November 19, 2011


Did Israel Actually Lose the 1967 War?: a review of THE UNMAKING OF ISRAEL By Gershom Gorenberg (JEFFREY GOLDBERG, 11/19/11, NY Times Book Review)

Gorenberg, a leftist Israeli journalist of American extraction, tells us that the Israel of the mainstream American, Leon Uris-influenced imagination is not the Israel of today's reality. The Israel of today is rampant with illiberal feeling. It is a place whose Arab citizens are at once enfranchised and isolated. It is a place whose military is coming to be dominated not by the secular, progressive-minded kibbutznikim of old, but by a right-wing Orthodox officer corps, some of whom may respect the idea of Jewish land more than they respect the decisions of the elected government. Mainly, it is a place being corrupted by an ostensibly temporary but in fact interminable occupation

"The Unmaking of Israel" argues, in essence, that Israel is losing the 1967 Six- Day War. How can it lose a war it won so decisively more than 44 years ago? By believing it can swallow whole the territories it gained in that war and flourish in perpetuity as a law-abiding democratic nation with a Jewish majority. And Israel is losing another war, as well, Gorenberg argues, against twin religious fundamentalisms, the first that of the haredim, or ultra-Orthodox, variant, whose adherents deplete the Israeli treasury while rejecting any notion of responsibility to the state. The second, and even more ominous fundamentalism is the type followed by many West Bank settlers and their supporters, who have sanctified the acquisition of land to the detriment of all other Jewish values.

Gorenberg is at his most incensed, and most eloquent, on the issue of the Jewish settlements, which many Palestinians see as concrete proof of Israeli lack of interest in a two-state solution. It is an understandable Palestinian view, but the truth is more complicated. The majority of Israelis say they support a two-state solution, and the majority of Israelis, if they ever loved the settlements, appear to love them no more (Israelis are not, in my experience, unaware that settlements are the main weapon in the arsenal of Israel's adversaries). But the majority is powerless in the face of the relentless settler minority.

The settlements were not part of an insidious plan. But after the Six-Day War -- a war Israel did not seek -- euphoria gripped the country, and a previously marginal religious movement within Orthodoxy saw the conquest of the West Bank, the biblical Judea and Samaria, as a sign not only of God's favor but also of the imminence of the redemption.

"So at the moment of its triumph, Israel began to take itself apart," Gorenberg writes. "Long-term rule of Palestinians was a retreat from the ideal of democracy, a retreat that governments denied by describing the occupation as temporary. The settlement enterprise was a multipronged assault on the rule of law."

While people tend to justify its every action by reference to an imaginary existential struggle, Israel's divergence from Western values is not a recipe for existence.

Posted by at November 19, 2011 6:14 AM

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