A Revealing Book About Israel
Ari Shavit, an Israeli journalist, wrote a book about his country, My Promised Land, that is anything but a conventional account of its history. The book was widely praised in reviews and was accorded several distinctions.1 Shavit covers a lot of ground, but does not at all give an account of the country’s political/governmental history.
Refreshingly, Netanyahu, by way of example, is mentioned only late in the book and just once. Of other political figures only Israel’s founding father, Ben Gurion makes repeated appearances, with a few others brought up for particular actions they performed, rather than to give an account of their political roles. To be sure, Shavit firmly supports the two-state solution; without spelling out details and express strong opposition to the creation of the settlements that began when Menachem Begin was prime minister and has continued ever since.2
If I had to put a label on the main theme of the book I would say that it is about Israel’s accomplishments and broad practices, with the creation of an atomic bomb as an example of the first and an account of night-clubby practices of urban youngsters being one of the others. Much ground is covered, boosted by interesting reports of his interviews with leading actors. You’ll have to read the book to get details; nor is what you are now reading a review. I just mean to encourage you to pick up the book, but I do want to conclude with a comment.
As I have suggested, My Promised Land is above all a celebration of what Israel has brought about in the less than seventy years of its existence. At a large variety of enterprises of brain and brawn Shavit convincingly shows that Israeli have built and excelled. As the book’s title intimates, Shavit attributes these multiple successes to Zionism and often asserts that proposition in so many words—that is, to the vision and drive that created Israel.
Nothing is further from my mind than to deny this causal claim. I only want to add this further thought: those Zionists have been and are so successful because they were and are Jews. (Gypsies, also a much persecuted ethnic group have not, to my knowledge, aspired to statehood.) While this is no place to tackle the theme of what makes a Jew a Jew—even if I had a new insight into that tricky and ancient topic—a recent book sheds some light on this theme. Take a look at Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century (Princeton University Press, 2004). My point, in short, is that Theodor Herzl had an audience whose history inclined them to listen to him. The vision of Zionism fell on soil that was prepared by a very long history.
1 See, for example, http://www.arishavit.com/books/my-promised-land/
2For this and other sins, Shavit is identified with the Left and sharply criticized by some on the Right. See http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Into-the-fray-Ari-Shavit-at-AJC-The-logical-lacunae-of-the-Left-407183