Summer 2014 / Issue 6

In Fathom 6 our writers explore five questions concerning the future of Israel.

First, what will sustain Israel as a resilient democracy in the face of global social change?

Gidi Grinstein and Daphna Kaufman of the influential Reut Institute argue that Israel needs a revolution in how it thinks about foreign relations. To meet huge external challenges the country needs a global web of relations, they claim, and as the resources available to the government are limited, the gap must be filled, and urgently, by Israel’s civil society.

We are delighted to welcome Einat Wilf as a regular columnist at Fathom. A former MK and now a roving global ambassador, Einat will send a quarterly dispatch from her life at ‘the front’. In this inaugural column she highlights the importance of explaining to the world the true meaning of ‘Zionism’, ‘the Jewish People’ and ‘the Jewish State’, all concepts often badly misunderstood.

Jonathan Cummings reviews Diana Pinto’s book Israel has Moved, by which she means that some Israelis are now part of the modern global economy which transcends national boundaries and physical geography, a claim Cummings finds provocative, if ultimately unconvincing.

Dr Simcha Getahune, Director of ELEM – Youth in Distress spoke to Fathom’s Bethany Coates about her experiences as an Ethiopian immigrant to Israel, and her work tackling child prostitution, violence and crises of identity by empowering young people and reconnecting them with their families.

Second, how can Israel’s security be maintained in a turbulent region?

Jonathan Spyer is one of the few regional experts in Israel to regularly visit the front lines in Syria. He maps the state of the conflict today and the character of the forces waging it, arguing that there is no longer a single ‘civil war’ between a regime and a rebellion, but a vicious and chaotic battle between a variety of powerful entities, each strong enough to prevent its destruction by any of the others, promising only continued war and the further fragmentation of the country.

Ben Cohen continues his fascinating series of interviews with Washington based policy experts by talking to former Pentagon official Michael Doran about American foreign policy today. ‘Reset’, ‘Pivot’, ‘Leading from Behind’, ‘Red Lines’ – the catchphrases of President Obama’s foreign policy are now often read as markers of failure, though non-intervention has been popular at home. What are the consequences of US retrenchment for the Middle East, and where will US policy go next? With this issue we also welcome Ben to our advisory editorial board.

Gary Kent affectionately traces the journey of Iraqi Kurdistan from dictatorship to democracy, from his position as a long-time observer and supporter of that process. He celebrates the transformation of a people from the repressed objects to the dynamic subjects of history, and maps the next stage of their journey.

Ladan Boroumand is the co-founder and research director of The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF), an NGO dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Iran. She reflects on the inspirational legacy for human rights advocates of Václav Havel (1936-2011) – antitotalitarian dissident and playwright, the last president of Czechoslovakia, and the first president of the Czech Republic.  We also make available to Fathom readers a case study produced by Omid, the Foundation’s online memorial to every single known person executed or extra-judicially killed by the Islamic Republic. The poet Hashem Sha’baninejad was hanged by the Iranian regime in January 2014, accused of ‘waging war against God’.

Third, where is the fresh thinking about peace with the Palestinians after the suspension of the current round of talks?

Questions have been raised about the direction and intentions of Hamas since the signing of a reconciliation agreement with rival Palestinian faction Fatah at the end of April. To explore this issue, Fathom deputy editor Toby Greene interviewed Benedetta Berti, a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University and co-author of a new book, Hezbollah and Hamas: A Comparative Study, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. The interview took place on 15 May 2014.

After the suspension of the Kerry-led peace talks in 2014 Ofer Zalzberg contributes an important essay for those craving fresh thinking about the Middle East Peace Process. His subject is the (often deliberate) marginalisation of the voice of the ‘National-Religious’, or ‘Religious Zionist’ Jews from that process. His argument: this has been a mistake. Drawing on a major report produced by the International Crisis Group, Zalzberg sets out why it is vital to include religious Zionism in the quest for peace, and how its support or at least its acquiescence might be secured.

David Newman is an expert on the question of demarcating the future Israeli-Palestinian border. Newman’s fresh examination of the border question, and his thought-provoking discussion of ‘exclaves’ and ‘cross-citizenship’ is another case of much-needed fresh thinking on the two-state solution.

Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and the Tragedy of Israel is one of the most talked-about books to be published on the country in recent years. According to the columnist Thomas Friedman, Shavit’s ‘painful love story’ offers ‘the real Israel, not the fantasy, do-no-wrong Israel peddled by its most besotted supporters or the do-no-right colonial monster portrayed by its most savage critics.’ Fathom editor Alan Johnson spoke to Shavit, a senior correspondent at Haaretz and a member of its editorial board, in London in February 2014. The book is reviewed by Hannah Weisfeld, the Director of Yachad.

Ahron Bregman’s Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories, based on ‘top secret’ sources, has created controversy around the world. Its author spoke to Fathom about his life and his book.

Fourth, what are the roots and what is the current state of Israel’s cultural renaissance?

We are delighted to welcome a new critic to our pages. Noga Emanuel will be mostly offering fresh readings of the Hebrew and Israeli literature of the past. A ‘real reader’ to steal a phrase from Roth, Emanuel debuts here with a beautiful reflection on two Jerusalem stories, S. Y. Agnon’s Agunot and Yehuda Burla’s Two Sisters. More concerned with the current literary scene, Liam Hoare reviews Falling Out of Time, the new novel by David Grossman, Neuland by Eshkol Nevo, and Zeruya Shalev’s The Remains of Love. Our film reviewer Yair Raveh explores representations of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews in Israeli cinema, from the past of Sallah to the present of Orange People and The Dove Flyer.

Fifth, why has the global Left lost its way so badly on the question of Israel? 

Gabriel Brahm’s brilliant review of Deconstructing Zionism: A Critique of Political Metaphysics, a new volume edited by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder, is a blistering critical assault on a phenomenon, not just a book.  As Brahm puts it, his target is ‘a kind of theoretical quenelle proffered in Israel’s direction’ from the heights of academia. Fathom will explore this malady in future issues. The academy, of course, is a contested space. Philip Mendes, an Associate Professor at Monash University, talked to Fathom about his important new book Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

The Editors