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The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness Is Actually Its Greatest Strength [Hardcover]

by Daniel Gordis
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 1, 2012 1118003756 978-1118003756 1
Why Israel's greatest weakness is its greatest strength, and what its supporters and enemies can learn from its success

Israel's critics in the West insist that no country founded on a single religion or culture can stay democratic and prosperous—but they're wrong. In The Promise of Israel, Daniel Gordis points out that Israel has defied that conventional wisdom. It has provided its citizens infinitely greater liberty and prosperity than anyone expected, faring far better than any other young nation. Israel's ""magic"" is a unique blend of democracy and tradition, of unabashed particularism coupled to intellectual and cultural openness. Given Israel's success, it would make sense for many other countries, from Rwanda to Afghanistan and even Iran, to look at how they've done it. In fact, rather than seeking to destroy Israel, the Palestinians would serve their own best interests by trying to copy it.

  • Takes many of the most compelling arguments against Israel and turns them completely on their heads, undoing liberals with a more liberal argument and the religious with a more devout argument
  • Puts forth an idea that is as convincing as it is shocking—that Iran's clerics and the Taliban should want to be more like Israel
  • Written by Daniel Gordis, the author of the National Jewish Book Award winner, Saving Israel
  • Daniel Gordis has been called ""one of Israel's most thoughtful observers"" (Alan Dershowitz) and ""a writer whose reflections are consistently as intellectually impressive as they are moving"" (Cynthia Ozick)

Certain to generate controversy and debate, The Promise of Israel is one of the most interesting and original books about Israel in years.

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The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness Is Actually Its Greatest Strength + Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

What Israel's critics in the West really object to is that it is a country expressly devoted to the future of a single people—the Jewish people. In an increasingly universal world, in which differences between cultures, religions, and national traditions are either denied or papered over, Israel's critics insist that there is something backward about a country devoted to the flourishing of a particular people. But they're wrong. Rather than relentlessly assailing Israel, Daniel Gordis argues, the international community should see Israel's model as key to the future of culture and freedom.

The Promise of Israel makes and proves several audacious claims. Noting that Arabs in Israel serve on the Supreme Court and as government ministers and that Israel boasts more democratically elected Islamic officials than all of the other non-Islamic nations in the world combined, Gordis contends that this has been accomplished not in spite of Israel's commitment to the success of the Jewish people, but because of it.

More surprisingly, Gordis insists that instead of being so commonly maligned, Israel ought to be seen as a beacon among nations, a remarkably successful state that has persevered despite its having been at war ever since it was established. Not only should other countries admire this model, they should emulate it. Gordis invites you to imagine how much freer, safer, and more prosperous Egyptians and Syrians would be if a deep-rooted reverence for their past and culture were combined with democratic freedoms and an abiding respect for minority rights. He argues persuasively that a people's awareness and love of its distinctive culture and unique history need not mire them in the past. It can gird them with the confidence that they have something unique to contribute to the world and with the guidance and direction they need to shape a better future.

While The Promise of Israel may well be the most interesting and original book on Israel and the Middle East in years, it is also more than that. It offers the vision of a new and different approach to democracy and freedom for all of a nation's people—one that supports a strong cultural and religious center while protecting and supporting the beliefs and traditions of minorities. That is an export of which any nation would be proud.

From the Back Cover

Praise for Daniel Gordis and The Promise of Israel

"If you asked me, 'Of all the people you know, who cares the most about the physical, moral, and spiritual health of Israel?' I would put the commentator and scholar Daniel Gordis at the top of the list."
—Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic

"A writer whose reflections are consistently as intellectually impressive as they are moving."
—Cynthia Ozick

"Many of us assume that to be truly free, we must abandon the groups into which we were born and the identities we have inherited. But as Daniel Gordis demonstrates in his book, The Promise of Israel, the State of Israel's remarkable history is proof that identity and freedom can coexist, that it is identity that makes genuine freedom possible. A powerful and sure-to-be-controversial work, The Promise of Israel presents a dramatic new way of thinking about both the very purpose of Israel as well as about its contributions to human beings everywhere."
—Natan Sharansky, former Soviet prisoner of conscience and human rights activist, current Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency

"In this incredibly original and consistently provocative presentation, Daniel Gordis makes the case why Israel should and must matter to Jews and non-Jews alike, and to every country that aspires to prosperity and even more importantly, to freedom."
—Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy and A Code of Jewish Ethics

"This beautifully composed saga magnificently illustrates the historic truth that wherever Jews have gone in history, we have always followed our own way, forever belonging to and contributing mightily to world civilization and yet remaining distinct from it."
—Yehuda Avner, author of The Prime Ministers

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118003756
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118003756
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #603,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and Koret Distinguished Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, the first rabbinical college on the West Coast of the United States. Dr. Gordis joined Shalem in 2007 to help found Israel's first liberal arts college, after spending nine years as vice president of the Mandel Foundation in Israel and director of its Leadership Institute.

Since moving to Israel in 1998, Dr. Gordis has written and lectured throughout the world on Israeli society and the challenges facing the Jewish state. His writing has appeared in magazines and newspapers including the New York Times, the New Republic, the New York Times Magazine, Moment, Tikkun, and Conservative Judaism. His book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish State Can Win a Way That May Never End, received the 2009 National Jewish Book Award.

Gordis' newest book, The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually its Greatest Strength, was published by Wiley in August 2012. He is now writing a biography of Menachem Begin for the prestigious Nextbook series, which will appear in Spring 2014.

Dr. Gordis received his B.A. from Columbia College (Magna Cum Laude), a Masters Degree and Rabbinic Ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

He blogs at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gordis Brings Passion and Persuasion to His New Book August 21, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This review was originally posted on

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

So begins the iconic song written by John Lennon in 1971. A generation later it is still sung earnestly by those who believe that the best way forward is a kind of post-national, citizen-of-the-world universalism.
Not so fast, asserts Dr. Daniel Gordis, Senior Vice President and Koret Distinguished Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and author of The Promise of Israel: Why It's Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually It's Greatest Strength.

With characteristic intellectual rigor and original thinking, Gordis proposes that human beings live richer and more meaningful lives in the nation-state, where the majority of its citizens share a common history, language, culture and sense of purpose. When coupled with democratic freedoms and protection of minority rights, such countries preserve both human diversity and freedom.....

Gordis writes:

"Human diversity will be protected most by an amalgam of countries, each of which exists for the flourishing of a particular people, culture, way of life and history and, at the same time, engages in an open and ongoing dialogue with other cultures and civilizations."

Gordis argues persuasively that Israel has fallen out of favor precisely because it runs against the current of universalism that has taken hold. After World War II, Europe lost its taste for nationalism at the very time that having a country of their own was of paramount importance to Jews.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly thought provoking August 21, 2012
Daniel Gordis lays down a challenge to start thinking about what Israel actually is as opposed to how it has come to be viewed by many people. He defies the conventional (and somewhat lazy thinking) that characterises the evolution of modern 'liberal' thought regarding Israel and Palestine, and by extension the Arab world . Modern western thought has come to see universalism as a panacea for many ills but at a cost. Daniel Gordis posits that national identification is a positive trait and does not detract from a responsibility to treat all people properly and fairly. He does not hide from the failings that he sees in Israel but also asks why the Palestinians and their supporters don't seek to emulate the open debate and intellectual rigour that Israel encourages rather than espousing the subjugation of thought and free debate that is required in order to develop a vibrant, democratic nation such that Palestinians claim to seek to establish.
This is an important addition to the discussion of not just Israel but the nature of the Middle East and should be read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read September 27, 2012
Four star by Daniel Gordis

"We have not yet lost our hope of being a free people in a free land." Hatikva

The Promise of Israel answers the impending question surrounding the concept of a nation-state for Jews. David Gordis is devoted and dedicated to a vision: helping others understand why Jews should continue to stake claim to Israel as their homeland. In this book, Mr. Gordis expresses his heart for his people, the Jews. This book lays out the strengths of Israel and its motive to accept and accommodate others unlike other people groups represented in the region.

As a student of the Bible, I liked Mr. Gordis' thoughts on the Tower of Babel explaining God's desire for different tribes and man's attempt to build one culture, one language, and one world order. The Promise of Israel acknowledges truth, emphasises the importance of heritage to a people, and insists others look over all the facts before drawing conclusions on the issue.

P. 92-100 are especially well-written. On p. 92 Gordis increases the readers understanding of the Jews noting Carter's remarks in 1977. President Carter states his impression of Israel noting it was Israel and the Jewish people who took in refugees from Vietnam when no one else would. Begin, Prime Minister of Israel at the time, states that it is because of the experiences of his people, their trials, their hardships, and their struggles that Jews can understand the circumstances of other refugees noting an incident involving 900 Jews weeks before World War II.

On p. 93, Gordis goes on to draw out the similarities between the sufferings of Jews and Africans, both cultures experiencing slavery and deliverance within their cultural history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong and clear analysis December 21, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A worthwhile read. Contains many valuable points, such as the value of nationalism and ethnic pride, which are no longer valued by the self anointed intellectual elite. Gordis presents a nice rebuttal.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Read December 15, 2012
While evangelical Christians have long believed God has a plan for Israel that will ultimately be a blessing to all nations, few others have continued to view the Jewish state and her ever-current conflict with Palestine with such faith and optimism. In his latest work, The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness Is Actually Its Greatest Strength (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., August 2012), noted author and scholar Daniel Gordis presents a passionate and persuasive argument for why Israel's potential to be a blessing may very well be stronger than ever.

Though the cause for the ongoing conflict has been assumed to be borders, refugees and Palestinian statehood, Gordis boldly asserts that Israel is marginalized and reviled, not because of its alleged aggression, but because it is an ethnic "nation-state"--a country created around a shared cultural heritage. Acknowledging that there have always been those states centering around a singular culture, Gordis points out that Israel is the modern, quintessential example. Unfortunately, its arrival on the scene came just as the Western world was deciding to embrace the concept of universal sameness over the individual cultural identifiers any one country might maintain.

Though Israel's critics insist that no country devoted to a single religion or culture can stay democratic and prosperous, Gordis demonstrates that Israel has provided its citizens with infinitely greater liberty and prosperity than anyone expected, and has actually fared better in doing so than any other young nation. Given its success, Gordis believes it would be more sensible for countries like Rwanda, Afghanistan and even Iran to look at the Israelis as a model for what can be done, rather than as enemies to be driven out.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Israel's difference makes it important
Daniel Gordis is one of my favourite authors on the significance of Israel and what makes it special. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Daniel Goldschmidt
5.0 out of 5 stars gordis picks up the big picture
Daniel Gordis creates a very readable, compelling account of why the latest resurgence of European anti-semitism is occurring. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Karen J. Prager
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit laborious..but brings up some interesting points.
One would expect a bit more scope and power from a scholar of this caliber. He takes on the controversial issue of Jewish Nationalism, asserting its necessity for cultural... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Phillip Victor
5.0 out of 5 stars A celebration of the universal message in Israel's particularism
In a world in which the liberal construct seems increasingly to be one of a melting pot of uniformity, Daniel Gordis passionately asserts that the common Jewish experience that... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Michael Granoff
3.0 out of 5 stars Confused by the Author's Arguement
Don't concur with the premise of the book that Zionism is obsolete. Nationality is more prevalent today that ever. Read more
Published 16 months ago by hiweck
5.0 out of 5 stars Gordis shows how Israel's greatest weakness is its greatest strength
Daniel Gordis, an award-winning author and highly respected lecturer, focuses in his book on "why (Israel's) seemingly greatest weakness is actually its greatest strength. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Israel Drazin
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh Thinking
"The Promise of Israel" by Daniel Gordis is enlightening and worthwhile reading because it places Israel in a fresh context bigger than the same old geopolitics. Read more
Published 18 months ago by DavidArnovitz
5.0 out of 5 stars The virtues of Israel clearly articulated An argument for its being a...
This book is extremely important for one major reason. It tells the truth about the actual character of modern Israel. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Shalom Freedman
5.0 out of 5 stars Striaght Facts - Common Sense
I found it refreshing to read something positive about Israel. Daniel Gordis' approach to the nation of Israel's place in world is enlightened, optimistic and impressive. Read more
Published 18 months ago by E. G. Lewis
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