Tag Archives: Israel

“Comprehending Christian Zionism” (Gunner & Smith eds.)

In October, Augsburg Fortress released “Comprehending Christian Zionism: augsburgPerspectives in Comparison,” edited by Göran Gunner (Uppsala University) and Robert O. Smith (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). The publisher’s description follows:

The issue of Christian Zionism is one that is fiercely debated within theology, the church, politics, and society. Comprehending Christian Zionism brings together an international consortium of scholars and researchers to reflect on the network of issues and topics surrounding this critical subject. The volume provides a lens on the history of Zionism within Christian theology and offers a constructive, multidimensional path for assessment and introspection around the meaning of Zionism to Christian faith and practice.

Wolfe, “At Home in Exile”

In October, Random House released “At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora is Good 9780807033135for the Jews,” by political scientist Alan Wolfe (Boston College). The publisher’s description follows:

An eloquent, controversial argument that says, for the first time in their long history, Jews are free to live in a Jewish state—or lead secure and productive lives outside it

Since the beginnings of Zionism in the twentieth century, many Jewish thinkers have considered it close to heresy to validate life in the Diaspora. Jews in Europe and America faced “a life of pointless struggle and futile suffering, of ambivalence, confusion, and eternal impotence,” as one early Zionist philosopher wrote, echoing a widespread and vehement disdain for Jews living outside Israel. This thinking, in a more understated but still pernicious form, continues to the present: the Holocaust tried to kill all of us, many Jews believe, and only statehood offers safety.

But what if the Diaspora is a blessing in disguise? In At Home in Exile, renowned scholar and public intellectual Alan Wolfe, writing for the first time about his Jewish heritage, makes an impassioned, eloquent, and controversial argument that Jews should take pride in their Diasporic tradition. It is true that Jews have experienced more than their fair share of discrimination and destruction in exile, and there can be no doubt that anti-Semitism persists throughout the world and often rears its ugly head. Yet for the first time in history, Wolfe shows, it is possible for Jews to lead vibrant, successful, and, above all else, secure lives in states in which they are a minority.

Drawing on centuries of Jewish thinking and writing, from Maimonides to Philip Roth, David Ben Gurion to Hannah Arendt, Wolfe makes a compelling case that life in the Diaspora can be good for the Jews no matter where they live, Israel very much included—as well as for the non-Jews with whom they live, Israel once again included. Not only can the Diaspora offer Jews the opportunity to reach a deep appreciation of pluralism and a commitment to fighting prejudice, but in an era of rising inequalities and global instability, the whole world can benefit from Jews’ passion for justice and human dignity.

Wolfe moves beyond the usual polemical arguments and celebrates a universalistic Judaism that is desperately needed if Israel is to survive. Turning our attention away from the Jewish state, where half of world Jewry lives, toward the pluralistic and vibrant places the other half have made their home, At Home in Exile is an inspiring call for a Judaism that isn’t defensive and insecure but is instead open and inquiring.

Gordis, “Menachem Begin”

Earlier this year, Schocken Books released “Menachem Begin: The Battle for bweginIsrael’s Soul,” by Daniel Gordis (Shalem College – Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

Reviled as a fascist by his great rival Ben-Gurion, venerated by Israel’s underclass, the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one, Menachem Begin was both complex and controversial. Born in Poland in 1913, Begin was a youthful admirer of the Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and soon became a leader within Jabotinsky’s Betar movement. A powerful orator and mesmerizing public figure, Begin was imprisoned by the Soviets in 1940, joined the Free Polish Army in 1942, and arrived in Palestine as a Polish soldier shortly thereafter. Joining the underground paramilitary Irgun in 1943, he achieved instant notoriety for the organization’s bombings of British military installations and other violent acts.

Intentionally left out of the new Israeli government, Begin’s right-leaning Herut political party became a fixture of the opposition to the Labor-dominated governments of Ben-Gurion and his successors, until the surprising parliamentary victory of his political coalition in 1977 made him prime minister. Welcoming Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel and cosigning a peace treaty with him on the White House lawn in 1979, Begin accomplished what his predecessors could not. His outreach to Ethiopian Jews and Vietnamese “boat people” was universally admired, and his decision to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 is now regarded as an act of courageous foresight. But the disastrous invasion of Lebanon to end the PLO’s shelling of Israel’s northern cities, combined with his declining health and the death of his wife, led Begin to resign in 1983. He spent the next nine years in virtual seclusion, until his death in 1992. Begin was buried not alongside Israel’s prime ministers, but alongside the Irgun comrades who died in the struggle to create the Jewish national home to which he had devoted his life. Daniel Gordis’s perceptive biography gives us new insight into a remarkable political figure whose influence continues to be felt both within Israel and throughout the world.

Helman, “Becoming Israeli: National Ideals and Everyday Life in the 1950s”

In July, Brandeis University Press released “Becoming Israeli: National Ideals and Everyday Life in the 1950s” by Anat Helman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

With a light touch and many wonderful illustrations, historian Anat Helman investigates “life on the ground” in Israel during the first years of statehood. She looks at how citizens–natives of the land, longtime immigrants, and newcomers–coped with the state’s efforts to turn an incredibly diverse group of people into a homogenous whole. She investigates the efforts to make Hebrew the lingua franca of Israel, the uses of humor, and the effects of a constant military presence, along with such familiar aspects of daily life as communal dining on the kibbutz, the nightmare of trying to board a bus, and moviegoing as a form of escapism. In the process Helman shows how ordinary people adapted to the standards and rules of the political and cultural elites and negotiated the chaos of early statehood.

Halkin, “Jabotinsky”

This May, Yale University Press published Jabotinsky: A Life by Hillel Halkin. The publisher’s description follows.

Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940) was a man of huge paradoxes and Jabotinskycontradictions and has been the most misunderstood of all Zionist politicians–a first-rate novelist, a celebrated Russian journalist, and the founder of the branch of Zionism now headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. This biography, the first in English in nearly two decades, undertakes to answer central questions about Jabotinsky as a writer, a political thinker, and a leader. Hillel Halkin sets aside the stereotypes to which Jabotinsky has been reduced by his would-be followers and detractors alike.

Halkin explains the importance of Odessa, Jabotinsky’s native city, in molding his character and outlook; discusses his novels and short stories, showing the sometimes hidden connections between them and Jabotinsky’s political thought, and studies a political career that ended in tragic failure. Halkin also addresses Jabotinsky’s position, unique among the great figures of Zionist history, as both a territorial maximalist and a principled believer in democracy. The author inquires why Jabotinsky was often accused of fascist tendencies though he abhorred authoritarian and totalitarian politics, and investigates the many opposed aspects of his personality and conduct while asking whether or not they had an ultimate coherence. Few figures in twentieth-century Jewish life were quite so admired and loathed, and Halkin’s splendid, subtle book explores him with empathy and lucidity.

Dumper, “Jerusalem Unbound”

Next month, Columbia University Press will publish Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy Citby Michael Dumper jerusalem unbound(University of Exeter).  The publisher’s description follows.

Jerusalem’s formal political borders reveal neither the dynamics of power in the city nor the underlying factors that make an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians so difficult. The lines delineating Israeli authority are frequently different from those delineating segregated housing or areas of uneven service provision or parallel national electoral districts of competing educational jurisdictions. In particular, the city’s large number of holy sites and restricted religious compounds create enclaves that continually threaten to undermine the Israeli state’s authority and control over the city. This lack of congruity between political control and the actual spatial organization and everyday use of the city leaves many areas of occupied East Jerusalem in a kind of twilight zone where citizenship, property rights, and the enforcement of the rule of law are ambiguously applied.

Michael Dumper plots a history of Jerusalem that examines this intersecting and multileveled matrix and in so doing is able to portray the constraints on Israeli control over the city and the resilience of Palestinian enclaves after forty-five years of Israeli occupation. Adding to this complex mix is the role of numerous external influences—religious, political, financial, and cultural—so that the city is also a crucible for broader contestation. While the Palestinians may not return to their previous preeminence in the city, neither will Israel be able to assert a total and irreversible dominance. His conclusion is that the city will not only have to be shared, but that the sharing will be based upon these many borders and the interplay between history, geography, and religion.

Aronoff, “The Political Psychology of Israeli Prime Ministers”

Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish The Political Psychology of Israeli Prime Ministers: When Hard-Liners Opt for Peace by Yael S. Aronoff (James Madison College).  PO Psychology The publisher’s description follows.

This book examines leaders of the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. It takes as an intellectual target of opportunity six Israeli prime ministers, asking why some of them have persisted in some hard-line positions but others have opted to become peacemakers. This book argues that some leaders do change, and above all it explains why and how such changes come about. This book goes beyond arguing simply that “leaders matter” by analyzing how their particular belief systems and personalities can ultimately make a difference to their country’s foreign policy, especially toward a long-standing enemy. Although no hard-liner can stand completely still in the face of important changes, only those with ideologies that have specific components that act as obstacles to change and who have an orientation toward the past may need to be replaced for dramatic policy changes to take place.

Glick, “The Israeli Solution”

Last month, Random House published The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan forThe Israeli Solution Peace in the Middle East by Caroline Glick.  The publisher’s description follows.

The reigning consensus in elite and academic circles is that the United States must seek to resolve the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel by implementing the so-called two-state solution. Establishing a Palestinian state, so the thinking goes, would be a panacea for all the region’s ills. It would end the Arab world’s conflict with Israel, because the reason the Arab world is anti-Israel is that there is no Palestinian state. It would also nearly erase the principal cause of the violent extremism in the rest of the Middle East.

In a time when American politics are marked by partisan gridlock, the two-state solution stands out for its ability to attract supporters from both sides of the ideological divide. But the great irony is that it is one of the most irrational and failed policies the United States has ever adopted.

Between 1970 and 2013, the United States presented nine different peace plans for Israel and the Palestinians, and for the past twenty years, the two state solution has been the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy. But despite this laser focus, American efforts to implement a two-state peace deal have failed—and with each new attempt, the Middle East has become less stable, more violent, more radicalized, and more inimical to democratic values and interests.

In The Israeli Solution, Caroline Glick, senior contributing editor to the Jerusalem Post, examines the history and misconceptions behind the two-state policy, most notably:

- The huge errors made in counting the actual numbers of Jews and Arabs in the region. The 1997 Palestinian Census, upon which most two-state policy is based, wildly exaggerated the numbers of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

- Neglect of the long history of Palestinian anti-Semitism, refusal to negotiate in good faith, terrorism, and denial of Israel’s right to exist.

- Disregard for Israel’s stronger claims to territorial sovereignty under international law, as well as the long history of Jewish presence in the region.

- Indifference to polling data that shows the Palestinian people admire Israeli society and governance. Despite a half-century of domestic and international terrorism, anti-semitism, and military attacks from regional neighbors who reject its right to exist, Israel has thrived as the Middle East’s lone democracy.

After a century spent chasing a two-state policy that hasn’t brought the Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace, The Israeli Solution offers an alternative path to stability in the Middle East based on Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

Next Year in Jerusalem

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Issues of law and religion have always interested CLR Student Fellow Jessica Wright 3L, particularly as they relate to the Middle East. The following is a reflection on her recent trip to Jerusalem, during which she considered the religious, legal, and political issues that continue to divide the region.

Our taxi wound around the outskirts of Jerusalem, the city unfolding slowly before us beneath the dusty haze that had lingered since our arrival two days earlier. The Berlin-esque feel of Tel Aviv with its trendy cafes, beach-front hangouts, and laissez-faire attitude seemed a distant memory as we watched Haredim in their long black coats and black hats hurrying down the streets, weaving in and out of a stream of conservatively-dressed women pushing prams. Traffic ground to a halt somewhere between the entrance to Jerusalem and our hotel near the Old City, and our driver informed us that several streets had been closed because of a mass “ultra-Orthodox” protest against the draft.

The draft protest is indicative of larger issues having to do with community and identity in the region. Israel has been called the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, but it is a democracy with an important condition, one that Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear at the White House as I began my sojourn to the Holy Land. He said the only pathway to peace begins with Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. Of course, as the New York Times observed earlier this year, “this issue underpins all others [and] is exactly what makes it unacceptable to Palestinians. At its heart, it is a dispute over a historical narrative that each side sees as fundamental to its existence.” The question concerning what it means to describe Israel as a Jewish state is as relevant today and perhaps as vexed as it was in 1948.

The first night in Jerusalem, we found ourselves at the Old Bezalel Art School with Israeli friends. Our conversation eventually turned to the significance of the Israeli state and the importance of community. One friend argued that the land itself is significant because it allows one to experience Judaism as a public way of life. The traditional religious rituals become less important, she said, because identification with Judaism is about living in the state of Israel and being part of that community. But Israeli nationalism, it turns out, is not a wholly secular enterprise for most Israelis. Along with flying the flag, serving in the army, and speaking Hebrew, there is a religious narrative upon which identity is ultimately based. The particularities of the narrative vary widely. While sharing the same religious texts, the various Jewish communities within Israel have different histories and customs, and divergent outlooks. The tension between the communities is palpable. Secular Israelis want a modern, liberal state; religious Zionists believe in the coexistence of secularism and the dictates of the Torah; messianic Zionists see the state as a tool for bringing the Messiah; and the Haredim are devoted to isolated learning. And this is to say nothing of the narratives of modern Palestine, which are also focused on conflicts over belief, identity, and community.

These tensions are felt everywhere in Jerusalem – in conversation, on the streets, in the markets, and nowhere more than in the crowded and layered maze of the Old City. Standing inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where six ancient Christian denominations worship daily, one can hear the muezzin’s call to prayer outside. The church itself is just steps away from the Western Wall where Jews pray and celebrate, and very near the al-Aqsa mosque where Muslims gather together. Outside the walls, Israelis struggle to find commonality, to define their State, and to impress upon outsiders the importance of their identity. Inside the walls, one is able to forget those issues for a moment and revel in the diversity of belief in such close proximity.

From the Mount of Olives, one is afforded a panoramic view of the Old City with the construction of modern Jerusalem sprawling around it. Just down the road, one can look out over the West Bank, the security barrier visible in the foreground. It is nearly impossible to come away from Jerusalem without feeling its energy and passion, and without acknowledging its significance for people of many faiths. “Next year in Jerusalem,” I discovered, is about yearning for a way of life. How one defines it depends on the narratives woven by communities of believers. One may think Jerusalem should be a place where all Jews could flourish alongside Christians and Muslims. Perhaps, then, it would be more accurate to say, “Next year in utopos,” the place that can never be. Or maybe there is reason to hope that the communities of historical Palestine can live in peace. As Michael Walzer has said, “high ambition requires a long life, and Israel is a very young state.”

Mirsky, “Rav Kook”

Last month, Yale University Press published Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution by Yehudah Mirsky (Brandeis University).  The publisher’s Rav Kookdescription follows.

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was one of the most influential—and controversial—rabbis of the twentieth century. A visionary writer and outstanding rabbinic leader, Kook was a philosopher, mystic, poet, jurist, communal leader, and veritable saint. The first chief rabbi of Jewish Palestine and the founding theologian of religious Zionism, he struggled to understand and shape his revolutionary times. His life and writings resonate with the defining tensions of Jewish life and thought.

A powerfully original thinker, Rav Kook combined strict traditionalism and an embrace of modernity, Orthodoxy and tolerance, piety and audacity, scholasticism and ecstasy, and passionate nationalism with profound universalism. Though little known in the English-speaking world, his life and teachings are essential to understanding current Israeli politics, contemporary Jewish spirituality, and modern Jewish thought. This biography, the first in English in more than half a century, offers a rich and insightful portrait of the man and his complex legacy. Yehudah Mirsky clears away widespread misunderstandings of Kook’s ideas and provides fresh insights into his personality and worldview. Mirsky demonstrates how Kook’s richly erudite, dazzlingly poetic writings convey a breathtaking vision in which “the old will become new, and the new will become holy.”