Ari Shavit and American Jewry

maxresdefaultOriginally published by the Jerusalem Post

Go into any Jewish community in the United States these days and spend a few hours talking to people. At a certain point in the conversation, at least one person will bring up Ari Shavit’s bestselling book, My Promised Land.

Mention of the book will arouse great enthusiasm.

Invariably, a prominent member of the group will say, with utter conviction, and to the nods of all present, “I think that Shavit’s book should be required reading for all American Jewish students.”

The most illustrious American Jewish writers and editors today are all but unanimous in their praise for Shavit’s book, which they proclaim is an “epic” account of Israel.

As Martin Kramer wrote this week in the online journal Mosaic, “the last ‘epic’ account of [Israel’s birth in] 1948 to seize the imagination of its Jewish and non-Jewish readers,” as Shavit’s as done, was Leon Uris’s Exodus, published in 1958.

Uris’s book was inspirational, historic fiction that told the story of Israel’s birth. Decades of American Jewish readers were profoundly influenced by the narrative. Ask any American Jew over the age of 35 who made aliya if he read Uris’s Hollywood-style account of the Zionist revolution.

The answer is almost always affirmative.

Like Exodus, Shavit’s My Promised Land has been a runaway success. As Kramer noted, Shavit has been embraced by the Jewish establishment’s celebrity intellectuals – sharing stages with New Yorker editor David Remnick, and Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg. He’s been kvelled over by Tom Friedman and Franklin Foer from The New Republic.

Shavit got marquis billing at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington in March, and has been feted by the Jewish Federations and the most affluent synagogues in America.

Unlike Exodus, which is a fictional account of Israel’s founding, Shavit insists that his narrative is the undisputed truth. As Foer put it in his blurb an on the back cover, Shavit’s book is an “epic history… full of moral complexity… [and] mind-blowing, trustworthy insights.”

Also, unlike Exodus, Shavit’s tale of Israel is not one of heroism, determination, faith and gumption.

Rather, Israel’s tale is morally ambiguous.

Israel is a country born in sin, and its subsequent history has been plagued by tribalism, fanaticism, displacement and war crimes.

On the other hand, Israel isn’t all bad. Shavit still loves it with all his heart because it is a great country made up of human beings. And you should love it too. At least a little bit.

Shavit’s portrayal of Israel revolves around the continuous clash between the bad and good things that Israel is and does. A primary anchor of the “Bad Israel” narrative is Shavit’s account of the battle of Lydda (Lod) in the 1948 War of Independence. In “What happened at Lydda?” Kramer provides a critical assessment of Shavit’s account of that battle.

Shavit referred to the battle of Lydda as “Israel’s black box.” As Kramer put it, Shavit maintains that, “in its story lies the dark secret not only of the birth of Israel but indeed of the entire Jewish national movement – of Zionism.”

According to Shavit’s telling, the Israeli forces that conquered Lydda from the Jordanian Arab Legion and the local Arab irregulars in July 1948 massacred civilians who were hiding in a mosque. Shavit alleges that after killing the innocent, Israeli troops forced local Arabs to bury the bodies to hide their crime, and murdered the Arabs who dug the graves.

The purported massacre, according to Shavit, fomented the Arab flight from Lydda. Shavit judges the soldiers and commanders who participated in the operation. But he lays the blame for these alleged events on “Zionism.”

“Zionism,” he wrote, “carries out a massacre at Lydda.”

Shavit claims his historical narrative is based on interviews he conducted in the 1990s with soldiers who participated in the battle. Shavit has not released the transcripts of those interviews.

Yet, as Kramer relates, the same sources to whom Shavit attributes his story gave opposite accounts in on-record, and in many cases, on-camera interviews with other reporters and researchers.

Through his point-by-point examination of Shavit’s narrative, Kramer demonstrated that Shavit’s account is arguably no less fictional than Uris’s idealized portrayal of Israel.

Kramer found no clear evidence that a massacre was carried out at Lydda. At best, there is an argument between historians about what happened.

Shavit’s claim that the dead were “civilians” is not supported by historical accounts of the battle. His claim that 250 Arabs were killed in the battle is disputed.

Moreover, as Kramer demonstrates, contrary to Shavit’s claim that Israeli soldiers allegedly killed Arabs out of rage and not for reason of military necessity, the documentary history of the battle contains no evidence of malice by any of the soldiers or commanders involved in the battle.

A perfectly reasonable explanation of the evidence – and a better one than Shavit’s claim of original sin – is that the Israeli fighters fought a hard battle in an urban area under the accepted rules of war. And people died.

Whereas Shavit wrote that the Israeli forces buried the bodies of the Arab dead to hide evidence of their supposed war crime, according to the participants’ firsthand accounts, the Arab dead were buried because it was hot and the bodies would have rotted if they weren’t interred.

As for murdering the Arab burial detail, one of its members – who lived his whole life in Lydda (Lod) after the war – was interviewed on record about the battle several times. He was neither killed at the time, nor did he allege that his colleagues were killed.

Kramer ends his article by calling for “the grandees of American Jewish journalism who rushed to praise Shavit’s Lydda treatment” to tell their readers the truth about the at best dubious nature of Shavit’s account of the battle.

Kramer is right to hold Shavit’s enablers to account. But the problem is that promoters like Jeffrey Goldberg (who presented Shavit’s as “a beautiful, mesmerizing, morally serious and vexing book,” for which “I’ve been waiting most of my adult life”) are unlikely to be called to order by their American Jewish audience.

Goldberg, Remnick, Friedman, Foer and David Brooks are not operating in a vacuum. True, they are leading voices in the American Jewish community.

But their stature owes mainly to the American Jewish community’s desire to listen to them. They reflect the values and preferences of the American Jewish community more than they shape them.

AIPAC didn’t give Shavit the center stage at its annual conference because David Remnick featured an abridged version of his tale of the Lydda “massacre,” in The New Yorker. AIPAC gave Shavit center stage because AIPAC leaders like his message of Israel’s moral deficiency just as much as Remnick does.

How can this be? Shavit’s most enthusiastic readers are not uninvolved Jews. They are not American Jews who have left the community.

Shavit’s biggest admirers are members in good standing of the American Jewish community.

They belong to synagogues. They belong to AIPAC. They give to the Federation.

What is it about his dishonest moral indictment of Israel that excites them? For generations of American Jews, Israel was perceived as “poor little Israel.” As they saw things, Israel was economically backward. It was dependent on charity from the American Jewish community. And it needed organizations like AIPAC to protect and promote its interests in Washington.

There was truth behind these perceptions in Israel’s early years in particular. Israel was a weak country and a poor country. American Jewish support was a critical component of Israel’s economic and diplomatic viability. But in recent decades, Israel has become more and more capable of standing on its own.

Today Israel is not dependent on the charity of American Jews. It is a prosperous country with a healthy, rapidly growing and diverse economy.

With Asia expected to eclipse the US as Israel’s largest trading partner next year, Israel has become less dependent on the US in general than it was in the past.

Israel’s economic vitality is an unwelcome development for many American Jews who cannot get their arms around Israel not needing them to save it.

And as Israel becomes more powerful, American Jews are becoming less willing to defend Israel in any meaningful way.

For the past decade, AIPAC made convincing the White House and Congress to pass sanctions against Iran its primary goal. But when President Barack Obama told AIPAC to stop lobbying for further sanctions after he signed the interim nuclear deal with Iran last November, AIPAC folded like a deck of cards. Israel and the Republicans on Capitol Hill who had pushed the legislation were left high and try.

Defending Israel to an unsympathetic president from the Democratic Party is apparently too much to ask most pro-Israel American Jews to do.

And this is where Shavit’s book comes in.

By portraying Israel as a country that is morally deficient, Shavit gave the American Jewish community two gifts. First he gave them a way to feel morally superior, and therefore patronizing toward Israel. Israel, they can say, committed a massacre – and did so because its founding ideology is poisonous. American Jews would never do such a thing. But out of the kindness of their hearts, like Shavit, they will continue to love this unworthy cousin.

The second gift Shavit gave the American Jewish community was the ability to feel comfortable refusing to be inconvenienced for Israel.

Clearly – given Israel’s moral failings as portrayed by Shavit – American Jews should have no interest in picking up and making aliya. But beyond that, since Israel is a morally lacking country, there is no reason for them to take a serious stand on its behalf. There is no reason for them to object to the galloping anti-Semitism on college campuses. The BDS people may be over the top, but according to Shavit, they have a point.

There is no reason for them to stand up to Obama. He is using “tough love” to make Israel free itself of sin and atone for its past crimes – like the one it committed in Lydda.

The success of Shavit’s book reveals the rupture in the relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel. A generation ago, being pro-Israel meant believing in the justness and morality of Israel and being willing to be inconvenienced a little or even a lot to defend the Jewish state.

Today, being pro-Israel means that you support Israel despite its immorality because you are forgiving. And supporting Israel means you’ll help Israel so long as it doesn’t inconvenience you in any way or make you feel uncomfortable about anything at all.

Ari Shavit’s libelous account of the birth of Israel is just playing to the crowd. It’s time to start worrying about how to heal a crowd that celebrates being lied to in this way.

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  • Edie_VA

    I guess Ari Shavit didn’t interview my 80+-yr old Brooklyn neighbor, Elias. Elias has a story too and it goes like this:

    “One evening in 1948 a radio announcement broadcast into teenage Elias’ Joffa home a warning that the next day the Egyptian air force would bomb the town to rubble and the Egyptian army was coming to kill anyone left alive,” (assuming they were Jewish). The family fled immediately, becoming dispora, fleeing the land where they had lived for 2,000 years as semitic Christians. The Egyptian army did as announced. Will someone explain to me why Mr. Shavit isn’t writing about Egyptian attempted genocide?

    Moral relativism seems to have destroyed whatever common sense westerners once had. Mr. Shavit seems to believe that imperfection, which is part of all human life and all countries, allows for contempt, sneering. I hope he doesn’t apply these standards to my adopted country: America.

    How can Mr Shavit sleep at night?

    • carindlee

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      • Guest

        Yeah. Guess she’s making $87 every hour turning tricks.

    • Jeff Ludwig

      Brilliant comment. Thank you for this.

    • Damaris Tighe

      You are right, people want Israel to be perfect – it’s another burden of being Jewish, we’re not allowed to be ordinary. I’ve fallen into this trap too, it’s a very strange thing – holding Israel to a standard that doesn’t apply to other countries.

      • Lanna

        Good point. I am sick of Israel being blamed for the world’s problems…they have more productivity and productiveness than just about any other nation, they don’t go around burning churches, and forcing people into Judeasim either like Islam and their recruiting by force to accept their religion. Evil wants to blame the Jews just as it created false excuses to blame them throughout history by the Romans, and Hitler, Haman, and Nebuchadnezzar. Different reasons but always the same goals, to destroy God’s people. When Israel became a state, it was the countdown to their redemption, and the last days of this earth, and its coming, the real change is coming one that will leave people in Awe and shock…Especially the nay sayers who are not believers in the real Messiah….

  • Michael Garfinkel

    Dear Caroline – You have set an unrealistic, if not impossible goal, that of “healing a crowd that celebrates being lied to.”

    One would think American Jews would know better, but such an assumption requires the invocation of an even greater fiction.

  • Lawrence

    Excellent analysis. There is another reason worth mentioning for this abasement of Israel. Liberal American Jews then don’t have to feel so bad about still being liberal, if liberals have a point about Israel being bad. So that way they can stay on the liberal train with a good conscience, without feeling distressed about being left-wing, given all that left-wing animus against Israel.

    • Jeff Ludwig

      Liberal Jews who are willing to disassociate themselves from Israel have a suicidal attitude. Israel’s fate is inextricably tied to the fate of every Jew in the world.

  • Webb

    As a non-Jew who has served in the IDF 7 times as a volunteer, and will continue to serve, I thought I would find ideological brothers among American Jews. Unfortunately, most American Jews are dead to Israel. Even the ones I thought were Zionists were full of excuses for the Gaza evacuation — and still are. I feel out of place around them. It’s a sad situation, but the stars have gone out of my eyes for the connection of American Jews to Israel. It isn’t there. The genuine Zionists have all made Aliyah. Those left behind are as spiritually dead as the American so-called-Christians who believe they’ve replaced Israel as G-d’s chosen people. American Jews give money (not support) to Israel out of guilt for having survived the Holocaust, yet they are deeply embarrassed of Zionism. So I would counsel my beloved Israel to take their guilt money, yet regard it as the proceeds from the estates of their dead cousins in America.
    From what I’ve seen, the Birthright program is a big feel-good waste of money that only gifts spoiled American teenagers a free trip to Israel to see how much they don’t really want to live there. Sure, there are extremely rare exceptions to this, but if the kids’ Jewish parents had any real love for Israel, and if the kids had any intellectual interest in their historic roots, then they would have enough going for them to visit Israel as a family.
    Writing this breaks my heart, but I wear my heart on my sleeve for Israel, and I pity those who do not.

    • Bert

      A very powerful observation that rings all too true. How will all this play out in the future? Obama and his ilk are advancing a radical Islamist agenda even inside America. We can expect more internal violence including violence against Jews and Christians of faith by Muslims as is well under war in Europe. At some point American Jews will feel under pressure to emigrate as is now happening in France.

      • StanleyT

        “well under war in Europe” — what a great Freudian slip!

    • Habbgun

      Secular Zionism is dead. Maybe that is not such a bad thing. Judaism should inform Zionism and not the other way around. The Orthodox are growing at an enormous rate. The liberal Jews are dying off. Not a problem for the Jews, not a problem for Israel and certainly not a problem for the United States. The problem with the liberal Jew was that Berlin replaced Jerusalem and when Germany turned on them an imaginary Berlin replaced Jerusalem. We will have Jerusalem and we will a population that will understand what Jerusalem really is. Things could be a lot worse.

      If you know liberal Jews the worse thing for them to hear is not that you don’t like their beliefs but you don’t care to hear them. Good riddance is the way to go.

      • Damaris Tighe

        You are right. Secular Zionism is dead. When I made aliya it was assumed that I attended synagogue – Nefesh B’Nefesh now want a reference from a rabbi. All of the ‘anglos’ who had made aliya that I knew were religious. So were the French olim. As a secular I was like a fish out of water & had to remind them that the first Zionists were like me, not like them!

        • Dallasyaherd

          Wrong. Secular ‘zionism’ is only dead in so much as Israel exists.

        • Habbgun

          True what you say about the first Zionists but they were secular in a more traditional sense. The “synagogue I don’t go to is Orthodox” type of secularism. That was unsustainable. It went from knowing your roots to not knowing your roots and Israel can’t survive that. I myself don’t come from a religious family but being religious is far from illogical. The belief that Obamacare would work, open borders are possible, crime will go away when socialism overcomes capitalism are illogical. Religion simply says there is more to the world.

    • StanleyT

      Thank you, both for your support of Israel and your heartfelt sorrow at what has happened to American Jews. Thanks heavens there are people like you in the world.

    • El Cid

      that is very disturbing news. All my daughters went on Birthright and all of them were very much impressed by Israel.

    • Damaris Tighe

      Thank you for what you have done.

    • Dallasyaherd

      Don’t give up on all Americans of one faith (especially us secular ones) just yet, bro.

    • loulai

      Well then, you obviously missed me in your travels. As for young visiting without their families I don’t think that is particularly serious. Teens most often travel without their families. It’s part of growing up. As for the larger question, it is rapidly occurring to Jews of all political persuasions that anti- semites make no difference between/among them.

    • woody

      You make me proud that there are still some non-Jews left in this world like you that have an honest connection with my Jewish brothers. Unlike some of the Jews in my family that are either dead to Israel as you say or surprisingly unaware of what Obama is doing to threaten both our’s and Israel’s safety. I feel like a lone voice screaming out to awaken them. It appears there are so many other liberal Jews here that are truly unaware or choose to ignore what this president is doing in support of radical Islamics. They don’t seem to care he spends countless millions of their tax dollars to aid and abet their Jihad. Instead they choose to remain religiously and socially corrupt. Let’s pray they will never experience Sharia law.

      • c0mm0ncenz

        Woody, I think you’re my twin. I have the same family, a miniscule few of whom care about Israel or my life here. I try to warn them repeatedly and get back a thunderous void. Spiritually they’re very dead and still seem to support Obama. I can’t get my head around anyone, Jew or not, who thinks barbaric terrorists are somehow preferable to Jews who have given and still are giving so much to the world. There’s just no making sense of it; the blindness is very dark. May they wake up soon.

        The article was good, but Caroline, I half disagree about Birthright. I thought I recently read that a large number of the Birthright participants do make aliyah eventually. O

  • morriscat

    As a Jew living in a large majority Jewish senior community in Florida I have been witness to the most obscene anti Israel comments from the liberal (really Socialist ) democrats .
    At a supposed current events meeting a man wearing a ww11 cap commented
    “If the Palestinians were armed as well as Israel that would solve the problem .
    Why shouldn’t they be armed if they would be a State next to Israel ? ”
    Greeted with some applause .
    I shouted in horror ” if that is your wish you and your family should live near that border “.
    I was greeted with boos . I left sick at heart never to go to such meeting again .
    The community is dominated by the democrat party even political speakers on Memorial Day get togethers .
    No Pledge to Flag , no Star-Spangled Banner , just an unannounced visit and political speech by Charley Crist .

    • Jeff Ludwig

      Morriscat, I really feel your pain. I know how the ignoramuses think and speak. It’s a shunda…..

      • morriscat

        Thank you . I served on a troopship as radioman during ww2 .
        Had a radioman shipmate last name Ludwig . Possible relation ?

        • Jeff Ludwig

          Sorry, not related. If you are interested, I have an article at israelnationalnews.com under Op-Eds on June 22, 2014 called “The Pretense of Moderate Islam” you might enjoy. All the best. We are 100% on the same page.

          • Dallasyaherd

            Israel NN is the only honest news organization on Israel. Not owned by far leftist organized thugs.

          • morriscat

            Great Op Ed . I will send it on to my Email group .

    • http://www.windsofchange.net/ Joe Katzman

      They worship THE PARTY, not anything in that synagogue. And you can tell this by asking which priority gives way every single time there’s a conflict.

      The only question left is: “Will you go there and bow down to Baal and the Golden Calf, or will you remain a Jew?”

      It is, perhaps, not fair that you should be tested thus after your long services, as so many Jews before you have been tested. In a sense, too, it is worse – a pogrom not of outside hate but of betrayal. All you can do is to stand in the eternal fellowship of Sinai. Be of good cheer, and know that because people like you keep faith, The Word and The Truth shall endure and return. And on that day…

      “I bring you the 15… [crash]… 10! 10 Commandments!!!” :-)

  • El Cid

    There was a conflict. There were battles. Things happen in war.

    There are a couple of key observations:

    1) The Jews were the minority and the underdog.
    2) The Arabs stated intention was (and is) to kill all the Jews and wipe Israel off the map
    3) The Jewish intention was (and is) to establish a country where everyone is equal under the law.

    The accomplishment is spectacular. There is a place on earth, Israel, where any Jew is welcome when his own country makes his life impossible. Israel is also the only country where Arabs, 2,000,000 of them, live in a democracy and vote.

    We should only be VERY proud of this accomplishment. Many American Jews do not understand what it means to know there is a place to go if you are in trouble.

    We are still a minority. We cannot solve the problems of the Arabs for them. They have vast resources of their own.

    • Webb

      All the book does is give American Jews a real good reason to be like the Presbyterians who dislike Israel.

      • Dallasyaherd

        Only half of Pres. dislike the israel.

        • Webb

          That’s all it takes.

  • Damaris Tighe

    It seems that not only some gentiles feel uncomfortable when Jews are strong rather than weak, but American Jews as well.

  • SCREW SOCIALISM

    Any JINO who doesn’t like Israel should go to Gaza, Ramallah, Syria, Iraq and explain their political views to the Taliban, ISIS, Hamass.

    Problem solved.

    • Webb

      That cuts thru all the BS faster than anything. Enter into one of those hellholes via a border crossing, and count how many steps you get before you’re butchered horribly.

    • Chavi Beck

      Loved how Bibi explained it to the Presbyterians. “…And I have two pieces of advice. First, make sure it’s an armor-plated bus. And second: don’t say that you’re Christians.”

  • Dallasyaherd

    Pew too has an anti-Israel bias, and I can prove it. According to Pew’s “data” which is obviously skewed for access to the Muslim world and other reasons. Israel has less religious freedoms than all Muslim countries. It’s scary, considering that that is the new trick call Jews racists, so antisemitism now was always actually ethical, because antisemitism is antiracism. But its ‘data’ was not based on polling in its religious persecution study, but rather on what it called “laws”. And based on Pew’s “study” of “laws” Israel is more bigoted than any Muslim country including the PLO authority. We live in some scary times, because people are doing wrong to the Jews. I disagree with this article, because I believe these reporters are studying the Jewish numbers by believing Pew polls, and its provable skew against ISrael, Pew also made polls showing American Jews lowering their support for ISrael, since non-Jews (an old Soros trick) who are hardened antisemites can outnumber Jews anywhere, this can never be wrong, in fact no persocution of Jews in a Soros world can ever be wrong.

  • http://oldschooltwentysix.blogspot.com/ oldschooltwentysix

    Glick is right. The rift must be healed. Things will have to get worse before this may happen.

    Secular Zionism is what made Zionism into reality. It cannot, and should not, be cast away so easily. Non-secular Jews, many of whom adopted the mentality of the dhimmi while steeped in the religion, accomplished little while the punching bags of their societies.

    • Dallasyaherd

      Best comment on here.

  • quesnay

    It is not only American Jewry that needs to be healed. Within Israel the hard Israeli left also bears responsibility for supporting writers such as Shavit.

  • Julian

    Jeffrey Goldberg an Obama sycophant has the religion of the left. Does he really want to know the truth?

  • zoomie

    Dr. Sowell said it best. To paraphrase, ” Barbarians vs wimps, barbarians win “. No one knows that lesson better than Jews, sorry to say.

  • Hank Rearden

    Israel’s critics ascribe to it and its armed forces the attitudes and practices of its enemies, the Muslims. Israel is bound by and characterized by Jewish morality. That there would be an unprovoked slaughter of helpless people IS what the Muslims do all the time but IS NOT what Israel does.

    Was there a unique episode here, a My Lai? Presumably Israel thinks that defending its actions lends weight to the charge. But being too proud to defend or explain yourself does not win the most important war, the war of the narrative.

    Israel should respond. What happened?

  • annabahpa

    It seems to me that with regard to his book, Lady Caroline is asking Mr. Shavit to ‘shove it’.

  • Surak1

    I loathe the “Federation”. I won’t even call them Jewish. The “Jewish” establishment has been at war against Judaism for a century. Read R. Meir Kahane’s book “Why be Jewish?” They promoted the assimilation of East European Jewish immigrants – they opposed action against the Holocaust – they opposed the campaign for Soviet Jewry – they promote Christian day-schools in their newsletters (fine for Christians, forbidden for Jews) – they promote J Street – they promote abortion, same-sex marriage, and intermarriage. They MUST be cut off financially if we Jews are to survive.

  • uleaveuswithnoalternative

    There’s a wonderful article about this on CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America).
    http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=122&x_article=2572

    Ari Shavit is a committed Leftist and left out key details on the alleged Lydda massacre, as did the NY Times.
    The Arab leaders of Lydda SURRENDERED to the Israeli’s and agreed to disarm and live in peace. However, as we see with Hamas and their constant and continual truce breaking, these Arabs (Jordanians) broke the peace agreement and sent a tank and 2 armored vehicles to probe the Israeli’s strength.
    For some reason the Jordanian’s began firing and the Arab residents of Lydda joined in, thinking that they were fighting against the Israeli’s in order to retake the town.
    “Despite the surrender agreement, and the promise to turn over arms, the Israelis, now numbering only 500 men, had to once again take the town in another desperate battle. The town leaders, knowing that they had broken their word to surrender and disarm, and knowing in particular that the 5 Israeli soldiers outside the mosque had been massacred and their bodies mutilated, feared that the Israelis would now return the favor.”
    The Israelis also didn’t execute or “massacre” them. Instead, the residents were ordered to evacuate the city and move towards the Jordanian lines and Ramallah.”
    Ari Shavit is a disgrace.