Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Magnes Zionist’s Summer Reading List

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, by Jeff Halper. 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.





Y. Ben-David said...

I am surprised you like Bernard Avishai's "Hebrew Republic". His Hebrew Republic is just another Rhodesia placed in the Middle East. A colonialist, settler state with no roots in the region. A soulless, materialist, consumer state that is totally alien to the Middle East milieu. Such a state would end up going the way of Rhodesia, as well. Remember, Rhodesia was a model state but it couldn't last.
Avishai's Hebrew Republic would INCREASE the hostility to Israel from its already high level today. A truly "Jewish" state, based on Judaism is not a missionary state intent on changing the culture and religion of its Arab/Muslim neighbors. Avishai's Hebrew Republic, on the other hand, is a direct threat to their culture and religion. Avishai keeps saying that the idea is to turn the Israeli Arabs in "Hebrews" in a cultural and "national" sense which means ripping them away from their Arab identity and implanting Western, secular values on them, such as tolerance for homosexuality, disrespect for elders, pornography, sexual permissiveness, etc. This is unacceptable to traditional Arab/Muslim society so it would only increase the desire of the surrouding Arab/Muslims population to get rid of this artificial entity once and for all. And if the goal of the state is a materialist, consumerist value system, who is going to fight for it on the battlefield? Only a truly "Jewish" state (not necessarily a "halachic" state) can finally reach an accomodation with the Arabs because traditionalist Jews (what the "progressives" consider "the other"-the religious settlers, the Haredim etc) have a lifestyle and value system much closer to the Arab population than do the supposedly "pro-peace" Progressives who really, deep down have contempt for the Arab/Muslim culture and values system.
It is WE, and only we, the "right-wing" pro-settlement, Orthodox/traditionalist/religious community that can reach a lasting modus vivendi (if not actual contractual peace) with the Arabs.

Tamar Orvell said...

Thanks so much for this post (and blog). I look forward to your discussions on some of these books. I've already reserved the ones in my local county (DeKalb, Georgia) library system.

Gene said...

Is Israel the worst rogue state in the world?FWIW while that question may be relevant to Jews - understandably, it may be worth noting that it has absolsutely no value to non-Jews who campaign mainly against Israel's policies in the Occupied Territories. Of course Israel is a rogue state. The question is why is it singled out without a care about whether she is the worst offender or not. Gilad Atzmon said it best: Yet, as much as Zionism makes a lot of sense to very many Jews around the world, it makes less and less sense for those who fail to be chosen i.e., the rest of humanity. The reason is simple, Jews may be welcomed to celebrate their symptoms collectively but they are not exactly entitled to do so at the expense of anyone else. [emphasis mine]

Anonymous said...

Wishes to mention Eyal Weizman's The Hollow Land....

Eurosabra said...

David Myers is one of my former professors, and his professional engagement and personal friendship with Gabi Piterberg, a noted anti-Zionist historian, has been one of the more interesting things I've seen in my academic career since graduate school. Scholars who disagree radically about the political forms Jewish life should take in Israel/Palestine do meet with genuine amity, and both men are uncovering historically significant (and neglected) aspects of the Israel/Palestine question. I have read Avishai's latest and like it very much, and am still struggling with Burg, in terms of finding the time.

It's a very interesting list in that some of the inclusions seem a bit counter-intuitive, as Y. Ben-David noted above. You have an unexpected affinity for formerly-Orthodox secularists like Burg, yet another warning not to pigeonhole you or any other thinker on the topic.

harvey said...

Just discovered your blog (through MondoWeiss link) and love it, esp redefining the "Z word". Wanted to keep you posted on my documentary film in progress, about Khaled Mahameed (the Palestinian guy with the Holocaust museum in Nazareth).
Take a look at excerpts and read our blog:
Khaled is very creative, self-critical, sort of like the Palestinian Avraham Burg.
Kol Tov, Harvey

Mike said...

Jerry, it looks like that the more you kvetch, complain, condemn, feel responsible about Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians, you’ll always find a Gene (or a Gilad Atzmon) on your way to tell you this is not enough. It is not enough, Jerry! The way you express your sorrow or your disgust show that you still think being part of the “chosen people” in which according to them lies the root of all evil (i.e. Jewish tribalism). There is no way out, Jerry. This is what Gene tells you.

In a way, this is funny. Gilad Atzmon (and Gene) blames you for being self-centered. But Atzmon, an expert in demonization, is himself really obsessed by Zionism and Jews altogether. He never writes about another topic. He even hinted at Jewish responsibility in the present financial crisis (an old anti-Semitic prejudice). He has also a sort of “philosophy”, explaining why Zionist violence is one of a special breed, almost unnatural, and of course much worse than any other form of human violence, Nazism or Stalinism, by example. It is because Jews like you and me, were raised to think we are apart of the rest of humanity. We are locked in a bubble and don’t have any sort of empathy for “others” (a quality that Hitler or Pol Pot had, zum beispiel). But let’s read Gilad Atzmon…

“How is it that Jewish politics has become aggressive like no other? It is simply the fact that from a Jewish political perspective, there is ‘no other’. The so-called other for them is nothing but a vehicle rather than an equal human subject. Israeli foreign affairs and Jewish political activity should be comprehended in the light of a severe lack of a ‘recognition mechanism’. Israeli and Jewish politics, left right and centre, is grounded on locking and fixing of meaning. They would refuse to regard history as a flux, as a dynamic process, as a journey towards ‘oneself’ or self-realization. Israel and Israelis view themselves as if they are external to history. They do not progress toward self-realization because they have a given, fixed identity to maintain.”

“As sad as it may sound, people who are not trained to recognize the other are unable to let them be recognized. The Jewish tribal mindset: left, centre and right, sets Jews aside of humanity. It does not equip the followers of the tribal mindset with the mental mechanism needed to recognize the other. Why should they do it? They have done so well for many years without having to do so. Lacking a notion of an other, indeed transcends one far beyond any recognized form of true humanist thought. It takes one far beyond ethical thinking or moral awareness.”

LeaNder said...

Interesting, Eurosabra, that studied with David N. Myers. He keep attracting my interest for longer now. So your comment is interesting even if I didn't know Gabriel Piterberg before.

LeaNder said...

Interesting comment. David N. Myers seems interesting. He is on my reading list for quite some time now. So it was a pleasure to read your little anecdote even if I didn't know Gabriel Piterberg before.

Joachim Martillo said...

Netanyahu’s friends in the USA are already working hard to prevent Obama from making any genuine foreign policy changes with regard to Israel and the Palestinians.

Besides reading books there are things that ordinary people like us can do to forestall such an outcome.

In Israel Steals Palestinian Heritage, History, Khaleej Times Op-Ed Columnist Karin Friedemann identifies a winnable legal battle against seriously misguided Zionist mythology and exclusivist claims.

Because the Dead Sea Scrolls are going on exhibition in Canada at the end of June, Palestinians and sympathizers can launch a lawsuit to return them to their rightful owner, the Palestinian people, whose Judaic ancestors created them.

The Scrolls help modern scholars to understand the conditions out of which Greek Orthodox and Syrian Christianity developed as well as from which proto-Islamic Jamesian Christian, Mishnaic, and other currents of Judaism evolved.

The Scrolls would be much better off in the hands of a legitimate custodian representing the ideologically non-exclusivist right, title, and interest of the Palestinian people than in serving the most intellectually dishonest sort of Zionist propaganda in the hands of the Israeli government that has wrongfully misappropriated them.

Anyone interested in helping to restore the Scrolls to Palestinian custody should send me an email at ThorsProvoni@aol.com.

Joachim Martillo said...

In re: Y Ben-David's comment

The ethnic fundamentalism or monism of נאמני ארץ ישראל really has nothing in common with the culture or religion of the Palestinian populations even if the settlers mix in sliced-and-diced Jewish religion.

Their idolatry and secular nationalist blood and soil fetishism is inherent in their self-identification.

The do not call themselves נאמני אלהים but explicitly inform Hebrew-speakers that they worship the land.

johnabdl said...

I perused the book's index on amazon.com, but didn't find the name Rawidowicz?

Jerry Haber said...

Some people have asked about books by Rawidowicz. There was a collection of essays called, "Israel, the Ever Dying People" a few years ago, and a collection of his studies on Jewish Thought. Both are out of print. A few years ago there was a conference, and I am too lazy to check if there was a volume. But Myers has everything in his bibliography

Mike said...

Never forget good old "abebooks" site


Gene said...

In response to Mike's comment: Jerry, it looks like that the more you kvetch, complain, condemn, feel responsible about Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians, you’ll always find a Gene (or a Gilad Atzmon) on your way to tell you this is not enough. It is not enough, Jerry! The way you express your sorrow or your disgust show that you still think being part of the “chosen people” in which according to them lies the root of all evil (i.e. Jewish tribalism). There is no way out, Jerry. This is what Gene tells you.

I'm sorry that's how he interpreted my comment. I don't think it is my business that anybody thinks that he or she is part of a 'chosen people'. Most religions contain that dogma in one form or another.

My comment had nothing to do with that. It's just that the question about whether Israel is the worst rogue state or not has always irked me. Irrespective of whether the person who asks it means to or not, that question conveys an accusation to those who criticise Israel (so why are you singling it out?) and also - and that's why I wrote that it is understandable that many Jewish commenters bring it up - a sort of embarrassment because of what Israel is doing. And that makes me feel embarrassed, too.

That said, as another being, I am grateful to you, Jerry, for all that you do. Your pain and sorrow are mine as much as the pain and sorror of Palestinians. I guess that's what Humanity is all about and it just occurs to me that Humanity is not a closed concept. We're still working at it, aren't we?

Kindest regards!

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