Donate

Translator, Novelist, Zionist, Detective

The author of dozens of translations of Hebrew and Yiddish literature into English, one novel, eight works of nonfiction, and numerous essay and columns, Hillel Halkin has behind him a distinguished career. Adam Rubenstein recounts a recent visit with Halkin at his home in the Israeli town of Zichron Ya’akov and reflects on that career:

In a review of one of his books, . . . Halkin was called “one of the great snoops of the age.” In English, the word carries a negative connotation: a snoop is one who sticks his nose in others’ affairs, who pries. In Hebrew, the noun can be rendered as balash, a word that suggests a gumshoe, a detective. That somewhat more dignified Hebrew concept applies to Halkin. He has the snoop’s attitude and gimlet eye, a critic sizing up everything and everyone before him, including his readers. . . .

As [Halkin and I] sat for a few hours in [a local] café, several patrons approached our table and introduced themselves to him. . . . The fact that Halkin is still greeted in public and thanked by strangers surely has something to do with his first book. A few years after he and [his wife] Marcia moved to Israel he began work on Letters to an American Jewish FriendA Zionist’s Polemic (1977). The book is written as if it were Halkin’s side of an exchange of letters over several months with a fictitious American friend, a composite of some of Halkin’s real friends. It is a deep yet lively exploration of Jewish continuity. The classical Zionists, Halkin writes, believed that Jews were “hopelessly trapped between the Scylla of assimilation and the Charybdis of anti-Semitism.” The existence of Israel offers another option.

Halkin draws on history, philosophy, sociopolitical commentary, and descriptions of his young family’s life in the young country to make the case that for a Jew, Israel is the most logical place to live. “I have tried to reason with you,” he writes his pen pal in the book’s concluding letter, “to implant in you no more than a feeling of unease for being where you are, or if you prefer, since I don’t mind speaking bluntly, of guilt.” And even if the reader does not leave America to make aliyah—that is, does not move to Israel—“I should hope that these letters will have helped you to think more clearly about the alternatives before us.”

The best dialogic literature forces a confrontation with one’s basic assumptions; it riles the reader. But what makes Halkin’s case so compelling is that he and his wife had themselves recently made the move to Israel—that is, he is a case study in the security of his own argument. Letters combines the thumotic and the erotic—the spirited, preservatory case for aliyah with a yearning for completeness.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Aliyah, Arts & Culture, Hillel Halkin, Letters to an American Jewish Friend, Zionism

Putting Aside the Pious Lies about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Jan. 23 2018

In light of recent developments, including Mahmoud Abbas’s unusually frank speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leadership, Moshe Arens advocates jettisoning some frequently mouthed but clearly false assumptions about Israel’s situation, beginning with the idea that the U.S. should act as a neutral party in negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Free registration may be required.)

The United States cannot be, and has never been, neutral in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is the leader of the world’s democratic community of nations and cannot assume a neutral position between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, whether represented by an autocratic leadership that glorifies acts of terror or by Islamic fundamentalists who carry out acts of terror. . . .

In recent years the tectonic shifts in the Arab world, the lower price of oil, and the decreased importance attached to the Palestinian issue in much of the region, have essentially removed the main incentive the United States had in past years to stay involved in the conflict. . . .

Despite the conventional wisdom that the core issues—such as Jerusalem or the fate of Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines—are the major stumbling blocks to an agreement, the issue for which there seems to be no solution in sight at the moment is making sure that any Israeli military withdrawal will not result in rockets being launched against Israel’s population centers from areas that are turned over to the Palestinians. . . .

Does that mean that Israel is left with a choice between a state with a Palestinian majority or an apartheid state, as claimed by Israel’s left? This imaginary dilemma is based on a deterministic theory of history, which disregards all other possible alternatives in the years to come, and on questionable demographic predictions. What the left is really saying is this: better rockets on Tel Aviv than a continuation of Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria. There is little support in Israel for that view.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, US-Israel relations