American Jewish Fiction Has a New Favorite Theme: the Jewish State

Sept. 25 2017

Four of the most prominent American Jewish novelists—all roughly the same age—have recently published books either set in Israel or in whose plot Israel and Israelis play a major role plot. Two others have published a collection of essays about Israel. To Matti Friedman, it seems that “something’s going on.”

The Israel of each of these novelists is different, of course, but there are similarities. Two recount watching an Israeli war on TV from America and the strong emotions this elicits; two make reference to King David; two have hamsa keychains; two have the Mossad; all have soldiers; and all use a little Hebrew. Perhaps most tellingly, two feature American characters with Israeli second cousins—at first, Jews in America and Israel were siblings divided by European wars, then they were first cousins, but now they’re only second cousins, a generational fact that might explain the fraying connection as much as anything else. None of these novels is fully at home in Israel—they’re more like Mars orbiters than rovers. They’re not permanently on the ground. . . .

In all four novels Israel is the scene of strange and exciting events, if not outright enchantment, but the idea that magic is possible [there] is most present in [Nicole] Krauss’s Forest Dark. (Home, on the other hand, is where the novels set jobs, divorces, affairs, and bar mitzvahs.) . . . Many of the characters in these novels turn to Israel to shore up American lives that feel short on meaning, even if we’re not meant to take that turn entirely seriously.

Jewish American writers of a few decades ago might have poked around the strange Jewish country in the Middle East, but they knew that the real literary action for them was back home. The novelists of 2017 don’t seem so sure. . . . If you’re not a recent arrival from the Soviet Union, you’re not likely to have funny mannerisms, an ethnic chip on your shoulder, or much interesting history of your own. [Shtetl] nostalgia is stale, and with everyone in the suburbs, there is no American Jewish street. The broader American culture seems to offer little cohesion for a writer to either embrace or rebel against. So where do you go?

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Israel & Zionism, Israel and the Diaspora

Europe Has a Chance to Change Its Attitude toward Israel

Dec. 15 2017

In Europe earlier this week, Benjamin Netanyahu met with several officials and heads of state. Ahead of his visit, the former Italian parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein addressed a letter to these European leaders, urging them to reevaluate their attitudes toward the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the gravity of European anti-Semitism, and the threat posed by Hamas and Hizballah. In it she writes:

For years, the relationship between Europe and Israel has been strained. Europe tends to criticize Israel for simply defending itself against the continual threats and terrorist attacks it faces on all its borders and inside its cities. Europe too often disregards not only Israel’s most evident attempts to bring about peace—such as its disengagement from Gaza—but also chides it for its cautiousness when considering what solutions are risky and which will truly ensure the security of its citizens.

The EU has never recognized the dangers posed by Hamas and Hizballah, as well as by many other jihadist groups—some of which are backed by [the allegedly moderate] Fatah. The EU constantly blames Israel in its decisions, resolutions, papers and “non-papers,” letters, and appeals. Some of Europe’s most important figures insist that sanctions against the “territories” are necessary—a political stance that will certainly not bring about a solution to this conflict that . . . the Israelis would sincerely like to resolve. Israel has repeated many times that it is ready for direct negotiation without preconditions with the Palestinians. No answer has been received.

The European Union continues to put forth unrealistic solutions to the Israel-Palestinian issue, and the results have only aggravated the situation further. Such was the case in 2015 when it sanctioned Israeli companies and businesses in the territories over the Green Line, forcing them to close industrial centers that provided work to hundreds of Palestinians. The Europeans promoted the harmful idea that delegitimizing Israel can be accomplished through international pressure and that negotiations and direct talks with Israel can be avoided. . . .

[Meanwhile], Iran’s imperialist designs now touch all of Israel’s borders and put the entire world at risk of a disastrous war while Iran’s closest proxy, Hizballah, armed with hundreds of thousands of missiles, proudly presents the most explicit terrorist threat. Europe must confront these risks for the benefit of its citizens, first by placing Hizballah on its list of terrorist organizations and secondly, by reconsidering and revising its relationship with Iran.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Europe and Israel, European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy