Leon Wieseltier's book review of Ari Shavit's "MY PROMISED LAND,The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel" has appeared.
His opening paragraph contains a conceptualization I have believed in for years:
Too much of the discourse on Israel is a doubting discourse...the state is too often judged for its viability or its validity..Israel’s problems are too often combined and promoted into a Problem, which has the effect of emptying the Jewish state of its actuality and consigning it to a historical provisionality, a permanent condition of controversy, from which it can be released only by furnishing various justifications and explanations.
...Israel is not a proposition, it is a country. Its facticity is one of the great accomplishments of the Jews’ history and one of the great accomplishments of liberalism’s and socialism’s and nationalism’s histories, and it is not complacent or apologetic to say so...
But he errs on this:
...Shavit, a columnist who serves on the editorial board of Haaretz, has an undoctrinaire mind...He does, for anyone who remains with Haaretz in the position he does must have a doctrine, one that accepts the demeaning of Israel, spreading lies, misrepresentations and downright calumnies about Israel.
But there is the reality of Israel and it is highlighted in the review:
In such a debate Shavit is splendidly unobliging — as, for example, in this comment about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: “If Israel does not retreat from the West Bank, it will be politically and morally doomed, but if it does retreat, it might face an Iranian-backed and Islamic Brotherhood-inspired West Bank regime whose missiles could endanger Israel’s security.” It is a formulation that will be unhelpful for activists and diplomats and editorialists, but all of it is true.
And I agree with this Wieseltier a la Shavit observation:
“What this nation has to offer,” Shavit concludes, “is not security or well-being or peace of mind. What it has to offer is the intensity of life on the edge.” The blessing of not being Luxembourg, then. It is a mixed blessing, to be sure — but what other kind of blessing is there? By the measure of the Jewish past, and by the measure of the Levantine present, mixed is quite a lot.
In another review, by Oren Kessler, we learn that Shavit
...deemed the Israeli left dangerously unconcerned by the Palestinians' attachment to terrorism and refusal to accept Israel's legitimacy
and the book
...could serve as fodder for those looking both to flatter Israel and to fault it. Throughout the book, Mr. Shavit mulls Zionism's justice, necessity and costs. His conclusions are often of the yes-but variety.
But this duality, no matter how pro-Israel it is claimed, is undercut as this excerpt from a Shavit interview illustrates:
When I was sent to a detention camp in Gaza in the early '90s, I was sent there as a guard, and that was probably the most traumatic experience I had as an Israeli because the fact that I found myself being a guard — serving my country by imprisoning others — was horrific for me. I had the time there to sit in that watchtower in Gaza, to look at the beautiful Mediterranean, to see all the potential beauty of the country and what the country can be, and to see how these two people[s] — they were doing terrible things to us as terrorists, and we were doing terrible things to them, imprisoning them, occupying them, not giving them the fresh air needed to survive and live properly.
Terror is terrible and Israel's defense is terrible.
That is a terrible viewpoint, Ari.
And as Prof. Auerbach points out:
Shavit...cannot resist the final dig that earns him a place of honor on the Times Opinion page: “President Obama was right to demand a settlement freeze in the West Bank in 2009. Now he must demand a total centrifuge freeze in Iran.” That is, to say the least, an absurd non sequitur. Any implication that Jewish settlements pose a world danger equivalent to Iranian nuclear bombs is preposterous. But it comes naturally to Shavit, who has never entirely shed his nostalgia for “the grand and noble campaigns of the Israeli peace movement,” nor his conviction as a student radical that settlements were “a calamity in the making.”_______
Jewish settlers, he writes in his book, are possessed by “messianic delusions of grandeur”; they are “a cancer, endangering the entire body” of Israel. Shavit can only see “a zealot’s fever”; “a national-religious fervor.” Yet even before the first socialist kibbutz (Ein Harod, Shavit’s beloved model) was built in “a valley inhabited by others” (i.e. Arabs) in 1921, settlement of the land of Israel already defined Zionism. To Shavit, however, religious-Zionist settlement since 1967 explains why “enlightened Jews in American and Europe” – to say nothing of Israel – are ashamed of the Jewish state.
It cannot get much better than that: blame President Bush and Jewish settlers for the malaise of the Obama presidency. Welcome to The New York Times, Ari Shavit.
P.S. His great uncle was Norman Bentwich. Shot by an incited Arab nationalist because he was Jewish, Norman sought to defend him. He was active in the Brit Shalom defeatist group.