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A Yankee Jew In Sharon’s Court

From: Gregory Levey To: Shmuel Rosner Dear Shmuel, Thank you for being direct. I’m sorry if my book hit a nerve. I’m not sure how to address this whirlwind of questions, but I’ll begin by saying that I’m disappointed to … Read More

By / April 7, 2008

From: Gregory Levey To: Shmuel Rosner

Dear Shmuel,

Thank you for being direct.

I’m sorry if my book hit a nerve. I’m not sure how to address this whirlwind of questions, but I’ll begin by saying that I’m disappointed to hear that you think I “failed” to write a book “supposedly revealing of the true nature of Israel” — mostly because I had no intention of doing any such thing. I “failed” only in the sense that you have failed to become America’s greatest lawn bowler (as far as I know). In other words, that’s just not what I was trying to do.

To imagine that I could reveal “the true nature of Israel” would have been grossly presumptuous of me. All I could hope to do was tell my own story of being a particular North American thrown headfirst into the Israeli government. Life is messy, and memoirs are messy. The tidy categorization you’re stretching for is the kind of product journalists sling — not the stuff of memoir.

So while I’m delighted to discuss my book with you, I’m reluctant to turn it into an allegory. With that in mind, I can address some of your other inquiries, such as whether I cut off my time in the Israeli Government for personal or political reasons.

It was both. I believe that Israel’s existence and security are moral imperatives and I remain wholeheartedly supportive of the country, but I did develop reservations about specific governmental policies — along with severe “doubts that the country’s problems would ever be solved,” as you mention. I also, however, quickly tired of Israelis’ “directness” and of many aspects of the Israeli worldview. “Was it just because you didn’t feel at home?” you seem to be asking, as if this should be some kind of accusation. But of course I never felt at home, and I can’t imagine why I would have. I wish those living in Israel only the best, but my home is North America, and I’m entirely happy with that.

Let me go a step further and suggest that the personal and political are actually interwoven. I grew up in Canada, and I think that the sometimes paralyzing “politeness” of Canadians and their government’s tendency not to assert itself on the world stage might not be unrelated. My Swiss friends, meanwhile, have always agreed with me when I have proposed that the quintessential Swiss demeanor is of a piece with their country’s historic neutrality. There are underlying cultural forces that help shape both the personal and the political. So, for example, the way that the typical Israeli driver navigates the streets of Tel Aviv – hopping onto the curb, driving between two lanes in order to use whichever one is faster, parking in the middle of the street while going for a coffee — jibes with how his country sometimes conducts statecraft. As they say, people get the government they deserve — particularly in a democracy as vibrant as Israel’s.

I’ll obviously grant you that my experience of being a fish out of water in the government didn’t give me any kind of typical experience of Israeliness. Most immigrants to Israel don’t get off the plane and head straight to the Prime Minister’s Office. Nor do most get on the plane in the first place because of an invitation from that office. I didn’t go to Israel to “make the deserts bloom,” to participate in the “ingathering of the exiles,” or because I was on a mission from God. I went because a job offer from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when I was twenty-six-years-old would have been a hard thing to turn down.

It’s in that context that I can enthusiastically agree with you that the fundamental divide between Israelis and Americans is a cultural one. As an example of this, you rightly point to my surprise at the amount of improvisation in the Israeli government. You say that an Israeli put in my shoes — say, voting at the UN General Assembly with no idea how he should vote — would “have no problem making the decisions” that I was asked to make. On this point I totally agree with you. My concern, though, is that this is not a good thing.

The Israeli spirit of improvization is admirable and has often served the country well, especially in the early days of the state. Even now, the willingness to think creatively and break through rigid rules is certainly responsible for the mind-blowing innovations and successes that Israel has produced in fields including technology, medicine, business, and the arts. In these areas, improvisation can do wonders.

But is it really how a government should operate?

Many thanks,

Gregory

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