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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried