Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stephen Reiss is REAL!

Stephen Reiss, Washington Post editor for social issues and education, took it upon himself to deflate Rich Cohen's book, "Israel is Real" in An Imagined Nation


When the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there was no such thing as the Geneva Conventions...Sixty-odd years later, there was another Jewish revolt. This time, the Roman effort at obliteration was even more thorough...Miraculously, this was not the end of the Jewish nation. It survived, in part, by redefining Jerusalem...

After two millennia, Jerusalem is once more the capital of a Jewish nation. The idea has taken on concrete form and is beset by a host of real-world problems. Once again, a Jewish nation is vulnerable to its enemies and its own internal weaknesses. Is the future of the religion, too, now hostage to the foibles of people like Benjamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah? It's an interesting thesis, but a curious book...It feels almost like a child's field trip through the local art museum, stopping here to look at an oil painting, there to make faces at a marble bust.

...this is an Israel seen through a distinctly American lens. There's no sign of the Sephardim, the Jews whose origins lie in the Arab world and who have been skeptical of peace deals. There's no mention of Russian Jews and their battle to emigrate from the Soviet Union...we spend a lot of time with fanatics on West Bank hilltops. True, those handfuls of people wield outsized political influence, but they don't define the daily life of the nation.

...But the main flaw of "Israel is Real" is that it treats religious faith as a form of madness...

It might be argued that the long-term viability of Israel lies in the triumph of secular Enlightenment values. Perhaps only a nation that has stopped mourning the destruction of the Second Temple can make the compromises necessary to achieve peace with the Palestinians and the nations of the Muslim world. But that's not the reality on the ground today. And that line of reasoning seems oddly dismissive of the faith that sustained a people for 2,000 years. Believe it or not, that's real, too.

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