Customer Reviews: The Unmaking of Israel
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on January 21, 2012
I am an American Jew with deep Zionist roots who has become increasingly disappointed with an Israeli government held hostage by fundamentalists whose smug conviction in their rectitude made no sense to me. This book was a real eye-opener providing real insights, facts and a strong warning. These loonies are living on the largess of both diaspora Jews and the US government. We are allowing them to destroy a state that could, indeed, be a light unto nations (read Start-up Nation). Instead we get a country that is increasingly unable to talk with their neighbors and which will eventually alienate most of their friends. Their willingness, even avidity, for Armegeddon is more than unnerving. This is a must read for anyone who is a friend of Israel without being foolishly blind to her faults.
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on December 26, 2011
Gershom Gorenberg has long been the most thorough and honest reporter in English on the settlement movement and the religious right in Israel. In THE ACCIDENTAL EMPIRE, he also provided the best history yet written of the rise of the settlement movement, suing the Israeli government in the process to gain access to internal memos and other documents it had hitherto striven to hide. Here he shows a deep understanding also of political and legal theory - of, in particular, how and why "the rule of law" is so essential to democracy. With that as his framework, he gives us an account, in tragic detail, of how the settlement movement has corrupted Israeli democracy: corrupted its legal processes, its ability to control its army, its willingness to preserve any serious separation between synagogue and state, and the willingness of its Jewish citizens, especially (but not solely) when Orthodox, to see their state as protecting the rights of all who live there - rather than those of Jews alone. Throughout, he is fair-minded and calm, avoiding the polemics so common in discussions of these topics, and locating causes for many of the baleful phenomena he describes more in structural factors, or unintended consequences of what initially seemed minor compromises, than in anyone's deliberately oppressive agenda. And at the end he proposes a thoughtful and very plausible set of proposals to bring Israel back to the democratic aspirations it once proudly upheld (incidentally explaining better than anyone else I know why a "one-state solution" will not work). An impressive book, and one people on all sides of the conflict can gain by reading.
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on December 29, 2011
This educational book is the closest I have come to understanding the internal issues to Israel as a society and as a state. The Unmaking of Israel (2011) by Gershom Gorenberg examines the folly, or what Barbara Tuchman might refer to as the "wooden headedness", of the Israel government as it slowly weakens the structure of the state and society over time. Mr. Gorenberg reveals in detail the clandestine government funding of West Bank settlements, the un-checked rabbinate monopoly that is increasingly making itself irrelevant because it cannot meet the basic life-event needs of average citizens, the lack of a clear eastern border between Israel and the West Bank, the government-funded (and self-imposed) exclusion of ultra-orthodox from secular, military, and economic life, and the perpetuated idea of "settlement [as] a Zionist value." Some of the unexpected insights I found invaluable: the idea of Torah as the national constitution, military reservists acting as a check on censorship when they return to civilian status, and the idea of history moving in reverse towards a future Altalena incident. Mr. Gorenberg ends with some of his own thoughtful solutions about how to reverse the current situation to ensure Israel avoids political and societal implosion. Overall, I regard the book as a series of straight-forward readings about some serious, complex, and all-too-real issues that affect Israel today and in the near future.
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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.
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on January 5, 2012
This is an important book for anyone who cares about Israel. The author, Gershom Gorenberg, is an orthodox Jew and a Zionist who lives in Israel. His point is that for the first time, Israel faces an existential crisis from a particular subset of its own people, namely the ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews who believe that Israel is fundamentally a religious enterprise and not a democratic state. He gives extensive examples of how Haredi settlers have broken Israeli law to take over Arab lands and how the settlement movement is fundamentally at odds with Israel's founding principles as well as with current Israeli law. He also points out that if allowed to continue, the settlements will prevent any hope of a two state solution, condemning Israel to become an apartheid state (for Israel cannot exist as a Jewish state if the large mass of Palestinians have the vote)

Perhaps more disturbing, Gorenberg also cites many examples of how the Haredi are making up a growing proportion of the Israeli Defense Forces, and how the Haredi have staked out a position that if there is a conflict between Israeli law and what they perceive as a religious commandments to expand the settlements, then they will not obey the law and will even refuse to enforce it. If this comes to pass it spells the end of Israel as a member of the western democracies.

** My only negative is about the Kindle edition ** This book is full of footnotes (indeed, almost half the book is made up of footnotes) but none of them are in the text itself of the Kindle edition. All the notes are there in the back, but none of the text is footnoted. This is an astonishing omission given the importance of this book.
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on December 23, 2011
As outsiders, it is not often that we get an insider's view of the political and religious complexities within Israel. Gershom Gorenberg gives us such a look as he writes based on interviews, observations, and research into the historical background that has led to the current state of affairs in Israel/Palestine. Without portrayals such as this, we Americans are led to see Israel through the lens of the popular media, which tends to idealize its democracy. Gershom's analysis provides helpful insights into the complicated dynamics within Israel that make conflict resolution so difficult. For a summary of these internal incongruities see the review, "Excellent insight into the mix of religion and politics within Israel". How you choose to view these realities may well depend on your own background, but you cannot read this book without coming away with a better understanding of Israel in the context of its surrounding geographical challenges. I give it a five for being an engaging read that provided new insights into the complexities of the region and for proposing steps forward that are outside the box of current popular thinking in the U.S.
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on December 25, 2011
Gorenberg's basic line of argument in this book is that in its occupation of the West Bank Israel has suffered many self-inflicted wounds. Illegal arrangements have been worked out in government ministries in order to funnel money and support to settlements, the rule of law and place of the courts has been challenged, defenders of extreme views on religion and the place of religion in the state have found themselves in positions of power. For those who care about Israel and its future, Gorenberg's book is a painful read but a necessary one.
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on March 7, 2012
My reading of "The Unmaking of Israel" has given me a richer appreciation of the nature of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. While the author is avowedly a member of an Orthodox community, he respectfully and pointedly marshals evidences that will add to the debate on both sides. There is a frankness in "Unmaking" that I found to be refreshing.

The prose is well-written and the overall integrity of his argument is sound.

I would recommend this book to any students of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. This book serves as a useful contribution to the debate.
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Unmaking Israel is Gorenberg's second high profile book, his first being Accidental Empire. I thought the latter was a decent book, but did not really care for the style of writing, twas a tid too Tom Segev for my style, considering the topic. This book is much better written, more coherent and less reliant on diary entrees for sourcing.

His book basically analyzes what he considers to be the most detrimental aspects of Israeli society, such as settlers, hilltop youth, Haredi Jews (their institutional transformation), racism and the idea of transfer within Israel's recognized borders, and the role of religion in the state.

His best section is that on settlements, it has the most facts and figures, in addition to first hand knowledge and sourcing. He interviews many settlers from all sorts of settlements and discusses their role in Israeli society.

His conclusion is short but concise and coherent. He basically argues for a massive removal of settlers and settlements from the occupied Palestinian territories and their integration back into Israeli society. He advocates for a restructuring of the state from that which still acts lack a national movement into a state of all its citizens, with provisions to protect various sects of Israeli society.

My main problem is that of sourcing. Although he has lots of nice facts and figures, the kindle version lacks foot/endnotes, although it contains a bibliography.

I recommend the book, I do not want to give too much away about the book hence the short and concise review. It is a quick read, took me about 6 hours of steady reading, while putting in notes and comments. If you read Peter Beinart's Crisis of Zionism and was not satisfied, or disliked his editorialist style, pick this one up or Norman Finkelstein's Knowing Too Much, both are better versions.
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on January 31, 2013
Gershom paints a sad story about how the Zionist ideal of settling in the Land turned nightmare-ish since the Six Days War.
Through personal travelling and talking with people living in those territories, Gershom brings a story many Jews and Israel supporters don't feel comfortable with. A must-read even if you disagree. Specially if you disagree!
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