Playing on Zola's famous letter deuncing 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 yearsfrom 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.
Born in 1939 and educated on a kibbutz, and at the Hebrew University, the Sorbonne, and Cambridge, Aharon Shabtai is the author of sixteen books of poetry and the greatest contemporary translator into Hebrew of Greek drama. Peter Cole's previous books of poems include Things on Which I've Stumbled (New Directions). Among his volumes of translation are The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition and The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492. Cole, who divides his time between Jerusalem and New Haven, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007.