Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yossi Klein Halevi on “Like Dreamers,” New Book on Legacy of Israeli Paratroopers. By Michael M. Rosen.

Yossi Klein Halevi on “Like Dreamers,” new book on legacy of Israeli paratroopers. By Michael M. Rosen., September 22, 2013.

Yossi Klein Halevi interviewed by Rabbi Joseph Postasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack. Audio. Religion on the Line. WABC, September 29, 2013. Halevi interview starts at 69:53 in the audio file.

Seeing the Strengths and Pitfalls of a Whole Country in the Lives of Seven Paratroopers. Yossi Klein Halevi interviewed by Sara Ivry. Audio podcast. Tablet, October 1, 2013.

Rosen (Q) and Halevi (A):

Q. You end the book on a beautiful, upbeat note, with Yoel Bin-Nun leading an ecumenical group of secular and religious Israelis, right-wingers and lefties, on a re-enactment of the 1967 battle. Are you optimistic about Israel’s cultural, political, military, and religious future?
A. The answer is yes, with a sigh. The reason for that is it is going to be extremely difficult, but I deeply believe that we’re going to continue to pull through. Sometimes we’ll muddle through, sometimes we’ll surprise ourselves and be transcendent, and always with difficulty and often with suffering and struggle.
But yes, I try to keep myself out of the book as much as possible, but a writer obviously determines the narrative simply by the choices you make of what to emphasize. The fact that the last chapter of the book is about the emergence of the Israeli center is reflection of my own politics and certainly the sensibility in the book is what I believe to be true about Israeli society today. But after 45 years of vehement and often brutal disagreement between Left and Right, a majority of Israelis today are a little bit Left and a little bit Right at the same time. To be an Israeli centrist is very different from being a centrist in other political cultures. There’s nothing wishy-washy about being an Israeli centrist. Being a centrist in the Israeli context means you strongly embrace opposite principles. A centrist knows that the Left was right all these years in its warnings about the moral consequences of occupation and about the dangers of democracy. A centrist knows with equal passion that the Right was correct all these years concerning the illusion of trying to make peace with a national movement that doesn’t recognize our legitimacy. Those are key insights that are shouted past each other for decades because ideologues don’t listen to each other. But the good news about the basic health of Israeli society is that a majority of Israelis actually were paying attention all these years to the ideologues on the Left and the Right and were partly convinced by both sides. They’ve fashioned a new Israeli center which ironically enough the moderate wing of the Likud most represents. Sharon was the first one to understand the emergence of the Israeli center, and Netanyahu got it too.  So what most Israelis want today in a prime minister is a pragmatic hawk: they want someone who deeply distrusts the other side but is ready, if [he] discerns a genuine opening there, to make the deal. That to me is what at least the leadership of the Likud has become. There are elements in Labor that understand this, but most of Labor still doesn’t quite get it. Yesh Atid gets it. Kadima almost got it, and then went too far Left.
If you look at the Israeli political map through this lens, then you’ll see who’s successful and who isn’t. Labor, which is still in some way enchanted with the Oslo process—and I use “enchanted” in its various meanings—will not be trusted with the leadership of the country until it frees itself from that illusion. In the same way that the Likud will only be trusted if it proves that it really is free from the illusion of the complete land of Israel.
To bring this back to your question, the emergence of a new political sobriety in Israel that encompasses a majority of the population points to the possibly of a new cultural majority as well, a cultural majority that wants more Judaism in Israeli public life, but not in government. We want more Judaism in our schools, and less Judaism in the courts. And my sense is that is a majority position.
Q. I want to ask you about the role of Israel’s two main cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Obviously the climactic scene of the book takes place in Jerusalem, the beating heart of the Jewish people. But in many ways, the book revolves more around Tel Aviv, including in one passage where you describe it as “infinitely malleable…the center of Israel’s emerging film industry, of music and theater. For Arik Achmon, it was the launching place for Israel’s market economy; for Udi Adiv, headquarters of the coming revolution. Here Avital Geva was exhibiting with his friends, disrupting the propriety of the Israeli art world. And here Meir Ariel might somehow become Meir Ariel.” So from a geographic perspective, in what ways is this a book about Jerusalem, and in what ways about Tel Aviv?
A. That’s so interesting because I haven’t thought about it, at least not consciously, but it’s a great insight. For me, what this book really is about is the fate of Israel’s utopian dreams. It’s not Left and Right so much as religious Zionism and the kibbutz movement, or the settlements and the kibbutz movement, the two utopian, messianic streams within Zionism that wanted more than just a safe refuge for the Jewish people. That’s what these two ideological rivals have in common. For me, they’re part of the same ideological camp within Zionism, which is the camp of the anti-normalizers.
For the sake of the argument, let’s use Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to represent visionary Israel versus normalized Israel. I think the book in some ways is fairly clear-eyed about the dangers of utopian politics. When you combine politics with utopianism, the result is usually not happy, for a very simple reason: politics is the art of the possible, it’s dealing with the world as it is, and utopianism is the aspiration for world the way it should be. The place for utopianism or messianism is in one’s spiritual life, one religious life, not in one’s political life. Where Israel repeatedly got into trouble, for both the Left and the Right, was by linking utopianism to politics.
The problem though, and this for me is an open dilemma, is that so much of the vitality that I’m describing about the Israeli story owes itself to these various competing utopian dreams that have erupted within Zionism. And my question is can we conceive of a future Israel without a utopian dream? Given the precariousness of our situation, given the extraordinary dedication that’s required in order to continue to protect this project, I don’t know if we can do it through normalization alone. On the other hand, I have a great love for normal Israel, I would even say a veneration for normal Israel, for the ability of ordinary Israelis to lead their ordinary lives in the middle of an impossible situation. And Zionism spoke out of two sides of its mouth. It promised to create a society that would be a light to the nations, and it promised to normalize the Jewish people. It turns out that two aspirations, which are deeply imbedded in the Jewish psyche going back to biblical times, don’t necessarily work together in harmony.
So Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I live in Jerusalem, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Israel but when I need to get away I go to Tel Aviv. I’m passionate about Tel Aviv.