What Was So Controversial About ‘The Siege of Tel Aviv’?
The Siege of Tel Aviv By Hesh Kestin (Shoeshine Press, 264 pp. $26.95)
Hesh Kestin’s The Siege of Tel Aviv is a crackling, Clancy-esque techno-thriller that mixes terrifying speculation with belly laughs. Alas, this didn’t stop its publisher, Dzanc Books, from pulp ing the book soon after its release when it was condemned on social media for being Islamophobic.
Why was the book so controversial? Because it painstakingly depicts a near future invasion and dismantling of the Jewish state by five Arab armies, led by Iran, with the country’s surviving 6 million residents left to starve in a Tel Aviv ghetto. Although the plot resembles the events of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which Kestin, an American-born Israeli, lived through, it seems that any hint of Islamic or Arab enmity toward Jews and Israel is inherently defamatory. That this is akin to characterizing films such as Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan as anti-German or Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot as pro-Nazi is beside the point. Throw in a venal American president who decides to honor his country’s treaty promises to protect Israel from nuclear attack only after it has been attacked, and you realize this is the Mideast version of Catch-22.
As with that classic, The Siege of Tel Aviv is as horrific as it is hilarious, a point driven home by an endorsement from Kestin’s friend, horror master Stephen King, who said it was scarier than anything he ever wrote. And indeed, Kestin, who spent two decades as a senior foreign correspondent, including for Forbes, and is a combat veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, has learned the first rule of horror fiction: You get to play fast and loose with just one otherworldly or discordant event. Everything else has to be, within the constraints of an otherwise fantastical plot, utterly realistic.
Kestin does throw in some outlandish characters for good measure. Israel’s top gun is a cross-dresser with a thing for Christian Dior. A self-made billionaire is saved from a kneecapping aboard a yacht when air raid sirens begin wailing. His captor, a Tel Aviv crime lord intent on wresting some of his holdings, relieves him of this fate because, in wartime, you never stop a guy from joining his army unit. The billionaire becomes Israel’s prime minister. The thug becomes Tel Aviv’s chief of police.
As for the book’s Arab invaders, well, in real life they’ve declared and waged war against the Jewish state a few times before, so why the indignation? Despite the accusations, Kestin fashions and treats several Arab characters with sensitivity, respect and even warmth.
Someone once asked Margaret Atwood whether The Handmaid’s Tale was science fiction. She denied this vehemently because she writes serious literature, not, as she put it, “talking squids in outer space.” She insisted, moreover, that it couldn’t possibly be science fiction because at one time or another, and in one place or another, everything and everyone depicted in the book had been real. By these standards, The Siege of Tel Aviv is a squidless hoot and holler.
Sheldon Teitelbaum is co-editor of Zion’s Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature.