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  • The Unmaking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg
  • Evan Kent (bio)
The Unmaking of Israel, by Gershom Gorenberg. New York: Harper, 2011.

I often have trouble sleeping. Some nights, it takes me hours to fall asleep and on those nights when I do fall asleep quickly and without effort, I often wake up with a jolt at about three or four in the morning with my mind racing. In these early-morning attacks of insomnia, to-do lists clutter my mind and the never-ending “monkey chatter” (as a yoga-teacher friend calls it) denies me my much needed sleep.

After reading Gershom Gorenberg’s most recent book, The Unmaking of Israel, I didn’t sleep well for a number of weeks. And on those nights when I would fall asleep, that mental chatter (now with a strong Israeli accent) woke me up. Gorenberg initially presents a pessimistic picture of Israel: a society deeply fractured having lost its Jewish foundation and soul. Gorenberg’s prophet-like and almost apocalyptic warnings are not to be taken lightly. His admonitions have real and timely significance for me, as next year at this time I will have made aliyah (along with my husband and Merlin the Cat) and will have become a citizen of Israel. Gorenberg’s message is certainly not directed toward Israelis alone; his words should be read as a timely and important message for all Jews—for all who care deeply about Eretz Yisrael and the country’s future.

We did not need Gorenberg’s book to inform us that Israel has a variety of tzuris, both internally and external to the country’s borders. As I write this, the citizens of Jerusalem are trying to comprehend the attack on an Arab teenager in Zion Square; performances of the Batsheva Dance company, one of Israel’s premier arts institutions, are being boycotted at the Edinburgh Festival; the madman in Iran is again denying the Holocaust and making threats to destroy the “Zionist entity”; and the [End Page 127] European Union has declared that the city of Modi’in is not really a part of Israel. All these issues stem from similar challenges and it is Gorenberg’s thesis that in order for Israel to survive as a democratic, Jewish state, and not to be seen as an outcast nation, the country must change. He writes:

What will Israel be in five years, or twenty? Will it be the Second Israeli Republic, a thriving democracy within smaller borders? Or a pariah state where one ethnic group rules over another? Or a territory marked on the map, between the river and the sea, where the state has been replaced by two warring communities? Will it be the hub of the Jewish world, or a place that most Jews abroad prefer not to think about? The answers depend on what Israel does now

(pp. 221–222).

In this well researched, thoughtful, and highly provocative volume, Gorenberg proposes three solutions necessary to guide Israel back on course in order to re-establish itself as a liberal democracy. Israel must: (1) leave the settlements and end the occupation; (2) create a separation between the religious establishment and the state, including the dissolution of religious hesder yeshivot designed for army inductees and the cessation of financial funding of all religious institutions; and (3) “graduate from being an ethnic movement to being a democratic state in which all citizens enjoy equality” (p. 222).

Although aspects of Gorenberg’s solutions may seem like sheer fantasy to both those in Israel and outside the country, the author is realistic and acknowledges his proposals are fraught with difficulty and would certainly face multiple objections. Throughout his book, the author acknowledges and responds to possible objections: just as a reader might be formulating a protest to Gorenberg’s thinking and beginning to mentally challenge him with “But what about . . .” or “Have you really considered . . .”, the author successfully parries the objections and continues to build and develop a well-investigated defense. Gorenberg’s solutions are so deftly presented and provide such outstanding rhetoric that they are imminently useful when discussing or debating Israel. On a proposed one-state or two-state...


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pp. 127-129
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