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Excellent insight into the mix of religion and politics within Israel
on November 16, 2011
Gershon Gorenberg's vivid description of the rather complex intermixing of religion and politics in Israel is an engaging read. In the book, Gorenberg describes the highly fractionalized politics of modern Israel, emphasizing the surprising (and distressing) hold on elements of the military by various ultra-Orthodox factions, especially those associated with illegal settlements in the West Bank. He discusses the efforts in the past few years to engage young haredi (very orthodox) in a program of military service; however, the alliegance and loyalty of these soldiers is undermined by the authority and influence of the orthodox rabbis whose political perspectives clash with the secular military leadership. This results in a questioning of the willingness of young officers from the ranks of the haredi to obey and remain loyal to the officer corps; such a situation could be extraordinarily dangerous, when a conflict erupts.
Along the way, Gorenberg provides additional insight into the illegal settlements in the West Bank, the tacit approval and support of the Israeli government, and the expropriation of land from Palestinians, as well as the effects of Israel's security fence to block Palestinians from freedom of movement, and even from tending their own crops.
The final chapter, however, strikes me as incongruous. After making a very persuasive argument that Israel's internal politics and religious schisms make it essentially impossible to ever result in any sort of reform, Gorenberg lays out his own vision of how these issues might be resolved. His recommendations, however appropriate, seemed to me to have been essentially excluded by the picture he paints in the earlier chapters.
I gave this book only three stars, based on the incongruity of the final chapter, as well as the fact that half the volume of the book is devoted to notes and bibliography; it's half the 'read' I was expecting and hoping for. Regardless, for a very good picture of internal Israeli politics, it's still worth the effort.