Stewart Kampel for Hadassah magazine
After his book, My
Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, was published, it
sparked popular discussions and Israeli author and journalist Ari Shavit
could be seen and heard on myriad talk shows. Here is Stewart Kampel’s
conversation with Shavit.
several decades, Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land (Spiegel &
Grau), has been a leading journalist and columnist for the Israeli
daily Ha’aretz. He writes in English and Hebrew. Shavit, who is also a
commentator on Israel’s public television channel, traces his Israeli
roots to his great-grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, a well-to-do British
lawyer who led a group of Zionist pilgrims to Palestine from London in
1897. Bentwich was a Cambridge-educated pedagogue who helped develop
Israel’s education system after settling in the wine-producing region of
Zikhron Ya’akov, and his father was a chemist at the center of Israel’s
Born in Rehovot in 1957, Shavit served as a
paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces and studied philosophy at the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the time of the Oslo Accords in 1993,
Shavit headed the nonprofit Association for Civil Rights in Israel and
served as an unofficial spokesman for Israel’s political left. But in
1995, as suicide bombings became a monthly routine in Israel, Shavit
broke with the left and wrote columns blasting the Oslo Accords as a
“fraud” foisted on Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Today, Shavit is considered a centrist. He is married, has a daughter
and two sons and lives in Kfar Shmaryahu.
Q. Your book is getting
strong reaction in the United States, from a warm embrace by Thomas
Friedman of The New York Times, a friend, to misgivings from Jews who
believe your “promised land” is off the mark. What is your reaction to
the book’s response?
A. What happened during the first week of my
book’s publication went beyond anyone’s expectations, beyond my dreams.
Four leading American Jewish intellectuals—David Remnick, editor of The
New Yorker; Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic;
Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic; and Tom
Friedman—praised the book with generosity and enthusiasm, even love. It
is a remarkable phenomenon. They are menschen, and I am deeply grateful.
Q. And what of the substance of the book?
For such a long time, the conversation about Israel has been corrupted
by elements of tribalism, hate and gamesmanship, among other things.
People who basically love Israel have been frustrated that it did not
live up to expectations because of the occupation or ultra-Orthodox
influences. This created a deep thirst. What I do in the book is to
bring back a deep love of Israel in a realistic way.
commentators say that Israel can do no wrong or no right. Let’s relax.
Let’s take a step back. Israel is a remarkable phenomenon and deserves
our admiration. Because I’m such a committed Zionist, I’m very secure in
my loyalty and commitment that I have no problem discussing Israel’s
flaws. Zionism tried to create a nation as legitimate as any other
nation. I see this as a mission. I want the book to be a launching pad
to reach out to the American Jewish community. I want a fresh, new
Q. How do you put the history of Israel in context?
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