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Blood Cries by John Weisman (Viking: $17.95; 338 pp.)

July 19, 1987|James Kaufmann | Kaufmann is co-author of a forthcoming history of the University of Iowa

John Weisman's "Blood Cries" is a moral-political debate in novel's clothing. Sure, it is partly a novel of adventure, delves at moderate depth into journalistic ethics, and has an equitable share of romance. But in its heart, it addresses one large and complex question: What kind of nation is Israel?

More specifically, using as points of ignition the many forms violence has taken recently in Israel, Weisman has his characters arguing long and hard about whether Israel's retaliatory terrorist actions against its enemies are appropriate. Should Israel be somehow above this?

Jared Paul Gordon, the Jerusalem bureau chief of World Week magazine, thinks so. Early in "Blood Cries," he is invited by a high-ranking general to accompany an elite Israeli army unit into Syria on what turns out to be an assassination run. A high-ranking Arab is killed. So are the man's wife and children.

Gordon is upset and files a story expressing his outrage. But that story is censored by the government, which substitutes its version of the assassination because, says one official, we "needed our specific version of the events in Syria made public."

Naturally, this infuriates Gordon, and the fact that he allowed his name to run under someone else's (fabricated) story will later cause him all sorts of trouble.

Jared and his girlfriend, Andrian Cooper, argue endlessly what acts are justified in the name of Israel. Adrian's father, an influential American Zionist, criticizes Jared's articles, and of any of Israel's actions, asks only, "Is it good or bad for the Jews?"

So, Jared is caught. Can he be an honest journalist and still be a good Jew? Does being a good Jew, he wonders, mean not criticizing Israel but simply accepting the country for better and worse?

These kinds of issues are chewed over throughout "Blood Cries." These are important questions, and strikingly similar--but without the same strident moral posturing--as the questions put to modern Israel by Jacobo Timerman's in "The Longest War" (1982).

There is also the matter of many American Jews' idealized version of Israel versus the somewhat less perfect reality. The Israeli general who took Jared on the raid into Syria and who has both fed him stories and threatened his life, lays the matter out plainly.

"To you American Jews Israel is a state of mind. . . . First you loved us because we made the deserts bloom and beat the crap out of the Arabs at twenty-to-one odds. Now you hate us because the country's moving away from your idealized concept of what Israel should be. But it's not your country, Jared--it's mine."

While the many long passages that argue whether the end justifies the means in today's Israel are undeniably interesting and give Weisman's novel philosophical heft, they do so at the partial expense of the narrative's momentum.

Still, it doesn't much matter. Weisman writes well enough, and his narrative's framework is strong enough to support the kind of Machiavellian musing that must take place in any honest and realistic novel about Israel today, which "Blood Cries" is, indisputably.

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