How Concrete Made the Zionist Dream a Reality

April 27 2020

Reviewing two recent books on the history of Israeli architecture, Liam Hoare observes that if there is one common thread, stretching back to the days before statehood, in the way the Jewish state has been built, it is concrete:

It was the perfect building material for a state founded as a negation of history wishing to establish something new—cheaply, quickly, and efficiently. Early Israel not only needed new versions of everything—apartment buildings, courthouses, bus stations, concert halls, public squares—but it needed multiple versions of those things in order to establish the infrastructure of a functioning, modern state. Concrete was malleable—it could be poured to fill any mold, manufacture any shape. It could be domestically produced and prefabricated. Concrete could be used to create anything. Concrete would serve the plan.

Lest concrete seem too prosaic a material for the task of engineering the rebirth of the Jewish nation, or too urban for a movement so invested in agriculture, Hoare gives us the words of the great Hebrew poet Natan Alterman:

To Alterman, the transformation of the rural was not merely about planting trees and tilling fields. “From the slopes of Lebanon to the Dead Sea/ We shall crisscross you with ploughs/ We shall yet cultivate and build you/ We shall yet beautify you,” he wrote in his 1935 poem, “Shir Moledet.” “We shall dress you in a gown of concrete and cement/ And lay for you a carpet of gardens/ On the soils of your redeemed fields.”

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Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Architecture, History of Zionism, Natan Alterman, Tel Aviv

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy