Playing on Zola’s famous letter denouncing the anti-Semitism of the French government throughout the Dreyfus affair, Aharon Shabtai’s title can be taken literally: it charges his government and his people with crimes against the humanity of their neighbors. Here we find snipers shooting children, spin-masters trying to whitewash blood baths, ammunition “distributed like bars of chocolate,” and “technicians of slaughter” for whom morality is merely “a pain in the ass.” With a splendid lyrical physicality that accentuates Shabtai’s terse immediacy and matter-of-fact scorn, the poems cover a period of six years – from the 1996 election of Netanyahu as prime minister through the curfews, lynchings, riots, sieges, and bombings of the second intifada. But at the heart of J’Accuse is the fate of the ethical Hebrew culture in which the poet was raised: Shabtai refuses to abandon his belief in the moral underpinnings of Israeli society or to be silent before the barbaric and brutal. He witnesses, he protests, he warns. Above all, he holds up a mirror to his nation.
Aharon Shabtai’s J’Accuse, a slim volume in the prophetic vein, packs a terrific wallop. … Shabtai has the red coal on his tongue.
—The New York Times Book Review
There is no one like Shabtai: an erudite classicist who writes poems of voltaic frankness and political rage. These lyrics of a patriot betrayed by his government are both timely and timeless. Written for the newspapers, they will endure long after their referents are forgotten. But we are marooned in the present, and J’Accuseis the one new book of poetry that should be read right now.
Shabtai is one of the most exciting poets writing anywhere.