I’ve been thinking a lot about Zionism lately. Two things in particular have been on my mind. The first is a debate between Peter Beinart and Daniel Gordis that took place last week at Columbia Hillel. Beinart, the poster boy and leading thinker for J-Street fans recently published his new book, Crisis of Zionism. Like an earlier article that he wrote about the supposed distancing between American Jews and Israel, Beinart places most of the blame on Israel.
Gordis, a former head of the Conservative Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and a fellow at the Shalem Center in Israel, is the leading critic of J-Street and Beinart. His last book Saving Israel won the National Jewish Book Award.
If you want a thoughtful, gloves-off, debate about Zionism, Israel, and what it all means then you should watch it here. Both of them are very sharp, blunt, but also respectful. They avoid petty name-calling. Gordis uses the phrase “these are things that a Zionist cannot say.”
Micah Goodman spoke at Pardes, where I am studying, last week. He laid out some of the most existential and core questions of Zionism. In his analysis the key message of the Prophets is that the core of Judaism is the ethical mitzvot. Of course in our age liberal Judaism leads to a high rate of inter-marriage. So the only way to save Judaism is to distort it. And if that’s so, then why has liberal Judaism failed in Israel?
In “Israel’s Critical Security Requirements” a group of experts lay out what Israel’s really needs to protect itself in serious and practical terms. With Obama calling for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders, this book clearly outlines what, in terms of territory, Israel needs to protect itself. Specifically, Israel must retain control of the Jordan Valley and an eventual Palestinian state must be unarmed. The essays in this volume lay out the specific security threats that Israel faces, especially regarding the threat of shoulder-mounted missiles. These chapters are well-researched and footnoted. The maps are clear and are a wonderful addition to the book.
With Iran becoming the subject of increasing attention and scrutiny, I have been looking for a quick book that could give me all of the relevant and timely information available, and this book provides all of that. A collection of short essays between 2 and 10 pages long, “Iran: From Regional Challenge to Global Threat,” published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs is authored by various experts who give their best assessment while looking at different aspects of Iran. Everything you could want to know about the present political climate is covered, from Iran’s influence in Africa to the culture of its Revolutionary Guard to the recently discovered Iranian plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US.
One of my favorite chapters is on Iran’s Negotiating behavior by Dr. Harold Rhode, who discusses the Iranian mentality in international negotiations. Noticing many of the crucial differences between Western and Iranian culture, Rhode claims that unlike in the US, Iranians see compromise as a “sign of weakness” and recommends that the US avoids goodwill gestures. This is a must-have book for any researcher, student, or armchair expert on Iran.
Daniel Gordis’ Saving Israel lives up to his reputation as one of the cleverest and most passionate thinkers in the Jewish world. In this book, Gordis ventures into make a compelling case for why Israel matters. Rather than deal with nitty-gritty details, Gordis writes in broad strokes and tackles the major philosophical, social, and demographic challenges that face Israel.
From the outset, Gordis lays out the conundrums that make Israel’s seem impossible. He then tackles all of those questions, from the decline of American Zionism to the question of Arab Israelis. More importantly, (and this is why Saving Israel should be used as a textbook in Zionism courses) Gordis articulates why Israel is important and what makes it so important. The unapologetic stance reveals some important truths to Israeli society. For instance, Gordis cites the controversial work of historian Benny Morris, who has proven that the eviction of Arabs was a hidden war aim of the War of Independence, and claims that Israel cannot survive with a large ethnic minority.
Gordis obviously did his homework in researching this book, but avoids packing every factoid into this book. He interweaves personal anecdotes of life in Israel to make more profound points about these enduring questions. A story about his son meeting a secular Israeli that does not recognize the shema or his daughter’s sage notion that Israel can still be about peace even when it seems unattainable create a vivid picture of an Israel worth saving.