Idiots Guide author fields flak from U.S. arabs

"There's no such thing as a book on the Middle East that everyone is happy about," concedes Mitchell G. Bard, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Middle East Conflict."

Since the publication of his book in late 1999 — and even more so nowadays with the current state of the Middle East — Bard, 41, has been the target of critical attacks from Arab-Americans, who want his book removed from store shelves.

In an unidentified e-mail circulating on the Internet, which was recently forwarded to Bard, his "Complete Idiot's Guide" is called a "Zionist propaganda piece" and a "vulgar distortion of history from the first page to the last."

But Bard, who serves as executive director of American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise in Chevy Chase, Md., and holds a doctorate in political science, argues that his book is not Zionist propaganda, but "simply a book of historical fact." He said it is based on several primary and secondary sources, combining research from throughout his career.

"I tried very hard to make sure there was nothing inflammatory in the book," said Bard in a telephone interview from his Maryland office. "The publisher [Alpha Books] bent over backwards to make sure the book was fair, accurate…and the best overall treatment of the Israeli-Arab conflict."

But to make it agreeable to both sides, he said, is an unobtainable goal.

"The fact is that when people who are hostile towards Israel read things that don't refer to Israelis as imperialists, murderers and colonialists, they're going to call it propaganda."

The e-mail, which starts, "Dear All," encourages Arab-Americans to visit bookstores carrying the book and "demand removal from stocks" as well as encouraging them to write online critical reviews for Web sites such as and Barnes &

The e-mail also calls for "immediate ADC [American Arab Anti-Discrimination League] leadership…so our communal efforts are not scattered, but take a punch."

According to the ADC, no action is currently being taken.

"To be honest, I haven't read the book," said Khalil Jahshan, vice president of the ADC. "I saw it on the shelves, but I didn't take it seriously. I have heard complaints, but the ADC hasn't yet examined the issue thoroughly."

However, Jahshan added that he was "surprised" to find that the publisher, Alpha Books, chose a "partisan writer."

"It's a series for laymen," said Jahshan. "I thought they usually pick a layman to write them or get people from both sides of the conflict."

Reviews of Bard's book posted on weigh in on completely opposite sides of the spectrum.

On one end, Richard James from Boston wrote: "Bard's account of the current Middle East quagmire and its history is unfailingly right on the mark."

On the other end, Barbara Heinrich of New York wrote: "I cannot believe that a book so biased and so inaccurate is out there…Read something useful and leave this pathetic attempt at propaganda to the dummies."

More specifically, reviewers criticized Bard's coverage of the 1948 Deyr Yassin massacre, in which Palestinian men, women and children were killed by an Israeli underground organization. One unnamed reviewer called it "pathetic," another wrote he "distorts the undisputed facts about such atrocities."

Bard, however, said his book does not distort anything.

"The bottom line is that it was a horrible attack and I say that in the book," said Bard. "The reports of it are fairly well documented and I didn't deny that it happened. I just didn't play it up as much as they would have liked me to.

"It was an unusual event," he added. "That's the reason that the Palestinians keep bringing it up so many years later. Because it was such an unusual event."

Overall, the book chalks up an average customer rating of three stars out of five, which is based on 10 reviews. His other books, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to World War II" and "Forgotten Victims: The Abandonment of Americans in Hitler's Camps," both have five-star reviews.

Bard re-emphasized that the unresolved arguments triggered by his book just happen to come with the territory.

"If someone can show me something that's factually wrong with my book, I'll fix it," he said. "But so far no one has given me specifics. This just sounds to me like another effort on their part to silence anyone who doesn't agree with them."