“Israeli school children do not know where their country starts and ends on a map,” Gorenberg said. “You can interpret the facts however you want, but you still have to have the facts. I don’t want to see Israel unraveling…we can’t ignore the rising role of the Right in the army and the power of settlers.” According to Gorenberg, there are three things necessary to restablish Israeli democracy: The separation of synagogue and state, the graduation from being a national liberation movement to one that takes care of its citizens, and an end to the occupation.
“The social justice marches in September have shaken Israeli politics,” said Gorenberg. “I was a bad prophet, I thought it wasn’t possible.” It’s unclear, however, who’s going to come out of this as a leader. “The fact that I can’t name who the next prime minister will be is not a reason to give up hope…Giving up hope is a luxury, only the people who aren’t in the situation every day can afford to give up hope.”
There were some particularly striking moments during Gorenberg’s talk. The first is the story of a night he spent in the settlement of Yitzhar, located in the West Bank south of the city of Nablus, while interviewing folks living there. In the morning, he was faced with the decision of whether to daven in the settlement shul. “People are saying the same words, but it’s not my religion. They’re not going to mean the same thing.” said Gorenberg, who identifies as “a left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew.” Ultimately, he did decide to pray in the shul, because “I’m not going to give them the pleasure of ceasing to be religious because of their twisted interpretation of Judaism.”
The second moment came with an audience question-What can American Jews do for Israel? (The q/a, by the way, was handled extremely well-index cards were passed around the room and the questions were vetted by Held.) Gorenberg cited Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in which he declared, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany,” which Gorenberg described as “anti Zionist,” in that it portrays Israel as perpetual victim, and dismisses the strength and power it has gained since its inception. “American Jews need to give up idea of a besieged Zionism, but then the question becomes, if we can’t relate to a beleaguered Israel, how do we relate to Israel?” Israel, offered Gorenberg, is suffering from a collective PTSD. “How do you put an entire nation on the couch?” American Jews remind Israelis what it means to actually be living as a minority and what the diaspora experience is. If American Jews want to support Israel, suggests Gorenberg, they should support institutions that work for equal rights for minorities in the country.
Gorenberg also talked about taking part in a recent social justice march in Jerusalem that traveled down Bezalel street through the neighborhood of Nachlaot. “Suddenly, it was 28 years earlier,” he said, recalling another march in 1983 with Peace Now that traveled the same route. During that march, people hurled objects at the marches from the balconies. On the recent march, there was no violence. “Circumstances will force people to change.”
“All the alternatives (to peace) are awful,” concluded Gorenberg, who earlier in the evening said that the words “one state solution” do not go together, “but Israelis don’t have to buy into the Palestinian narrative and vice versa to have a peace agreement.”
Two weeks ago, the American-born Israeli journalist, author and commentator Gershom Gorenberg spoke at an event hosted by Mechon Hadar and moderated by Rabbi Shai Held entitled, “How It Broke, How to Fix It: The Crisis of Israeli Democracy.” Gorenberg said, “I’ve seen enough changes happen that weren’t supposed to happen. Politics is not geology. Change happens.” Beside me, a friend whispered, “He is so hopeful.” Gorenberg’s most recent book is The Unmaking of Israel. He is also the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, the co-author of The Jerusalem Report’s 1996 biography of Yitzhak Rabin, Shalom Friend, and the editor of Seventy Facets: A Commentary on the Torah from the Pages from the Jerusalem Report. He is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Mother Jones and in Hebrew for Ha’aretz. He blogs at http://southjerusalem.com/gershom-gorenberg/ and lives in Jerusalem.