Book Review: How Israel Lost

how israel lost book review

Richard Ben Cramer in his book  How Israel Lost took me beyond Israeli borders to witness the construction of Israeli’s society and to understand the complexity of Israel-Palestine’s conflict. The reasons I picked up this book because first, the writer is a jewish and an american journalist who  lived  for a long time in both Israel in Palestine. Secondly, I am interested in Judaism studies and culture. Anyway, Cramer primarily discuss the four following questions:

  • Why do we (American) care about Israel?
  • Why don’t the Palestinians have a state?
  • What is a Jewish state?
  • Why is there no peace?

I was very curious to know the reason behind America enormous support for Israel and I found out from this book that Israel existence is very important for American christians because it prepares for the second coming of Christ. According to Cramer: ” The bible says that the second coming of Christ will require that the Jews be “ingathered” again in Zion, which will bring on Armageddon, which will cause Jesus to return. There’s also a political meeting of the minds, going back to the days when the Christian right saw Israel as a brave anti-Soviet outpost of Judeo-Christian values”

I thought it is interesting to know that Israeli society is split over between religious and secular Jews (It seems that there is always a fights between religious and secular people in every society in this world!!) In addition, Israel’s society  is divided into tribes like, the Ramat Hasharon tribe, the tribe of the Russions, the tribe of the Old Left, and the tribe of the settlers and the old Right Wing and finally the tribe of Haredim. Cramer thinks that “Some of this tribalization did come to Israel from outside- from other Western societies. The zionist state has always been kind of trendy in its social engineering. Zionism itself was just a Jewish version of European nineteenth century nationalism”

From the book, I learned that Isreal’s society is build up of: First, Ashkenazi sabras who were born in Israel from European families, “they are the intellectuals, heads of high-tech companies, the head of the army- and they’re looking down with hubris on the entire rest of the population”. Second, the Russions, who lives in their ghetto. “They have their theaters, their papers, their own TV, their Groceries.” Thirdly, Israeli Arab who lives also in their ghetto. “They also have their papers, their own TV, their own politics”. Fourthly, the ultra-orthodox- who also “have their own paper, fifty stations on the radio- no TV because they don’t watch TV”.  Fivthly, the settlers and finally the Sephardim who came from Arab countries. “They are the cooks, the drivers, the workers”

  • My Selections from the book:

If George W. Bush derives any benefit from caring about Israel, or trying to help Israel, it isn’t from Jews. The only plausible political gain comes from his fellow born-again Christians. p5

The fact is, Israel sells. And we have sold ourselves on Israel. Why? Because in some measure we all Christians who see and support shared value there. p6

Thirty five years of occupation doesn’t make it smell like home to us…. Or put it another way: somewhere along the line, we got the feeling, “they aren’t like us” Or maybe we don’t want to be like them. And this is just one of the ways- one big one- how Israel lost. p13

And then I met the Arabs- live ones- and they were good: hospital, dignified, rational, articulate, and oppressed. But that wasn’t the most surprising and disturbing fact that I had to work in. The true astonishment was, simply, they were here. They were here, their fathers were here, their grandfathers.. for centuries! p18

The latest studies show that one out of nine Israel women lives with violence (beating, rape or threats of death) from the male at home. p28

“If you say they build an unauthorized settlement, then they call you a liar because they say they got their authorization from God, three thousand years ago.” If Elisha (Israel journalist) ran a story on Arabs- or put anything on the air about Arabs- that didn’t take proper account of “their murderous nature” then he was an apologist” p34

In the orthodox vision, Jews were supposed to live by the laws of Moses, study the Torah, and pray to God to send the Messiah- their (only) salvation. p146

The idea of a Jewish state, based not on study but on labor.. based not on God’s law but on the principle of the Enlightenment- on Rousseau… The idea of Jews toiling and fighting for a land of their own- so they could write their own laws- the rabbis regarded as a disgraceful heresy.p 146

In that same chapter, God also says to Moses: ” But if you don’t drive out the inhabitant of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. Moreover, it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them. p167

If the Jewish state is about Jewish law, then how is that different- in any moral sense from an Islamic republic? p168

The idea that wives and daughters would be out of the house learning!- was anathema (Collection of remains for burial is, after all, a commandment of the Torah, and ultra-orthodox women do not study Torah.) Plus, they would be talking to people outside their families- which is a sin. p174

Meshi :”So, being Jewish, you don’t need a state. You can be a Jew in Germany, America, Morocco- the meaning is simply that you’re keeping the rules you got from the Torah. That’s the only meaning of it”. p176

Fruman said he has studied Islam for twenty years, and he will not, cannot, claim that as a Jew, he has that One Great Thing: “I don’t have God or The Truth, and they don’t have God or The Truth. But God is between us” He said his life’s work is making a meeting over the differences. p184

” I can’t say why,” she says. “But I want to go into a thing as deeply as you can. For me, activism is not telling others what to do. I have to do it myself… It is too high, what I say,,,,” p187

Some of this tribalization did come to Israel from outside- from other Western societies. The zionist state has always been kind of trendy in its social engineering. Zionism itself was just a Jewish version of European nineteenth century nationalism. p 194

But any Jew who’s not an Israeli, and not an Israeli, and not on psychotropic drugs, could solve this Peace-for-Israel in about ten minutes of focused thoughts” p227

It’s a nice American way to say: That’s not our business, we can’t sort that out. But we are the ones who can sort it out and since the holy-in-the head warriors have made bombs of our airplanes, it behooves us to try.p228

The fact is, Arabs and Jews lived in peace, or at least in habitual calm, for hundreds of years under the Turks whom they equally and severally feared and resented. Anti semitism was an import from Europe- like Zionism- and it wasn’t coincidence that they took root at the same time. p228

For without fear- without dead Jews, attack on Jews, grief or hate for jews- without threats to Jews, zionism itself has no rationale. p265

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: How Israel Lost

  1. Chiara

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this interesting book.

    Zionism as a product of 19th century nationalism is an important concept in 2 ways: the idea of a Jewish nation with fixed borders in the contemporary sense; the European nationalisms which resulted in greater persecution of the Jews especially in Russia, then culminating in the Holocaust. Interestingly some Zionists, like the brilliant philosopher Martin Buber, argued for a shared space with the Arab population, but Herschel et al won out.

    In the synopsis of the book, I do think the role of the Jewish and the Israeli lobbies in the US and particularly Washington are overlooked; as is the role of Israel as an American strategic military base/ally for control of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

    Palestine Remembered is an excellent site on the history of Palestine and the eradication of peoples and towns, and the deliberate myth of the absence of the Arabs or their fleeing in 1948. The documents and maps are all impeccably sourced:
    http://www.palestineremembered.com/

    Another excellent site on current conditions in Gaza, and the impact on the mental health of the population is from the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme headed by Palestinian psychiatrist Dr El-Sarraj.
    http://www.gcmhp.net/

    The Israeli Human Rights organization B’tselem has an impressive record of documenting Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians, including at border checks, and the “Breaking the Silence” program about IDF abuses:
    http://www.btselem.org/English/index.asp

    Thanks again, an inspiring post!

  2. – “Israel existence is very important for Christian Americans because it prepares for the second coming of Christ.”
    One of my professors told me about this fact, and I was really shocked to hear that!

    – “The latest studies show that one out of nine Israel women lives with violence (beating, rape or threats of death) from the male at home.”
    and “The idea that wives and daughters would be out of the house learning!- was anathema (Collection of remains for burial is, after all, a commandment of the Torah, and ultra-orthodox women do not study Torah.) Plus, they would be talking to people outside their families- which is a sin.”
    That’s why it is considered a bad karma to be born as a woman 😦

    – “For me, activism is not telling others what to do. I have to do it myself… It is too high, what I say”
    Totally agree!!

    – “Fruman said he has studied Islam for twenty years, and he will not, cannot, claim that as a Jew, he has that One Great Thing: “I don’t have God or The Truth, and they don’t have God or The Truth. But God is between us” He said his life’s work is making a meeting over the differences.”
    Yes..Yes..Yes..no one can claim that he owns the truth. And if you don’t mind I wanna add a quote that talks about the same issue (how our understanding of religions and truth is the cause of all of our problems)
    “And so religions, to a large extent, became divisive rather than unifying forces. Instead of bringing about an ending of violence and hatred through a realization of the fundamental oneness of life, they brought more violence and hatred, more divisions between people as well as between different religions and even within the same religion. They became ideologies, belief systems people could identify with and so use them to enhance their false sense of self. Through them they could make themselves “right” and others “wrong” and thus define their identity through their enemies, the “others” the “nonbelievers” or “wrong believers” who not infrequently they saw themselves justified in killing” (Eckhart Tolle)
    And I repeat, I’m not attacking or criticizing religions but I’m criticizing people’s understanding of religions.

    Anyway, thanks for the wonderful review 🙂 I really loved it.

  3. Oh, great to see this review. I am glad you shared many thoughts from it. I hope it helped you better understand why Americans tend to support Israel. Maybe it helps you realize it’s not because we have some anti-Arab thoughts. As you read, many Christians interpret the Bible to “require” the return of the Jews before Jesus returns. So a lot of it is theological rather than picking one group over another for mundane reasons. I do think many believers have made a grave error by not loving Arabs and reaching out to them. In their support for the Jews, they have not treated the Arabs well. And that is totally against Jesus’ teachings. I am really sorry for some of my people acting that way. I am trying to make up for it, but I am only one. Still, I try. 🙂

    Thanks for the review.

  4. Chiara & lady of no man,
    Thank you so much for sharing your point of view in this book. The books is definitely worth reading.

    susanne430,
    I honestly believe that you are making huge difference by representing the teaching of Jesus in loving one another.
    I believe that Arab too have had a negative stereotype on many Christians in the past. and they still do.
    I think Christianity is religion of love,, of peace..

  5. The book seems very interesting. I’ve always been interested in finding out more abou the whole israeli-palestenian conflict. I should try and get this book

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Jerry M

    ” I found out from this book that Israel existence is very important for American christians because it prepares for the second coming of Christ.”

    Only a minority (a larger minority these days but still a minority) of Christians support this kind of theology. What is more important these ideas do nothing to explain why support in the US for Israel has been so strong for so long.

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