Monday, March 31, 2008

Q & A

Recently, my publisher asked me to do a short interview to share with various media. The result seemed to me of sufficient interest to share also with readers of this blog.

Q: It has been over twenty years since your first book, The Tragedy of Zionism, which was quite controversial when it was published. After all these years, what compelled you to write THE HEBREW REPUBLIC? Do you expect the book to elicit the same heated response that you received with The Tragedy of Zionism?

BA: When my first book came out, a number of its admirers said it was ahead of its time. I have since learned, after many years in management consulting, that this was not exactly a compliment. When you are saying something new, you are naturally going to be criticized, but it’s important to find a way and time for new ideas to be heard.

The Tragedy of Zionism
focused on how Israel’s crisis grew, not only out of Arab enmity, but out of certain failures in its own democracy: that the settlement movement, for example, was not simply the result of post-1967 intoxication with the land, but that settlement was inspired and materially supported by residual Zionist institutions that should have been retired in 1948; that Israel’s state apparatus was only doing outside of the Green Line after the Six Day War what it had been doing inside the Green Line after the War of Independence.

I argued, in effect, that the State of Israel had been founded as two states: a democratic state encasing a revolutionary Zionist settler state, the former developing a Hebrew civil society, the latter privileging rabbinically defined Jews over non-Jews. This contradiction was systematically alienating Israel’s substantial Arab minority, while advancing the interests of Jewish orthodoxy. There could be no advance to peace, I concluded, if Israel did not get past the anachronistic Zionist theories and institutions that crimped the evolution of its democracy. These were very difficult things for people to hear in the 1980s. By now, a great many informed people take them for granted.

My new book THE HEBREW REPUBLIC, builds on and updates these arguments. The process of at once integrating and alienating Israeli Arabs is a generation more advanced. The same can be said of ways Orthodox Judaism has been established as a state religion. One quarter of Israeli first-graders are now Arab, and another quarter are rigidly orthodox, devoted to the idea of greater Israel. You don’t have to be a prophet to see where the children of Israel are heading.

But something important has changed in Israel since my first book, and this is the integration of the country’s elites into global markets and the culture of globalization more generally. More and more educated Israelis are coming to understand that you can’t have an economy like Singapore’s and a nationalities war like Serbia’s.

So my new book is in many ways a more hopeful book than my first, even though the dangers and the violence are much more extreme today than in 1985. Back then, the culture heroes were the West Bank settlers. Today, the culture heroes are global entrepreneurs. The people who have the growing political power, global vision, and inherent interest in bringing about the necessary reforms are at least identifiable.

Read the rest of the interview here.