Nearly a decade after he founded a publishing company with a strong ideological mission, Howard Rotberg may take his place among that small and proud group of Canadians who operate successful small publishing houses.
Although Mantua Books started off slowly, he says it now publishes one new title each month, and some of its books have sold tens of thousands of copies. Rotberg, a non-practising lawyer who was born in Brantford 60 years ago, named the firm after the city in Italy where his maternal Rappoport ancestors came from.
He says he founded the company to disseminate important ideas meant to save the West, Israel and the Jewish people from ideological and physical assault perpetrated by the many international dictators, terrorists and propagandists in league with fundamentalist Islam.
One popular title — Those That Bless You I Will Bless: Christian Zionism in Historical Perspective, by Canadian history professor Paul Merkley — has been selling like the proverbial hotcakes since it came off the press, Rotberg says.
Another — Delectable Lie, by southern Ontario author Salim Mansur — is a “liberal repudiation of multiculturalism” that combats the morally relative notion that Westerners can’t or shouldn’t judge other cultures as inferior.
“Mansur came from Bangladesh, from a culture that he found abhorrent, and he loves the culture of liberal democracy that developed in the West,” Rotberg says. “He doesn’t like to hear people say that it’s just one culture that’s equal among many.”
Iran, with its impetus to develop a nuclear arsenal, is chief among various global forces that seek to destroy Israel and the Jews, he warns. In The Second Catastrophe, a novel he wrote and published in 2003, he raised the possibility that the incessant international clamour against Israel could spark a second Holocaust against the Jews.
Other Mantua titles — such as Hear, O Israel!, David Solway’s study of modern anti-Israelism and antisemitism — hammer home similar messages. Leftists and the mainstream liberal-left media may dismiss Mantua as alarmist and “right-wing,” but Rotberg asserts the firm is an upholder of traditional Western values at a time when such values have come increasingly under attack.
Many commercial publishers, university presses and media outlets have been caught in the paralyzing grip of post-modernism, political correctness and moral and cultural relativism, he contends. Rotberg established Mantua as a home for writers who, for ideological reasons, were being shunned by mainstream publishing houses. Consequently, the house has attracted a large assortment of writers from many countries.
Rotberg grew up in a house where the Holocaust cast a palpable shadow. His father was a Lodz-born survivor of Auschwitz, his mother part of a large family that came to Canada before the war. He earned degrees in history and law from the University of Toronto but returned both in protest after the university allowed Israel Apartheid Week to come into existence. He faults the university for failing to take a moral stand against the “annual anti-Israel hatefest” and notes that it has since spread to campuses worldwide.
After practising law in Kitchener-Waterloo for 20 years, Rotberg sold his practice so he could focus more directly on “tikkun olam,” repairing the world, he says. He does this not only by publishing books. The bulk of his time is taken up with converting heritage buildings into affordable rental housing for low-income earners. Each of his projects — book or building — must satisfy a “double bottom-line” criterion, he says; it must turn a profit and improve the world in some way.
These days he maintains residences in British Columbia and Southern Ontario, and divides his time between both locations — which proved handy when he accompanied Israeli author Pamela Peled to speaking engagements in both Vancouver and Toronto last month. A former South African, Peled is the author of For the Love of God and Virgins, a novel that portrays Israel in a positive light. It was published under the Mantua imprint, Miriam’s Legacy Publishing.
“It’s just a beautiful novel,” he enthuses, adding that it conveys a much more wholesome image of Israel than, say, works by “semi-self-hating Israeli” novelists like Amos Oz and David Grossman. “Part of our mandate is to bring out nice novels about Israel like this one. It’s a very well written book about the life of a woman living under terrorism.“
Jamie Glazov, a Canadian writer living in Los Angeles, has also joined the Mantua family with his recent book, Showdown with Evil: Our Struggle Against Tyranny and Terror. The press is also preparing a work by feminist Phyllis Chesler on the abuse of women in the Arab world. “There’s nothing in Islam as a religion that demands the kind of conduct towards women that we’re seeing in fundamentalist Islamic nations. We believe it’s never politically incorrect to support freedom and understanding. The Torah says ‘Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue.’ It does not say, ‘Tolerance, tolerance, thou shalt pursue.’”
Besides his novel, Rotberg is the author of Tolerism: The Ideology Revealed, which complains that the West is much too tolerant of radical Islamist regimes and other cultures that are themselves intolerant. Another Rotberg work is Exploring Vancouverism: The Political Culture of Canada’s Lotus Land, an ethical screed that paints Vancouverites as self-centred adherents of an “inauthentic progressivism” that neglects issues of morality and social justice.
It is as an Internet blogger, however, that he has found the greatest number of readers. In a 2011 satirical blog that he wrote for Pyjamas Media, he prognosticated that President Obama will put a hijab on the Statue of Liberty and rename it the Statue of Tolerance. The piece struck a nerve and went viral. “It had the single largest readership of any article I’ve ever written,” he says with a laugh.
As a writer, he’s also known the hurt of being targeted at a public reading. Several years ago someone hurled an ugly racial epithet at him at a bookstore reading after wrongly concluding he had painted all Muslims as terrorists. A brief shouting match ensued. Ultimately the store blamed Rotberg, pulled his books from the shelves, and banned any future appearances.
The experience only made him more determined to get Mantua’s books out into the world, he says. “You can tell I’m committed to this and that it’s a major mission of mine. We’re living in potentially tragic times and we have to get out books that can explain to people what, in this age of political correctness, they’re no longer being taught in high school.”