish activist. The fight against anti-Semitism on the streets of New York during the long build-up to the Second World War forms a large part of the narrative thrust of the book. Marqusee takes us through the Jewish and leftist milieus of the period, with extensive detours via extracts from his own life story, with analysis on religion, history and politics.
We meet Jewish prophets, heretics, thinkers, militants and activists: from Amos to Spinoza, the Haskalah and the Bund. They are a mixed bag, but their stories are rarely less than intriguing. Marqusee recalls a politically formative moment from his childhood, when an Israeli soldier, fresh from the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, visits his Jewish weekend school. The exotic visitor’s dismissive attitude towards the Palestinians makes a deep impression on the 14-year-old Mike:
“… they were better off now, under Israeli rule. ‘You have to understand, these are ignorant people. They go to toilet in the street.’ Now something akin to this I had heard before. I had heard it from the white Southerners I had been taught to look down upon … So I raised my hand … It seemed to me that what our visitor had said was, well, racist” (p. 59).
Around the dinner table, Marqusee senior angrily dismisses his son’s reaction as “Jewish self-hatred.”