The Promise of Israel
Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness Is Actually Its Greatest Strength
By Daniel Gordis
John Wiley & Sons, 2012, 244 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 5, 2012
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." He notes that some critics condemn Israel as being out-of-date and backward because, unlike the United States and some other countries, Israel devotes its attention to the survival and prosperity of a single group, the Jewish people. They contend that other countries properly deny, conceal, or minimize the differences between its citizens' traditions and customs and create a better nation by insisting that every citizen be part of a single culture. They argue that while other nations are concerned about all its people, Israel is only interested in Jews.
(Although Gordis doesn't mention it, the contenders' arguments are based on a faulty premise. Many US citizens thought and others still think that it is a melting pot, a system where different cultures are metaphorically cooked together into a single harmonious entity. Daniel Patrick Moynihan proved this notion false decades ago in his fine book Beyond the Melting Pot, in which he shows, as Gordis does for Israel in his book, the US is not melting its citizens into a single culture and is unable to do so, and this is beneficial to the country and its citizens in many ways.)
Gordis argues and proves with multiple examples in this easy to read and informative book that while Israel is a Jewish state, its non-Jewish citizens, and there are many, have equal rights. They are represented in Israel's Parliament, its Supreme Court, are government ministers, and are in its armed forces. Israel has more democratically elected Islamic officials than all the other non-Islamic nations in the world combined. Gordis shows that these successes were not accomplished in spite of Israel's commitment to the Jewish people, but because of that commitment.
And he goes further. He argues, and I believe successfully, that Israel's approach to nationhood, derided by some, should be studied and adopted by all nations. People are not made better by squelching their ancient cultures, but by being proud of what they should be proud and unabashedly sharing ideas with others. Wouldn't Iranians, Syrians, Egyptians, and other Arab nation be freer, safer, and enjoy a better life if individuals could delight in their own understanding of their family's culture, protected by democratic freedoms and minority rights, as do Israeli citizens? Opening schools and discussions for all citizens will assure that love of ancient cultures and practices will not cement people of different cultures to their past and stop them from growing.
In proving his point, Gordis introduces readers to what nationalism actually is and the fact that it is a relatively recent invention. He also analyses diversity and shows that it is a natural phenomenon and the key to human freedom and growth, and he reveals the value of tolerance and respect.