For most people, American aid to Israel is the measure of the “special relationship” between the two countries. AIPAC, the major pro-Israel lobby in the United States, considers its efforts to secure this aid its No. 1 priority. It was therefore surprising to hear senior Israeli officials in late May complain about American assistance, with one describing it as a drug addiction.
Last week marked 18 years since Israel fled southern Lebanon. The man responsible for it, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, notable for wearing his self-satisfaction on his sleeve, said in a radio interview on Thursday: “Then, as now, I am very proud of my decision to remove Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon.” He did this, he added, despite “many reservations from the political and security establishment.” In fact, Barak overcame the objections of the IDF’s entire upper echelon. One wishes he had directed the same energies to overcoming Hezbollah instead.
A couple of weeks before the Gaza riots began, the pro-Israel media watchdog CAMERA put up across from the New York Times building a massive billboard: “The New York Times At it AGAIN: Defaming Israel with distorted ‘news.’” Although its strategic location made it impossible to miss, Israelis nearly universally agree that the Old Gray Lady didn’t get the message—and that the Times is but one of a slew of global media outlets copying from the same script, according to which IDF soldiers randomly kill peaceful protesters.
“Surprisingly, perhaps, Israel does not have a formal national security strategy, or defense doctrine, to this day,” writes former Israeli deputy national security adviser Charles D. Freilich. Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change is his effort to move Israel closer to creating one. According to Freilich, David Ben-Gurion was the only “sitting leader to conceptualize an overall national security strategy,” and with the dramatic changes to Israel’s security situation since, a new one is needed. He may be right, but the reader leaves this book hoping that Freilich isn’t the one to develop it.
“Seventy years after the Holocaust, which saw Nazi Germany propaganda turn the entire Jewish people into a monster threatening the world, a new industry of lies has arisen. … But this time it is not the goose-stepping Nazis pushing the lies. It is liberal-minded academics, intellectuals, and human rights activists.”
Why wasn’t there a Jewish army in World War II to fight the Nazis? No group had more motivation to do so. Well, it’s not that they didn’t want one. Rick Richman’s Racing Against History skillfully recounts the efforts by three major Zionist leaders to raise a Jewish army in America to fight Hitler. Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and David Ben-Gurion, representing the center, right, and left of the political spectrum, came to the United States on separate missions with the same goal in 1940.
Jabotinsky’s Children is a hatchet job, cloaked in a tone of historical objectivity. The “children” are Betar, the youth movement founded by Zionist leader Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky, which boasted some 65,000 members in the 1930s, most of them in Poland. The book’s thesis is that Betar youth, whom the author says Jabotinsky originally viewed with “a mix of pity, disdain and suspicion,” ultimately shaped his world view, making him open to fascist ideas. The author, Daniel Kupfert Heller, an assistant professor of Jewish Studies at McGill University, further asserts that Jabotinsky deliberately wrote “provocative and ambiguous prose” to allow “Betar activists to interpret their leader’s writings as they saw fit,” in line with what the author views as their own authoritarian and violence-prone ideology.
A more dramatic story than that of Israel’s first kings as told in Samuel I and II is hard to imagine. But law professors Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes in The Beginning of Politics take an unusual approach in viewing Samuel as “a profound work of political thought” in which the absorbing narrative is constructed in order to highlight the central structural themes about the nature of political power and its effects on those who wield it. In their reading the hero is neither Saul nor David but the anonymous author who has “produced what is still the best book ever written in the Hebrew language” embodying lessons as relevant today as they were then.