Choosing Life in Israel

David Hornik’s new book a must-read for anyone who cares about Israel.

Choosing Life in Israel, published by Freedom Press International, is a collection of essays spanning the years 2004 to 2012 by the Israeli journalist David Hornik, now a regular columnist for Frontpage Magazine and PJ Media. The title neatly suggests the book’s two main points of emphasis, the first concerning how an American made the choice to live in Israel and how he was changed by the decision; the second having to do with what life in Israel is like and how it differs from life anywhere else in the world. A third point, more lightly touched upon but in a sense underpinning the whole of the book, relates to the people of Israel as God’s chosen ones, instructed by Him to “Choose life”—which they have done, abundantly, in the face of the world’s hatred. The volume is a skillful blend of political and personal reportage, beautifully and informatively written, and a must-read for anyone who cares about this beleaguered, valiant country.

The shorter first section of the book tells how as a young man, Hornik put aside his dream of writing poetry and short stories in upstate New York to join a people under siege and to make their struggle his own. He had felt an affinity for Israel and its plucky citizens from the time when, as a secular Jewish child of about six, he had been moved by the “brash, in-your-face élan” of a record of Israeli music given him by his father. Later, as an adult, Hornik found it impossible to read continually of the international betrayal of “his” people without throwing in his lot with theirs. Coming to Israel meant learning a new language, imbibing the vibrancy of Jewish religious life, adjusting to the reality of rocket attacks and suicide bombings, and surrendering his dedication to poetic “emotion recollected in tranquility” in order to engage in journalism of “political and moral urgencies.”  His love for his adopted country—for its joyousness and decency despite the “ambiance of terror” within which Israelis must live—and his sense of being “incorrigibly engaged with the world” provide the compelling keynotes of the collection.

The longer second section is primarily composed of political commentary, much of it inspired by immediate events, including Israeli military actions, terrorist atrocities, and international diplomatic visits.  The subjects that recur, presented from various angles and tones of voice ranging from the outraged to the resigned, include the failure of Israeli leaders to attain security for their citizens through realistic assessment of military necessity, the rise once more of Jew hatred across the world, and the extraordinary resilience of Israel despite such challenges. Hornik is particularly astute in his analysis of the Palestinian victim narrative and its many ardent sympathizers—the chorus of supplicants, appeasers, accommodationists, and utopians whose hope never wavers, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the Palestinians’ repeatedly expressed determination to wipe Israel from the map is merely a strategic or rhetorical expression.

Hornik’s discussion of the suicidal political calculations and denial mechanisms involved in such false hope is always compelling and cogent. I was particularly impressed by his definition of the obscene “death credit system” under which Israel has had to operate and which no other nation has ever been expected to endure: according to this system, “Israel absorbs blows, letting its citizens be picked off and murdered, until a particularly large and grisly attack gives it enough death credits that it believes the world … will tolerate its taking military action.” Even then, of course, it is subject to repeated, sometimes hysterical, criticism. Hornik is brilliant in showcasing, in nauseating detail, the vast disproportion in the international response to military action by Israel and to terror attacks by the Palestinians; no moral distinction is made between “oppressive” Israeli checkpoints and the deliberate slaughter of innocent civilians. Dead children in Sderot elicit “no cachet and romance … no ‘Save Sderot’ marches on campus, not a whiff of censure.” Hornik’s analysis of western elites’ obsession with Palestinian grievance—while “twenty years of genocide in Sudan may be quite tolerable [and] oppression in Tibet not even detectable”—is powerfully presented throughout.

Hornik’s writing has a pithy force that stems from the precise, understated attention he pays to these unsettling subjects: the lies told in the mainstream media about Palestinian innocence and Israeli belligerence, the moral double-standard to which Israel is held and to which many of its own politicians, intellectuals, and activists insist it hold itself, and the evident attraction of many intellectuals to terror and barbarism. Covering such matters as Yasser Arafat’s funeral, Columbia University’s disastrous hosting of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the much-revisited peace process, Hornik focuses on the ironies and hypocrisies that might defeat a less patient writer. Showcasing the reality behind the obfuscations of pundits and political rulers, he reveals a country, in his apt wording, “confronted more starkly than others with life and death, and making its choice.”

Individually, then, these articles offer perceptive, compulsively readable glimpses into Israeli life and politics. As a collection, however, this book is even more than the sum of its parts.  Choosing Life in Israel chronicles  the ongoing drama at the heart of Israel as month after month, year after year, the tiny country faces the barrage of rockets, calumny, and lies—and not only endures but thrives. The book is a testament to one writer’s determination to tell the truth and to keep on telling it; and to the against-the-odds triumph of an indomitable people.

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