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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Flight into the Maelstrom
John Quigley

(Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 1997)
256pp. Index. Hb.: £30.00; 0-86372-219-9.



John Quigley's hybrid book - part political science, part legal exposition, part fiction - charts the events surrounding, and political ramifications of, the mass emigration of the majority of the former Soviet Union's Jewish population to Israel in the early 1990's. Over 600,000 Soviet Jews made aliyah and Quigley contrasts the preferential treatment they received from the Israeli government with the manner in which the state behaved towards the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While the new immigrants were being given free housing and generous state grants, Palestinians were finding ever increasing amounts of their land expropriated and their basic civil and political rights denied. And while the Israeli government was invoking the Jewish law of return to facilitate the arrival of the new immigrants, it was, at the same time, orchestrating a concerted attempt to deny a right of return to the Palestinian refugees.

Quigley, an expert on the Soviet Union and practicing lawyer at the US Supreme Court, is both passionate and informed about his subject matter. Many of his Soviet Jewish friends made the move to Israel, and he is an ardent advocate of Palestinian rights. Quigley charges that Israel's immigration policy is in flagrant violation of international law and contends that the emigration policy was a politically motivated attempt to increase Israel's Jewish population, exposing the insincerity of attempts to reach a settlement with the Palestinians. His indictment of the Israeli government is mounted on three levels. Firstly he argues that Israel wilfully exploited the worsening economic situation in the Soviet Union to encourage emigration. At another point, Quigley dons his legal robes to show how both Israeli attempts to bring the Soviet Jews in, and their land appropriation policy and denial of Palestinian rights, ran contrary to international law. Finally Quigley turns aspirant novelist, creating a composite Soviet Jewish family in order to personalize the new immigrants' experiences. His imaginary family expound on their reasons for leaving, and reflect on their experiences in Israel including their interaction with a fictionalized Palestinian couple who teach them an alternative, Arab, history of their new land.

While Quigley's approach is novel and his arguments persuasive, his subject matter goes over well worn ground. Most people are already aware that a prime raison d'Ítre of the state of Israel is the encouragement of Jewish emigration and that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians runs afoul of international legal norms. It is unfortunate that the, as yet underwritten, issues of high unemployment, poverty and the difficulties the new arrivals have faced in integrating themselves into Israeli society are not more fully explored, as few could be better equipped to write authoritatively on them that the author.


Gordon Peake, St. Antony's College, Oxford



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