Yale, £25, 424pp, £22.50 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

In The House Of Ishmael: A history Of The Jews In Muslim Land, By Martin Gilbert

The subtitle to Martin Gilbert's new book (his 81st?) is a little misleading. This is not really a general account of the fortunes and misfortunes of Jews under Muslim rule from the seventh century until the present day. The early centuries are rushed through and, although Gilbert is aware of the magnificent and fabulously detailed account of Jewish life in medieval Egypt provided by SD Goitein's five-volume A Mediterranean Society, he makes little use of it.

Similarly, though Gilbert quotes Bernard Lewis once, he has made surprisingly scant use of Lewis's brilliant articles on the Jews under Turkish rule, which drew both on Hebrew sources and the Ottoman archives. Lewis's The Jews of Islam (1984) remains the best, most balanced and accessible account of the Jews under Muslim rule.

By contrast In the House of Ishmael reads more like a bill of indictment than a history. It is overwhelmingly focused on the sufferings of the Jews in the Islamic lands in the 20th and 21st centuries in the wake of the foundation of the Zionist movement, the establishment of Israel and the successive victories of Israel over Arab armies. The indictment is damning indeed.

From Afghanistan to Morocco, Jews were made to suffer for the successes of Zionism. They were humiliated, robbed, raped, imprisoned, tortured and killed. In Iraq and elsewhere there were mass hangings of innocent Jews. For one Iraqi Jew driven out by pogroms of the 1940s this was "a tragedy which turned out to be a blessing in disguise – it got us out of that dreadful country and away from its destructive, treacherous and savage people".

Gilbert makes use of copious anecdotal evidence and statistics to chronicle a shameful side of Arab and Islamic history. In the aftermath of the creation of Israel, 726,000 Palestinian Arabs were made refugees, while 850,000 Jews had to abandon their homes in the Arab lands. With some difficulty, Israel succeeded in assimilating most of the Jewish refugees. By contrast, the Palestinian refugees still languish in crowded camps. The paradox is that violent Arab racism and paranoia helped populate Israel.

Gilbert has so much material and such a strong case that it should not have been necessary to stack the deck. Yet it seems to me that he has done so and his use of sources is sometimes questionable. For his account of how the Jews in 13th-century Basra were forced to wear clothing that marked their lower status he cites a Jewish traveller, Jacob of Ancona, who allegedly travelled from Italy to China. But when in 1997 the purported narrative of Jacob's travels was published by David Selbourne as The City of Light, the Sinologists Jonathan Spence and Tim Barrett, the Jewish historians David and Bernard Wasserstein and myself all challenged the authenticity of the text. Since then no original manuscript has turned up. It would have been safer to have relied on Goitein's material.

Gilbert's notes cite Bat Ye'or with approval several times. When, in 2002, her book Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide appeared, I reviewed it and then threw the book away. Bat Ye'or is not an academic and her books are poorly ordered assemblages of facts, real or alleged, that relentlessly show Islam and Arabs in an unfavourable light.

She believes that there is an Islamic conspiracy to turn Europe into something she calls "Eurabia". Those interested to get a fuller sense of the dementedly Islamophobic polemics of this woman should consult the website www.loonwatch.com.

When Gilbert discusses what was happening in Palestine during the British mandate, he quotes Joan Peters's From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine to back up his assertion that more Arabs than Jews entered Palestine as immigrants in the 1930s. But when that book was published in 1984, critics swiftly demonstrated that its use of archives and statistics was seriously flawed and substantially misleading. Yehoshua Porath, professor of Middle East History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, denounced the book as "sheer forgery".

Israel can be seen as the salvation of the Jews of the Middle East, but it can also be seen as their curse. One Iraqi Jewish woman confessed that she "nursed a grudge. I felt that all the horrible things that were happening to us were because of Israel, because of your dream and your wars. You celebrated the victories, and we paid the price of those wars. Now I can see that we were saved because of the existence and efforts of Israel".

In the House of Ishmael, full of vivid accounts of Jewish sufferings in the Middle East, did not need the testimony of false friends to pad its grim story out. Its account of the slow-burning tragedy of the extinction of Jewish communities in the Arab world is moving and important. It should be read.



Robert Irwin's 'For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies' is published by Penguin

Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London