The Divided Self: Israel and the Jewish Psyche Today by David Goldberg.
Hard to judge this one since I'm not Jewish. Written by a British Rabbi, it's partly a brisk but lucid and informative history of the Jews, partly a discussion of the conflicts and contradictions between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews.
The history seems reasonable enough. He takes the traditional view that the Maccabean revolt was an actual revolt, not a conflict between Hellenized and fundamentalist Jews. He regards Zionism as essentially just another of the nationalist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries: morally neutral rather than good or bad of itself. (You can compare it to Italian nationalism, for instance)
He points out that the early Zionists made a deliberate attempt to create a new kind of Israeli national character: a kind of New Jew more forceful, direct, militaristic; less introverted and cerebral. He thinks that that was done partly by distorted Jewish history. In particular he thinks they deemphasized and distorted the prophet Jeremiah. He regards Jeremiah as an accomodationist seeking to mollify the occupying powers.
Goldberg points out that even in Biblical times, Israel was a small nation in a strategic location. It generally prospered when shrewdly playing off the powerful empires surrounding it against each other; not by seeking military dominance.
Goldberg thinks that the cultivated direct and antagonistic national character of Israel is too limited to prosper in the long term. It worked well in the cold war, when the US backed Israel against the Soviet-backed Arab states, but in the long run he thinks a more conciliatory attitude will be necessary.
Where I'm not equipped to judge is his view that the Israelis tend to hold Diaspora Jews in a kind of contempt: seeing them as effete and corrupted; whereas they themselves are holding fast to a tradition of strength.
He makes some interesting observations on this. Goldberg has been an observer at various peace talks. He says that the Arab negotiators, originally French trained, tend to be smooth-talking traditional diplomats, whereas the Israeli negotiators harm their own interests by being too blunt and too unwilling to allow for ambiguity.
While his observations seem to be true based on my own dealings with Israelis, I'm not sure how far the national character has been deliberately created. It seems generally pretty hard for nations to mold this kind of thing deliberately through school curricula, but possibly the new nation was more malleable.
His essential point is that Israelis should have more respect for the ways of Diaspora Jews. Not only should they try to adopt them themselves, but they should accept that the Diaspora is equally a home for Jews. His view is that the Jewish people have survived as a culture not in spite of the Diaspora but because of it: their dispersal meant that they kept their ways intact where more static people were inevitably conquered or assimilated in the end.
He also thinks that Israelis regard the existence of Israel as essential for the existence of the Jews. He hints that the opposite could be true, as Diaspora Jews are victimized in retaliation for the actions of Israel.
Overall an interesting read, worth it for the potted history alone. There are also some interesting observations along the way. Goldberg think it's a myth that guilt over the Holocaust led the Western nations to create Israel as a state: he points out that at lot of the UN votes came from South America, and thinks it was mostly a matter of US interests. He regards the Six Day War as the high point of Israel's reputation abroad, and the Lebanon war as the start of its decline.
Worth a look if you're interested in the subject.
What I'm Watching
By coincidence, I happened to watch a movie that actually takes a similar stance on Israel in a rather different format: the Adam Sandler comedy You Don't Mess With The Zohan. In this a superhumanly tough Israeli special forces soldier comes to America in pursuit of his dream: to cut and style hair. He has to learn the fine arts of small talk and not fighting Palestinians in pursuit of it.
Good movie. Some brilliantly-timed gags as when The Zohan dismantles a gun in the middle of a fight. Good effects too, with some nice wirework, especially as he out-swims a jet-ski doing the butterfly stroke.
Worth a look if you want a laugh.
What I'm Reading 2
Got another acclaimed Agatha Christie mystery And Then There Were None. Fortunately I've somehow not seen any of the many movie versions, so the ending was unspoilt. This time I actually managed to guess Whodunnit well in advance: the key seems to be looking at the characters and motivations, rather than getting tied into the fiendishly complicated means and opportunities. However, I totally failed to guess Howdunnit, which is the clever bit here.
The version I read has been mildly bowdlerized. It was originally "Ten Little Niggers". This then became "Ten Little Indians". They've now become Ten Little Soldiers, and presumably the soldier figurines on the table have been edited to match.
I suspect that in this case the changes are justified. It doesn't seem to affect the actual plot at all, and I don't think Christie's prose is so finely balanced that changing a few assonances worsens its quality.
It's another fiendishly clever one. This one has some quite effective tension as the murders pile up too.
Have borrowed another one from the library. Worried that this may be a Christie too far though: since the two I've read are apparently her great classics, presumably it's all downhill from here.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw the classic war movie biopic Patton, covering the barmy but effective general's career in WW2. Good movie, with lots of lavish scenes with dozens of real tanks charging over the landscape.
Looked it up afterwards: seems to have been reasonably accurate. Seem to be two significant differences from reality. Apparently was actually Monty's suggestion that Patton take Messina: Patton didn't really just totally disobey orders and the whole war plan in a mad quest for the glory of beating him to it. Also the soldier who was slapped for cowardice turned out to be pale, sweating and shaking because he had malaria; and even Patton felt bad when he found out.
Figure 1 also highlights a curious fact absent in popular discussions of the crisis. Unemployment in the US had already begun to ramp up in early 2007, long before the official recession start date in December 2007 and the vagaries of the financial crisis that came to a head in the latter half of 2008. Figure 1 suggests that the initial impulse to the current recession may not have been the credit crunch, but rather that the credit crunch aggravated already worsening economic conditions.
YouTube. Batman p0wned
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