In marmur

By Rabbi Dow Marmur.

As Ari Shavit’s book, My Promised Land was published in English abroad (a Hebrew translation is said to be on its way), it took some time before I could get hold of a copy here. It was in great demand and stores quickly ran out. I’ve now finally read it: it’s the best book on Israel I’ve ever read.

This isn’t a review, just a few random remarks. A detailed analysis chapter by chapter by Professor Howard Adelman of Toronto can be found on his website:

The book has given me new courage to express a mixture of boundless enthusiasm for Israel and constant fear about its future. I’ll henceforth be less apologetic when I confuse you with contradictory reflections.

First a retraction. I’ve always assumed that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s preoccupation (obsession?) with Iran and its nuclear potential was politically motivated: his way of rallying the troops and keeping coalition partners in place while presenting himself as the only credible defender of the realm.

Shavit insists, however, that Netanyahu shows a deep understanding of the Iranian threat for the whole Middle East and the mortal danger to which it exposes Israel. He believes that Netanyahu is one of the few who grasped what was at stake from the very outset. Therefore, in the future I’ll take the prime minister’s statements on Iran and his famous red line at the United Nations more seriously and more respectfully.

However, I won’t be able to do so with most other policies of his government. Shavit repeatedly speaks of the government as dysfunctional. Indeed, it’s impossible to be sensitive to what’s going on in the country without despairing of the inadequacy of politicians and their blend of incompetence and corruption: more than one government minister has been in jail for financial irregularities, others have been – and some still are – under investigation; one to whom Shavit refers (Arieh Deri) has been reinstated as the leader of his party (Shas) after his jail sentence and is likely to have an even greater role in Israeli public life now after the death of his ayatollah (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef)..

All that in contrast to the fantastic human potential that exists in the country and that manifests itself in the spectacular successes in the realm of economics, hi-tech and cultural creativity. Shavit has stimulated my mixed feelings: boundless enthusiasm for what’s going on and great fear of what might happen, laced with the suspicion that those entrusted with the leadership of Israel aren’t up to it. (You might ask: Is any political leadership in any country up to much? Answer: perhaps not, but the other countries will survive even thrive, whereas the future of Israel is very precarious.)

Both Shavit and his wife have British antecedents. He speculates that they could have had a good life in the UK or some other country. So why does he remain in Israel? Because he wants to make sure that his offspring will be Jewish. As dangerous as it may be to live in Israel, as a Jew it’s even more precarious to stay in the Diaspora. Both assimilation and anti-Semitism are said to threaten the Jewish future there. Most of his and his wife’s comfortable and contented British relatives are no longer Jewish. Those who came to Israel are facing a different set of dangers but they will survive as Jews.

Shavit may not tell the whole story, but he tells enough to make you think.

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