Top critical review
An Unsatisfying Analysis
Reviewed in the United States on February 13, 2020
This book was far more political tome than analysis of an underlying challenge. The author held a deep bias which went unstated but revealed itself throughout the book. He ignores, minimizes and whitewashes the mistreatment of Palestinians in Israel and in the territories. He pretty much writes as if they don't exist.
While Gordis tries to blame the rift between Israeli and American Jews on historical differences, he ignores that most of what upsets American Jews today is a sort of behavior that is anathema to Judaism itself. The Torah itself says several versions of "Be kind to the stranger because you were once a stranger in a strange land." He dismisses criticism of racism and discrimination in Israel by calling it "ethnic democracy". As I read that, again and again because he repeats this assertion as if that alone will make it persuasive, I wondered why that formulation wouldn't have applied equally well to apartheid South Africa. Sure, South Africa for the white people, a cultural democracy where the rights of all white people are respected.
A very smart rabbi once explained to me that Judaism became tribal in response to its European experience, where Jews were segregated, persecuted and slaughtered repeatedly. He said earlier forms of Judaism were not tribal but universal in their outlook. It's right there in the Schema: Hashem echod. When we create separation in our minds to justify the mistreatment of others, we are disloyal to and at odds with core of the very Judaism that Israel claims to preserve.
Like most Jews, I was raised on a steady diet of pro-Israel propaganda. Before I understood the history, I saw no problem. These days, I see the great tragedy that is the history of the nation. I'm not saying that the Jews were all wrong and the Palestinians all right. But one has to take into account that a bunch of white people in the supposedly "civilized world" believed it was appropriate to take land that they had been living on for hundreds, even thousands, of years. A Palestinian man once said to me, "Yes, the Jews have been victimized terribly, but if the world were just Israel would be in Bavaria. Why did we pay the price for the sins of others?"
Realistically, Israel can't be undone. Ultimately, the only possibility for a solution must include respect for the rights of others. In my opinion, healing can occur if Israel embraces true democracy where the rights of all people of the region are respected. In the context of history, Israel isn't different from the U.S. in the sense that, when Jefferson wrote "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal", those idealistic words didn't apply to everyone. They didn't apply to people of color -- especially those of African or Native American heritage -- and they didn't apply to women. Little by little over the last two centuries, the U.S. has come closer to fulfilling Jefferson's ideal.
I hope Israel will, with time, realize that it can't treat some of its citizens as though they were of a lower caste or class. I hope too that it will realize that it's not right to occupy territory belonging to others, and that it's particularly wrong to appropriate land belonging to others. Israel tries to have it both ways, stealing land as if it were the state's to take, while refusing to give the people there as if they were prisoners.
This is what upsets American Jews. I find it particularly frustrating that Israel claims to act in my name when it behaves this way. It does not. I cannot support any country that behaves immorally, and that's all the more so when it claims to be doing so on behalf of my religion. Gave two stars anyway because the author included some worthwhile information.