The Magnes Zionist’s Summer Reading List
Magnes Zionist Blogspot, 26 May 2009
Here are a number of very good books that came out last year and that you won’t see reviewed in the mainstream press, because they are not by liberal Zionists. (Do you think I am kidding? Last Sunday, the New York Times Book Review had books by two liberal Zionists, Benny Morris and Amos Oz, and reviews by two liberal Zionists, Jeffrey Goldberg and Liesl Schillinger. Phil Weiss put those reviews in perspective here.) They are mixed bag, ranging from scholarship to analysis to reportage to memoir.
Bernard Avishai, The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel Peace At Last, Harcourt, 2008.
Avraham Burg, The Holocaust is Over. We Must Rise From Its Ashes, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Dan Fleshler, Transforming America’s Israel Lobby: The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change, Potomac Books, 2009.
Jeff Halper, An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel, Pluto Press, 2008. London, Ann Arbor MI, in association with ICAHD.
Arno J. Mayer, Plowshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel, Verso, 2008.
David N. Myers, Between Jew & Arab: The Lost Voices of Simon Rawidowicz, University Press of New England, 2008.
In the coming weeks I will write about some of these books, especially, the book by David N. Myers, but let me first make some general comments about all of them.
All these books are written by Jews who have spent their lives being deeply engaged with, and enraged by, Israel and Zionism. Avishai and Halper made aliyah; the former, twice. Burg, of course, was Chairman of the Jewish Agency and Speaker of the Israeli Knesset. Some are on the left; some are on the center. But what they all share is a vision of different sort of Jewish State than the one founded in 1948. No, it is not just that they are critical of this or that policy of the state of Israel. They have fundamental problems with a state whose conception, they feel, is fundamentally flawed. This brings them to reject the reigning orthodoxies of the Zionist center, and to align themselves not with what Israel is today, but with what it could be – when it becomes a liberal democracy.
This is nothing new. In Zionist historiography, public intellectuals like Buber, Magnes, and others were routinely dismissed as “utopian,” “elitist,” and, “naive” by the Zionist “realists” such as Ben-Gurion, who shared much more in common with Jabotinsky and Begin than he would have cares to admit. These charges may have had some purchase at the time. History seemed to have vindicated Ben-Gurion back in 1948.
But after sixty years, Israel is still at war with some of its neighbors, rules over 3 ½ million people against their will, steals their land and denies them fundamental rights, and has a system of government that could charitably be called a sort of democracy. And there is no end in sight. I pass over the inconvenient facts that its former president has rape charges pending against him, and the last four prime ministers (Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, Olmert) have been accused, at various times, of corruption. Or of the monopoly of the orthodox in personal status matters. Or of the systematic discrimination against the Palestinian minority. Etc., etc.
Is Israel the worst rogue state in the world? Of course not, far from it. Compared to many other states, whose tyrannical governments come and go, it is more successful. But as a long-running problem state, Israel is right up there with the worst that I would ever care to be associated of it. And, of course, it is my state and my problem. And that’s why it hurts.
It hurts the authors above, too. And that’s why they write — because they see what is precious to them (parents, religion, culture, people) dragged through the mud. And they have to shout out about it.