Israel Won’t Ever Be the Country of American Fantasies—Nor Should It Aspire to Be

November 8, 2022 | Daniel Gordis
About the author: Daniel Gordis is the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem and the author of the ongoing online column, Israel from the Inside.

Following last week’s election, the veteran Middle East reporter Thomas Friedman authored a New York Times column under the headline “The Israel We Knew Is Gone,” full of dire predictions about what will befall the Jewish state now that its citizens have returned its longest-serving prime minister to power. Daniel Gordis dissects the column’s faulty assumptions and misguided conclusions, which distill misconceptions that plague much American commentary on Israel:

Here’s the heart of the problem. There are many people around the world who want Israel to be something it does not wish to be. They want it to be successful, but humble. They want it to be strong and secure, but still desperate for foreign support of all sorts. They want it to be Jewish, but in a “nice” kind of way. Israeli dancing (which I haven’t seen here in years), flags at the right time, a country filled with “Hatikvah moments,” as some call them. A country traditional enough to be heartwarming, but not so traditional that it would dare imply that less intense forms of Jewish life cannot make it. A country steeped in memory, but also one that is finally willing to move on.

An Israel moderate in every way would be an Israel easy to love. It would be a source of pride, but not a source of shame. It would be an Israel that would make us feel great as Americans and as Jews. The only problem is that that Israel doesn’t exist, and it never has.

And what of Friedman’s more specific gripes?

Tom Friedman writes that “Netanyahu has been propelled into power by bedfellows who see Israeli Arab citizens as a fifth column who can’t be trusted,” intimating that Israeli Arabs are not a fifth column. Some are; some aren’t. . . . I’ve interviewed many Arab women and men who are quite the opposite. But if you live in the Negev, if you have farmland you can’t protect from Arabs in the south or the north, you’re fearful. If you’re a young Jewish Israeli woman afraid to walk in downtown Beer Sheva, you don’t think a “fifth column” is a ludicrous claim. . . . Friedman can dismiss it, but Israelis increasingly don’t. The left and center ignore the issue, and now, Israelis are ignoring them.

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