tv Yossi Klein Halevi Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor CSPAN June 17, 2018 1:31pm-2:51pm EDT
and transition to progressive politics. at ten, historian patricia o'toole chronicles the political career of president woodrow wilson. and we wrap up our prime time programming at 11:15 with historian jacqueline jones on the life of writer and advocate lucy parsons from slavery through the great depression. that all happens tonight on booktv on c-span2, television for serious readers. >> welcomeo centr synagogue. wow, that's loud. feel incredibly privileged to have two incredible thought leaders, soulful spiritual jews. when we originally talked about this conversation, we actually said let's make in this a conversation can about jewish identity and faith and god and where israel fits in. and it was not primarily are going to be a political conversation, but i think given the events of the week, that is
where we're going to have to begin. and i'm going to her yossi, you published this exquisite book. it was literally published, yesterday was the official publish date which -- may 15th. for some people in your part of the world, it's the day of the catastrophe, the day after the establishment of the state of israel on the may 14 -- on may 14th. and that's quite some timing for the publish date of your book. and right now we see how gaza is burning. i'm wondering, to begin, what would you want to say to your palestinian neighbors right now in a week like this? >> first of all, thank you, angela. it's really a privilege to be with you and with you, david. >> thank you. >> so good evening, everyone. i would start by saying that i share the anguish of palestinians this week.
the anguish at the casualtieses, the anguish of the burden of history, the shattering of a whole people, but i don't share their outrage. and i'm speaking specifically about what's being played out on the gaza border. i don't share that outrage because i'm always mindful, as most israelis are, of the wider context. and even though it is being increasingly erased -- at least that's the feeling many of us have in israel -- we also have a story. and we have a story that is not being heard in the west in the way that when i was growing up the palestinian narrative was not heard, you know? it was very rare to hear the palestinian story. and so there was a -- and to some extent, a necessary corrective that their story has now come in. but the imbalance is now working radically in the other
direction. and is so what i would, what i've actually tried to tell my palestinian neighbor in this book is that i'm ready and and eager to engage you, to hear your story, i'm ready to hear your story however painful it is, but i need you to hear my story too. i need you to understand that the image of israel and the jewish people that is fed to palestinian society on a daily basis in the media, in schools, in mosques is a distortion in the deepest way of my being. i look at how my story is portrayed in palestinian society, and is monstrous. i don't recognize my story. and so what's interesting in a sense if we try to step back this week and try to understand what is actually being played out on the gaza border, what the
palestinians are gathering in protest against is not the result of 1967. and many of us in israel believe that if we were to uproot every settlement tomorrow and withdraw to the '67 borders, that would not substantially alleviate the palestinian grievants which is against -- grievance which is against my existence. it's a grievance over 1948. and gaza is the classic test case of that. when palestinians say they want to go home, palestinians living in gaza, my response is where are you? you're live anything a part of palestine. you're living in right now the only part of palestine that has a semi-sovereign government. why is it that you're demonstrating to return back to homes that you, that your grandparents or great grandparents lost in a war 70 years ago and which you're never going back to?
and so there's a certain fantasy that's built in which -- into the palestinian demand which this week really highlights. and so my response to the events of this week is i'm ready to deal with the consequences of 1967, the consequences of 1948 are nonnegotiable because that's my existence. >> thank you. you'll have to forgive me, because these two are giants in my mind, i realize that i should probably also give a little introduction to the two of you in case there's anyone here who might not know you both. yossi klein halevi cofounded the muslim leadership initiative which actually trains muslims or teaches them about israel and zionism in the land of israel which has been controversial in the muslim community but really courageous and incredibly important. he's written many books
including like dreamers which won the jewish book award, and he is a new yorker, born here in brooklyn and went to brooklyn college and a masters of journalism to northwestern, and he moved to israel in 1982 and lives in jerusalem. and is we are very pleased that not only he is here, but some of his family tonight as well. d gregory is a very familiar face, i think, to all of us from the journalism scene. he began his career at age 18. over the last 25 years, his work has taken him all across the world. he's best known for his nearly 20 years at nbc news. he's now a political analyst at cnn and the host of a david gregory podcast. he also wrote a critically acclaimed and quite beautiful memoir about his journal to faith in a pretty secular world called "how's your faith." so i'll kind of set the next question to you. i feel like the image of this week for those of us paying attention was this image of the
split screen that we saw. on the one hand, we saw the picture of netanyahu and ivanka trump unveiling the jerusalem embassy and very intentionally on a split screen we also saw the smoke and people dying in gaza. and this was very, i think, intentional e thateally, like, goes viral, and it doesn't really have a lot of nuance to it or complexity or historical background and context. as someone who has been in media your whole life are, what is the responsibility of the media to give us a little bit more than just sort of the convenient image where we kind of split screen and cast people sort of into villain and victim very easily? >> so i'm going to answer that a couple of ways. first of all, i i think to directly address that the problem is that the news media today really doesn't care about the story because it's boring, and it's old and it's
intractable, and there's not a lot new. and it's not moving. nobody cares. >> good news for an israeli writer. [laughter] >> but, you know, that's the reality, is that people don't pay attention. so when we writ largeay attention, we pay attention to flashpoints. we don't do it with the appropriate context. i think there's a lot of anti-israel bia in selection, placement, tonnage of coverage, the up-close imagery. and i think we just -- it's very easy to provide broader context, you know? i was anchoring the other day, and i insisted upon saying that hamas is a terror organization recognized not just by israel, but by the united states. i think that's an objective fact. and now we know more about some of the facts on the ground. so it's unfortunate. but i think where i want to take this -- because i'm thinking about our conversation and what i hope people will take away -- is the split screen of my jewish identity. that's what played out for me
this week. because i will agree with eric in a way that he and i actually won't agree with, and that is that israel is too central to our jewish identity, he said. i agree except i'll put the emphasis in a different way. it's too central to our jewish identity. what's happening in israel today is tragic, the loss of life, the attempts to breach the wall and to ultimately deny our jewish story and the israeli jewish story, to displace israelis. that's tragic too. but the notion that we have to begin here on this topic also bothers me because, you know, the question of israel's politics and its reality and the negotiations and life with the palestinians reaches my head and it reaches my heart, but it
doesn't always touch my soul. and i think that we have to find the proper balance of dealing with a week like this and mourning it in all of its complexity but also not letting it overshadow how we think of ourselves as jews in the rest of our day and the rest of our week. so i'll maybe just set it up that way. >> i'm definitely going to follow up on that in a minute because i would push back as, i think, a person who does not fully understand my jewishness without an israel. you know, i think that each one of us have very different views on how central israel should be -- >> right. >> -- and i want to come back to that. sticking with the split-screen image for just a little longer, yossi, i want to push on i think the very different split-screen experience of, let's say monday, if you were in israel and israeli or an american jew. and i would say that the vast majority -- actually, you know, universally essentially the embassy move was a historic
celebration for israelis. and split to american jews, i think there was a lot of complicated feelings around it. there were people who were very upset about it. you had, obviously, what was going on in gaza which, i think for most israeli while there's great pain around it, there's not a lot of moral ambiguity that this is their right to defend themselves. american jews, there's a lot more hand-wringing about is this what needs to happen, are they taking excessive force. i think in israel on the very same day all these things were happening on monday, there were 10,000 israelis in rabin square celebrating that an israeli had won the 2018 euro vision competition with this awesome song. this woman doing a women's empowerment song with a joyful vibe. and it was completely, i think, unexpected. and when there was talk about boycotting israel for something like this, the fact that an israeli, that israel won was enormous. and this, by the way, is almost
completely off the radar of a typical american jew that has no idea. so you've got kind of this incredibly different experience of a historic day in israel on monday where all of this was going on, where an israeli would experience this in a very, very different way from the split screen of an american jew. what does it feel like to be an israeli in america when all this happened, and what's your sense of what this says about the difference between diaspora and israeli jews right now? >> yeah. well, if we're speaking about a split screen, i'm -- i really live in some sense between these two centers of jewish life. i grew up here until almost the age of 30, and my career has really been writing about israel from israel for american jews primarprimarily. and so i never actually left this community. and the growing dissonance
between these two centers of jewish life -- which is really what you're describing, david -- is increasingly painful for me. and i feel that i'm seeing the project of my life which was really to try to be a kind of an interpreter to these two communities, and i try to play a similar role to israelis out speaking about american jewry. what has happened since i left, the last 30 years. the renaissance in parts of the jewish community. and what are the hurts and disappointments toward us, toward israel that american jews, i feel, are rightly expressing. so i've been a kind of a simultaneous translator between these two very different jewish experiences. and in one sense, angela, you know, i think that there's a
built-in disconnect between the two communities that is simply unavoidable. and that is that we live in opposite geographies. in america you live in the freest and most accepted diaspora that jews have ever experienced, the most welcoming. and in israel we live in the most hostile region, the most dangerous region on the planet. and so each center of jewish life has created an opposite response. american jews have become open and flexible which is the right response to this welcoming environment that you're in. and our response to a hostile environment is effectively to become the toughest kid on the block. and that means that we are on a collision course in our strategy. and the irony for israel -- and this is really, i think, one of the acute strategic dilemmas that we face -- is that the
tactics that keep us relatively safe in the middle east, for example, creating the deterrence where the message gets out to hamas, to palestinians in gaza that if you try to break through the fence, you will meet with live bullets. and that has been an effective strategy. the fence held. and what israelis are saying this week is if the fence had broken down and thousands of people had streamed over the border, there would be thousands of casualties. >> right. >> so in the middle east, that makes sense. but when you translate it to cnn, when you translate it to what people here are watching, it looks horrific. israel looks like a, like we're child killers. and i've been called that a lot this week. >> but if i can -- see, the media questions, i mean, you know, in these stories everybody goes to their battle stations, right? so israelis do that, and this is what i think is the beauty of
your book, which is to somehow transcend that. but pal palestinians go to their station, israelis go to their station, the media does its thing, and the jewish community writ large in america is, you know, kind of gripped by this to say, you know, where do we stand, where should we stand. there's a lot of division around that, around just the politics and around the security decisions that are made because we don't live your life. we don't know. but the -- and, angela, don't misunderstand me, rabbi, don't misunderstand me -- >> you can call me angela. >> thank you. [laughter] israel is critically important to my heart, to my head and to my soul. there is no question about that. but for me, that is not purely a -- it is actually, i mean, it is politically in a secular sense it's important to me, by the way, as an american that israel is secure. as a jew, it is so much deeper than that, as a sense of place,
as a holy place, as a sense that my journey through the bible takes me to and gives such meaning to. but as a community, we're asked to rally around israel in a defensive sense, you know, which is you should give to protect israel, you should give and stand behind israel because you never know, this could go sideways in america, and god forbid anything should happen to israel. and i think there's a lot of agreement about that. but we still basically stand apart because it's a different language, it's a different geography, and american jews don't understand the day-to-day. and they, frankly, have grown tired, i think, with trying to understand the day-to-day. >> and i think that israelis need to accept that as a -- [inaudible] moment. that if american jews feel the way you do toward israel, i don't think we have the right to expect more than that. and the obsessiveness of israel in certain parts of the american
jewish community is creating a backlash in other parts of the jewish community. and there's this imbalance happening in the community. and that's very painful for me. >> but, you know, you were talking about security is. i would say we were talking about this earlier, and i thought it was interesting, but i want to circle back to something. i was sitting here, and i was thinking, you know, i really love israel. you know, and i was thinking about -- i read yossi's book, and i feel a connection to you. i had a wonderful experience when i was talking about my book with a minister in san francisco, and he said, you know, i feel like i've met an old friend for the first time. and i feel that way with you. and i think, well, why do i feel that way? and it's because we share something that i believe is a soulful connection, something that i want to try to deepen. and i'm already looking forward to coming to visit you and celebrating with you. so that's different. >> yes. >> that is a different kind of
connection that we share. and, but so the interesting piece about that is when we talk as a community about that connection is israel, i may love israel, but israel doesn't love me. you may love me, you may come to love me. the israeli government doesn't love me back -- >> i do. [laughter] >> the israeli government doesn't view me as a jew. and if you belong to this synagogue, they don't view you as a jew. >> or their rabbi. >> sorry? >> or their rabbi. [laughter] >> so israel wants me to stand on the corner at all times to stand by it, but it doesn't recognize me, my wife -- who's not jewish -- or my children even though i'm committed and i'm on the path. so that's a factor that i think is, that is part of this american jewish identity. let me just leave it athat. >> i see you're pushing back though particularly on sort of a
political israel and that you're pushing for a more multifacetedded, multidimensional way of seeing israel which includes the people -- >> right. >> -- the culture, the history, the context. i just wonder, though, if that's a luxury that we american jews can say when if there is literally existential threat to the country for us to say, well, we don't -- we'd like to make israel about more than the politics. let's make it spiritual. when security is just beyond reproach in some of these questions, so -- >> it's like jack nicholsond sai in "a few good men," you know, you need me on that wall, you want me on that wall. and i do want the israeli government on that wall protecting israel and the military. and as a family, we support that. what i'm saying is i've got to be able -- as an american jew and as an american jewish leader, you have to think more about what are the ties that bind, what is the glue for your community. is it just thinking every day
about the existential threat to israel, or -- >> got that be more. >> is it going to be getting people to come for shah bat? >> one of the ongoing frustrations i have is we don't know each other's jewish lives. for example, israeli music, israeli rock music is some of the greatest music that's being produced anywhere. not that i know what's happening in finland, but, you know -- [laughter] it's extraordinary music. and i think it's the greatest jewish music that's being created anywhere. israeli rock music, the music we hear on the radio, the music that our kids dance to is profoundly jewish. and american jews, i i feel, are being deprived of one of the sources of jewish creativity, vitality in this generation. and at the same time, israelis have is a very superficial and one-dimensional idea of what
american judaism is and don't understand the different forms of experimentation. and what i tried to tell my fellow israelis about american judaism is that american jew those who are -- lead a committed jewish life actually feel joy in their judaism that's a very strange idea for israelis. [laughter] israelis feel very proud to be jewish, by and large. they feel a deep sense of responsibility. but i wouldn't say that joy is the first word that comes to mind in how israelis experience their judaism. and there's this extraordinary sense of what you've managed to do here is to own judaism. in israel we kind of feel we're owned by judaism. and you own your judaism. you can do whatever you like because it's america. you can do anything, whatever you like. even judaism. and that's something that's liberating, and we need that in
a sovereign jewish state because we have not begun to figure out what judaism should look like in a free public jewish space. >> but so part of what you're getting at is, you're right, angela, i mean, it is a luxury. i have a lot of luxuries in my life, you know? including as an american jew whose father changed his name from ginsburg to gregory, and my mother was caroline fitzpatrick which is why i've got this irish -- [laughter] and i have to kind of self-identify my whole life are. so i have not experienced anti-semitism in the same way that others have. what i think is important though is to understand that we as american jews and should hold this thing we call identity in all of its component parts. and is we should not be told that it has to be one thing or another thing. we cannot say that we should just focus on israel and then forget about becoming literate jews or that we should just think about israel and understand our talking points on
the question of the peace process and forget how important it is to visit the sick. and is so that's what i'm saying. that's where the breakdown is happening. now, i respect and admire all parts of jewish organizational life. but i guess i really kind of want -- and the thing is, yossi, i was so moved by your book, and i bought four copies because finish. >> did you hear that, everybody? [laughter] >> because i wanted, i would love you to inscribe this to my wife who is not a jew for whom the question of israel is complicated in our family life. and i think that you speak to her about us in a way that i love. i want you to inscribe it to my daughter who is just at bat mitzvah because i want her to begin to feel what i feel in my heart about what it means to connect to our jewish brothers and sisters in israel and why that should matter. and i think you have a kind of lyrical way t t t t t explain to
her. so i'm just a believer, like, let's just get the balance right and pull all this together. >> you know, if i could just say a word about -- >> of course. >> -- about the balance and where i feel each commuty has something to teach the other. what we in israel need to learn from you is to take the quest for identity seriously. that's what i love about your book. and israelis tend to take identity for granted. it's the air we breathe. >> right. >> you don't have to think or very deeply about being jewish in israel. and most israelis, frankly, don't think deeply about those issues. that's a strength and a weakness of having a sovereign jewish state. and where i think that american jews can use some infusion of israeliness is really what you were speaking about a moment ago which is taking existential threat ares -- threats seriously.
and my nightmare of a dysfunctional american jewish/israeli relationship is that each community will take on the attributes of its geography. and so israel will become increasinglyiddle eastern, w will become increasingly brutal, we will be brutal jews, and american jews will become what my father -- a holocaust survivor -- used to call stupid jews. [laughter] and a stupid jew is somebody who doesn't, who has lost the ability to deal with existential threat, who doesn't even understand that jews can face existential threat. and so we need to have these conversations because each community has really developed a certain approach to jewish life that the other community really needs to hear. >> i think we do have a lot to learn from each other, and i think one of the things that gets in the way is the way --
and, david, you started talking about this -- that each community feels a little bit hurt and betrayed by the other. we could talk a little bit about how i think the american jewish community feels hurt or betrayed by the ways we feel that we're not acknowledged, we're not given rights, our judaism, you know, pluralistic judaism is not valued in the same way certain democratic values are not valued. but tell us the way that you see israelis feel in some ways betrayed by the american jewish community. >> before i answer that, i would just like to affirm the other part of that equation which is that i really do understand why american jews feel betrayed by israel, and as somebody whose deep commitment is jewish peoplehood, i feel betrayed as an israeli as well. and what i, what i tried to tell my fellow israelis is that in some way we don't deserve the love of american jewring y.
now, i don't really believe that, and i wouldn't say that to american jews -- [laughter] but i, for 70 years the state of israel has been insulting and humiliating diaspora jews. and at some point, there's a price the pay for that. and the current drift, alienation is in some ways a belated expression of that hurt. and so that's one side of the equation. the other side is this deep sense of hurt that i would even use the word betrayal that many of us felt during the iran deal to date. and in israel the overwhelming majority of the, of the political system from the labor party rightward opposed the deal. something like 90% of israelis opposed the deal. >> you never can get that many j well,
ews to agree on anything -- yeah -- [laughter] >> amazing. >> yeah. >> let alone getting saudi arabia and israel to agree about iran. yet large parts of the american jewish community either stood aside or actively supported the deal. and i experienced that as a blow, really a blow to the heart. i wrote an op-ed right after the deal passed in which i addressed the american jewish community, and i said for the last years we've been getting messages from you about how alienated you are from israel, so let me return the favor. i am, i am hereby divorcing. and i have spent 30 years going back and forth between these two communities, and i'm finished. >> wow. >> and fortunately, i never sent, i never sent it out. [laughter]
>> yes, fortunately. >> i would kind of respectfully push back on that and say, you know, there's a lot -- there are things the israeli government does with regard to its security, its politics within its domestic politics that i may agree with, may not agree with, may feel distant from. but, you know, it is -- at that level it is, there's a family aspect of i and i'm going to say okay. that is what it is. you know, the iran deal, i'm a journalist. i studied this, i scrutinized it, i asked people about it. it's complicated. it's really complicated. i don't know if it's the right thing or the wrong thing. i'm just, you know, i've taken a decent look at it, i'm not sure. i've talked to people on both sides of it, i'm really not sure. but it was the united states government's position that it took, and it was its deal. and so the notion at the peopleho, get worried about us allowing ourselves to
con contemplate separation, met alone divorce, by the actions that our government takes. because we are still family, you and i, and we are connected wherever we may disagree or see past each other. what you remind me is really important because you say to me, listen, you do have certain liberties in america to pursue jewish identity and spiritually and i'm high profile and i've got all these doors opened up to me, and that's great. but don't forget that there is an ancient hatred that crouches at the door, you know, to paraphrase the bible. and that is this anti-semitism that's there and which you live every day with. i cannot turn a blind eye to it. you know, just the other day at a school in my community there was a horrific expressions of anti-semitism. two kids were expelled from a very high profile prep school, and it was very painful to me as i was talking to some of the parents because it's a sign of coarsening of social media and
how many people don't understand the power and the pain of anti-semitism. so i need to be reminded of that as an american jew, and i will take that lesson. but i want to just say a word for go ahead here. which is, you know, the reason why i feel so strongly about israel is that when i have visited israel, i have felt very close to god. it is a powerful, soulful feeling throb on she bat -- to be there on -- [inaudible] and i am willing to deal with the fact that i can't take my daughter to the same part, nor will i go as a family if i can't take her. i'm going to put that aside and be judgmental about it, but i'm still going to love it, and i'm still going to love the people. and we're going to have to learn to deal with what we may see as betrayals on the part of the government to stay connected as a people who try and at least understand each other in the
same way you want us -- you want israelis, you want american jews to understand the other in, you know, among palestinians. >> see, i feel very strongly that the future of our relationship are exactly those issues that today divide us, and that is judaism and how we express our judaism. that's the shared project that israelis and american jews really need to put on the agenda. and for those of us who are trying to live god-centered lives, i think that's, that is the area that we haven't even begun to explore. which is what does it mean to be living at this moment in jewish history after all of the great jewish dreams and nightmares happened in the generation just
before us? we were born after the great dreams and nightmares happened. you know, for thousands of years jews carried a dream of return to the land of israel and carried another dream that they would find safe and permanent refuge. they were able to be at home where diaspora would no longer be exile. and the great nightmare that jews -- the great fear that jews always carried was that one day our neighbors would just gather us up and destroy us. a final solution. and so the great dreams and nightmares all happened. and we haven't begun as a people trying to process how that's affected our relationship. who are we? what's our identity? what does it mean that you'r living one form of dream that has been fulfilled, and that was a deep dream that jews cared. we thought we had it in spain in
the 1300s. and we kept, we kept hoping this time this is it. so even as we had this great dream of return to this lost homeland, we also had a parallel kind of subversive dream that we would really be able to find home not there. and so in our time, we have found home in our homeland and in a diaspora. and so how do we unpack that and how does that express our faith? because what does it mean to live after the holocaust, to live after the creation of israel, after the emergence of american jewry? what does that mean in a very complicated relationship with god? what does it mean in our complicated relationship with each other? and this is why i really believe that this is the most interesting and exciting moment in jewish history. i really believe that. you know, standing at sinai --
maybe since sinai. this, for me, is the most amazing moment. and these are the kinds of conversations that israelis and american jews need to start >> ao tha i -- i really agree withhat, and i think rabbi saks talked about the importance of the jewish calendar as being these things that you don't write in a to-do list, but you write in a diary because it's more permanent. it's to remind us of the moral code by which we live. and i think, you know, if i come, you know, to hear you, rabbi, i want you to help me think about, you know, how i keep ascending in my judaism. you know, it's interesting, when i was in israel last, there was a group of us, and it was the first time that i'd been to rad rah shell -- yadrashem, and
there was a v motional day, and i was more kind of emotionally disciplined in that moment. but later on i said to him sitting in the presidential palace, i said, you know, what's the point of all of this? what is the point for us, diaspora jews, of all of this? and he said in the kind of pithy way and maybe it was overly simply chid, judaism -- simplified, judaism cannot survive without morality. it said you on in this spiritual, you know, ethical path trying to be the best person you can be and failing so often, keep at that path because that's what this is about. it's to keep, to keep jews safe for this pursuit. >> so this is, i think, the crux of what's so painful. we could decide that it's not an easy place for you or me to be in israel -- to be jews in israel. >> right. >> but let's put it aside.
we aren't israelis. the thing is i feel badr for israelis, because for most of them they do not have access to a judaism that they would want to practice. they see judaism in one form. you either practice in an orthodox, constricted, non-egalitarian way or there are very few other options. then when you have, you know, state-controlled religious status, you have a jew who says i can't g married -- of all places, i can't have a jewish wedding with my reformed rabbi in the jewish state. even putting aside diaspora jews, the idea you can finally come home and actually have a jewish state that does not allow for different expressions of jewish living and that the vast majority of israelis reject completely. so what is the, what is the essence of their jewishness for a secular, you know, israeli?
>> i think, first of all, and this is -- i'm not saying this to justify, but to explain how we got to this point of having only one form of judaism. the overwhelming majority of israeli jews have family roots in countries where there was no alternative rereligiously to orthodoxy. and that's either jews from eastern europe or from the middle east. and so those attitudes were transplanted, disastrously from my point of view, to israel. i do see the beginnings of change, and i would urge american jews to pay attention, closer attention to what is beginning to stir on the grassroots. i think that one of the things american jews tend not to understand about how israel works is that israel doesn't work from the top down. what the government does and what our institutions do may or
may not matter. what really, what really is conduit of change comes from below. that's how the settlement movement, for example, was established. the government didn't establish the settlement movement. the settlement movement created what they call facts on the ground. and what i urge the liberal denominations to do is create facts on the ground. so, for example, the wall. there is an area of the wall which is still available for egalitarian prayer. now, the deal that was rescinded has deprived the reform and conservative movements of control of that area. but egalitarian prayer is still permitted there. now, the deal should never have been rescinded. it was outrageous. it was a show of the worst kind of bad faith. on the other hand, there is an area of the wall that is there for prayer, for meditation. my wife sarah and i -- sarah,
who's here with us -- we're meditators. sarah runs a jewish meditation center in jerusalem which you're all invited to. and our favorite place to meditate at the wall is the egalitarian area. and i say that not to praise the liberal movements. the reason it's our favorite area is for not a good reason. it's the quietest part of the wall. [laughter] now, now why isn't this nonstop egalitarian prayer at the space -- the government has created an opening. rather than just focusing on the cancellation of authority for that space, use that space. don't just use it for bar and bat mitzvahs. there should be round the clock prayer. you can go to the wall at three in the morning, and there are -- [inaudible] go at three in the afternoon to
the egalitarian space, and you might see sarah meditating there, but that's really, that's about it. and that's a problem. that's really a problem. and so that's, i just needed to get that off my chest. >> yeah. >> can i ask you, rabbi, how you think about -- we seem to be talkg about the ability to hold certain parts of this relationship up at the same time. so, i mean, as i've thought about this and as we're talking about it, there's very much the kind of the jewish nation family story. who are we, where have we come from, the state of israel and the state of the state of israel that demds our attention as a people, as a connected people who are -- who love each other and have stuck together and have survived even in exile. and then, you know, so that's an important conversation. then there is the question of faith, of relationship with god. so i guess my question to you is
how do you think we can do a better job and you as a leader to pull these strands together so we as your followers don't feel like it's dominated by one to the exclusion of the other? >> well, i remember a beautiful aching yossi gave aro the six-day war in which you said the way that jews understand god is not necessarily just through nature or through the ways that often other traditions think about god, but through god who acts in history, who acts like through acts of not nsse intervention, but ways -- not necessarily intervention, but ways we think about that. so for me, justeible to uphold tense of hopefulness is an about of faith, a way to be intertwined. also i think engaging with israel on a level that is much deeper than the political level, that's, i guess, a part of it. it's about loving the people, the culture, which i do listen to that rock music.
>> we have to talk about that. >> yes. [laughter] and i think, you know, i remember a beautiful moment when i was in israel just last summer, and i visited the place where the kind of pt laureate of israel had started something in tel aviv because he realized in a secular city he wanted people to have some observance. it still needed to be a jewish city. so he crate created it -- he created it, and they had, it was mostly filled with intellectual, secular israelis. and i remember visiting the mace where this happened and thinking about how that was such an israeli thing. and then i went to this service on the beach, and we were overlooking, you know, the sea, and we sang with, like, 300 jews from all over the world, and they were secular israelis and religious israelis and pple from all over the world. and singing and looking over at
this water. and then the next prayer was a prayer that was actually a bialik poem by an israeli rock singer. and i was thinking this only happens in israel. the melding of biblical and modern and religious and sec or lahr together in this way right in the place where all of this history happened of our people. to me, that was like this moment of likes this is where we cannot get anywhere else, but in israel. it changes my sense of connection to jewish peoplehood. so i guess part of this is about being there and experiencing it, but it's also maintaining a sense of faith. i would ask you, yossi, and i want to ask both of you about where god plays a role here, but you think of a god that intervenes in history many some way and that we understand god in the way that god plays a role. i think a lot of jews -- and you talked about your father. after the holocaust he decided, you know, god's not deserving of my prayers anymore, which is
such a jewish response because it's not saying god doesn't exist, it's saying god doesn't deserve my prayers, but god still exists. and then you said after the six-day war that things changed, because we had a new kind of epic moment in jewish history where god, you know, saved us and redeemed us. in this moment do you feel like god is playing a role in this moment, and are we being punished or rewarded? what is the role here? what is happening? >> wow. david, i think i should defer this to you. [laughter] complicated. it's interesting with my father because i actually saw that pivotal moment happening. i was with him at the wall in the summer of 1967. that was my first trip to israel with him. and i saw him pray. i saw him become a man of prayer. and my father became quite a devout jew after the six-day war and died a religious jew, very much a believing jew.
and what my father would say about the holocaust was there are certain things i don't understand, and i'm just effectively putting on the shelf. and i also think haas a very jewish -- that's a very jewish response. after a while, you kind of make your peace with god, and then the relationship resumes, you know? i think of the jewish relationship with god as this tumultuous love story. and sometimes god accuses us of faithlessness, and that's a large part of the biblical story. and sometimes we accuse god of faithlessness, you know? one of my favorite yiddish poets, jacob glotstein wrote a poem about how in sinai we received the torah, and in ublin we gave it back. and my father gave it back. after the wore i'd say he and his generation gave the torah back. but then he and his generation began reclaiming it.
and so what i write in my book is that i have a chapter in the book about the holocaust and faith. and what i write is that i'm not the son of destruction, i'm the son of rebirth. and that, i think, is true for our generation. and so if my father was able to reestablish a relationship with god, then i certainly feel that i can do that. >> and, david, the journey of your book and recent years, if you would just share -- >> yeah. you know, there's so much i don't understand about god, but i'm really searching. and i guess what i really, what i really believe, first of all, you talk about 1967 which is, you know, before my time, but i don't know how you can be a believing jew who reads the psalms and not understand what it is to have a longing for israel. and so to feel that sense of
redemption in a nationalist moment as the result of war is also a religious moment of a sense of redemption. and, you know, i guess for me, you know, i feel like the psalms always say, the idea that i'm always seeking god's faith and that i want to be close to god is what keeps me closer, as close as i can come to being the best of myself because god acts as an inspiration for, hopefully, the best of myself. and then i bring that down to the kind of community level, and then i he it' a reminder that where i need god the most is on the amtrak or in the airport, because that's where i tend to feel the most stressed, the most harried, the most entitled, the most ago a sated and where i'm -- aggravated and where i'm most likely to say, to forget, oh, you know what? this person has a job to do. this person's stressed out too.
this person has been dealing with people who forget to see them. i was saying, yossi, earlier that when i first started speaking about my book a lot of federations would say the me, yeah, we know you've written this book about god. we'd prefer you didn't talk about that. [laughter] we'd rather you talk about anti-semitism and israel and politics. now in the trump era, they say, listen, if you can just talk about god -- [laughter] that'd be great. don't mention politics, don't mention israel, and i thought -- part of me was, like, you know, right on, let's go. let's talk about god. but then i realized it's covering up something that's really pernicious in our community. and that is that we are losing a sense of who we're supposed to be. we're losing a sense of what god extends to us, which is to see each other as brothers and sisters, to respect each other, to say it's okay if we can't agree about our president. it's okay that we -- we can hold onto these things. let's just not stop listening to
each other. we can disagree about israel. we can disagree with you about israel. but let's not forget that we're family and that god is calling us to be the best of ourselves which is to remember that everybody's going through a struggle. and, again, i then come back to your book, because the reason your book is so soulful is you're saying i'm a jew, i'm an israeli, i have to be on this wall, i have to live with this existential threat, but you know what? i can also see the other across the wall and love that person, try to understand them, and let's try to keep that dialogue going. that's the inspiration for me. that's where god is for me. and i think god is present in all of that. >> beautiful. i'm going to ask one last question because this is your official book launch. it's happening here at central which i'm so proud that we're hosting. and then we will take questions for a little bit. i'll ask one last question. but i wondered, you wrote this book to your palestinian neighbor, and i know that you're -- and from your
introduction you talk about that, that was your intended, you know, audience when you wrote this in a sense and that you are translating this book into arabic, and it's going to be free for anyone who would want to download it. >> only in arabic. you have to pay -- >> only -- yeah. pay for it in english. buy it here. [laughter] but you are doing your book launch in america, not in ramallah, and you are doing it in a reform synagogue, and i wonder who do you imagine is your audience, and how did you want this book to be seen? >> so my primary audience are, is my neighbors, however many or few will read. i don't know. it's, i'm going to really try the get this out there. and i envision this as a public conversation between an israeli writer and palestinians and people throughout the arab world about the jewish story, our
indigenousness in the region. and this is a sequel in a way to a book that i wrote about 20 yearago which was a journey that a i took into palestinian society, into islam and christianity, the west bank and gaza to try to understand the palestinian story. and so now i'm trying to tell my neighbors my story. and so that's, that's my primary audience. at the same time, i'm or very mindful of the fact that, yes, i'm having my lunch here at central, and the book is coming out in english, and i hope that american jews will read this book as well because this is an attempt to retell the israel hi story -- the israeli story for the 21st century. and i feel we're still stuck in an old israeli narrative. and this really goes back to much of what you were saying. and what is israel in the 21st
century? what is israel beyond the holocaust, beyond the european th is now a majority jews from the middle east? and so this is, there are so many layers to the israeli story that are getting lost in translation. and that american jews need to understand. and i feel that american jews are very often still stuck in a 20th century narrative about israel. and so this is an attempt as well to speak to my former community, the community that i still remain deeply attached to. and i hope that this will start multiple conversations. the book are will also be translated into hebrew, and there there's a whole other kind of conversation that i need to have with my fellow israelis about what are we thinking is
going to happen 50 years from now? what do we want -- 50 years from now do we want to be in the same place that we are in now? now, i deeply understand the fears and the sense of dread that israelis have toward a two-state solution. i have it too. i dread a two-state solution. but i probably dread not having a two-state solution a little bit more. and, you know, israelis -- i'd say many of us have two nightmares about a palestinian state. the first is that there won't be a palestinian state and the status quo continues, and the second is that there will be, and we may not be able to defend ourselves from 8-mile-wide borders. and so that's a conversation that i need to have in israel. the conversation that i feel i need to have here is exactly the
issues you're raising. what does israel mean not just politically, but much more deeply? what does israel mean spiritually? >> right. >> to american jews. >> and what's our deep clean that goes way beyond the holocaust. >> exactly. >> and what should it mean to my teenage children who are a part of a generation for whom the holocaust is part -- is farther and farther away. >> right. it's as old as the inquestion decision. >> right. i didn't know what to expect, and i was deeply moved by the book, and i feel very strongly that at first i guess i thought the book was going to be, you know, was going to be about you, and it was going to be about them. and i realized it was about me. and it taught me a lot about me. it spoke to me about why i loves israel, why i care about israel, why i'm moved intellectually but also why my heart is moved. so in that way, it was a
revelation in a a way that i didn't expect. but it's for my non-jewish spouse because i think she has questions about jewish attachment to israel, the centrality of it as an outsider who wants to be a supportive jewish spouse who has given me the gift of us being a jewish family and has sacrificed her own traditions. she doesn't quite understand. i think you so beautifully share our story. and, again, i say, you know, for my daughter because that's -- i would like this to be a kind of portal for her to understand in a compassionate, soulful, 21st century way our story, our complexities, our challenges. and our anguish at this problem and this coexistence that we still can't, you know, make a reality. >> so there's the pitch. >> yeah. >> not just only for yourself, for every college student you know, for every non-jew that has had any question about israel.
it is, it has an intellectual honesty to it that is deeply moving, and it really tells the story in a different way. so i want to take a few questions from the audience today. i think nicole -- rabbi arbach is helping us, and is lauren. just make a quick request because we don't have a ton of time. if you would ask the question quickly, and we'll try to answer succinctly as well. can you just stand up? >> yossi, i wanted to ask you -- >>'s the question coming from? >> over there. >> can you hear me? >> there he is. >> i find the term diaspora jew deeply offensive. i'm an american jew, and i don't feel i'm in the diaspora, i'm home. and while i love are israel, i feel that israelis keep using that term as if distancing us
from you. i'm only out of israel -- it's only a ticket, an airplane ticket that gets me to israel. i wish you would send back a message that that term is an insult to many american jews. >> well, i very much appreciate the question. at the hartman institute where i'm part of a seminar that's called i engage where we're trying to reconfigure the relationship between israel and american jewry that question is recurring. and some of my colleagues, rabbi hartman, for example, the president of the institute, will not use the term diaspora. and i insist on using it. that is, i would say, what remains of my zionist critique of jews who don't live in israel. now, you have to understand how far israelis like myself have
come, because once we would have used the term exile to refer to american jewry. [laughter] and that, and you still have israelis -- fewer, these days -- but you still have israelis who refer to american jewra as goha, a very loaded term, it means exile. now, i can't refer to american jews as hiving in exile. and -- as living in exile. and i think that the exile ended, the exile did not end in 1948, it actually ended in 1989 when the iron curtain fell. because when the iron curtain fell, you no longer had jews living outside the land of israel through coercion. any jews living outside of israel has now made a choice. you are a diaspora jew by choice. and forgive me for continuing to use that term, but that really is my zionist critique which is to say that even though i do speak of two centers of jewish
life, i believe deeply that israel is the center of jewish fe, and i don't mean to say that to denigrate american jewry; but, rather, to strengthen the cig fifth cannes of israel -- significance of israel. >> and there is a long history of very rich diaspora jews and jewry. >> i want to thank the panelists for a very enlightening discussion and very informative. as a orthodox jew, one of the things that concerns me the boast is the bds movement. and when i speak to my israeli counterparts, they say what's bds? we don't know what that is. that's not bothering us at all. while in america when i speak to my counterparts here in america, it seems to be the number one trouble that is facing us. i was curious what your thoughts
are on the bds movement both in israel and america and whether it's the type of thing that we should be concerned about and fight against, or is it something that's a fad that is going to go away? >> i think israelis are concerned about bds, at least in my experiencen they may not know the initials, but they know that there's this growing boycott movement. and my concern about bds is not the boycott itself.. i think the boycott has failed and it will, god willing, continue to fail. but what the great success of that movement has been is to place a question mark over the words israel and zionism for large numbers of young americans including many young american jews. and so there seems to be something tainted about the words zionism and israel. and as soon as when you set up on campus an israel apartheid
week, it doesn't matter how many people actually attend israel apartheid week. the fact that those two words are now linked in the language of the campus means that you have to prove, you know, in hebrew we have an expression go prove that you don't have a sister. and i won't explain the context for that. laugh but, so go prove that you're not an apartheid state. you've already lost as soon as you have to defend yourself. >> right. >> so i'm very concerned. >> i just want to add to that. first of all, i think you addressed this very well in the book because what bothers me about bds is how quickly the anti-israel -- which is all fair criticism -- jumps the fire line to the anti-semitism. you speak about that which is that we basically, that israel itself is a crime, right? the mere existence of it. and this is where i think we have to lower the volume where we can, but we have to make sure
that we're as educated as we can be about who we are, about what zionism is, about what israel is and have this conversation with people who disagree. because what is -- it's not only, you know, peo w a going to, you know, who are going to argue and who are going to oppose, but i'm really concerned about younger american jews who are starting to feel that anticipate of zionism. we have to educate them. and as much as i feel strongly that we have to become, you know, and i say to you as a non-orthodox jew how important it is for me to become more literate in judaism. we then also have to be really literate about the political, secular nature of our story and our nationhood and make sure our young people get it and don't feel stigmatized by it. >> [inaudible] [laughter] >> this is actually addressed to both of you.
and it's a fake statement, fake question made as a statement, but i'd like the hear your response. it seems to me that this discussion is really actually two discussions that are not really tied. despite the fact that you both talk about how the other's book has really impact you, made you feel -- impacted you, made you feel a certain way. but it strikes me that mr. gregory is talking about his ascent to god. it's not remotely israeli, but it's to god and he's on that path. and, which is sort of an amorphous thing. and mr. klein havlevi is not talking about god really at all except parenthetically, but he's tag about facts very much on everett, and that means palestinians -- on earth, and that means palestinians, gaza, hamas' cynical use of the people in gaza. there's a huge disparity, and i don't want hear a conversation.
i don't hear a conversation. and that's not to be offensive. and i'm wondering, having said what i said, how you feel about what i say, whether you feel there's any truth to it. it's not an attack on both of you, but -- >> do you want to take that? >> -- but it's a question i have of both of you. >> no, you know, i'm intrigued by what you say, and i think i understand it. i guess here's where i would tie them together. i mean, i think yossi is addressing what we in the jewish community have to face which are questionses and challenges and the crisis around jewish nationhood. which is israel, of course, but it has to then deal with the larger sense of the jewish nation which is who are we and how are we connect connected and how do we understand each other. and, you know, the zionist founders said, you know, we'll save judaism after we save the jews, right?
i think that's part after that -- part of that tension that you're speaking to. i guess what i'm saying is we are in a, i hope, blessed position in 2018 that for the immense challenges and threats facing israel that worry me greatly, there is is still an opportunity in israel and outside of israel for the pursuit of our jewishness in all its forms including f, including the family, a nationalism piece and that we're just -- we can work at the same time toward all of these things that we aspire to be. >> i would just add that what you and i have in common i think are really two things. we're both spiritual seekers, and we're both journal isists. >> right. >> those don't always go together -- >> no. >> -- as you wrote in your book. >> yeah. >> and so i think that each of those poles helps create some balance and makes sure that one
doesn't spin too far out in one or another -- >> right. but we also have to be better than this national conversation. we've got to do a better job as a community. we're capable of doing a better job as a commitment. i like to believe in something i call spiritual citizenship which is how do we hold our ethal framework and our spiritual values and what god expects of us, how do we take that into the community in terms of how we live and how we respect each other. and by the way, we can't forget that we're jews when we start talking about politics. we should still respect each other's point of view. let's not just mirror the divisiveness of international mirror. is that what i attire to be? trust me, i'm on the inside. it's not good enough. we can and should be better. we should be able to hold on to this big, mammoth conversation and insist we see the connection and not allow it to feel so disparate. i agree, it can feel disparate, but we as a community can say,
no, no, we get it. let's get our arms around it and hold on to it. >> i would say also a similarity here is both of you are religious people not in the way a traditional religious israeli would say, but each in yourwn way. and to kind of ask the final question here because we want to make sure people have a chance to get some of your books, and you've been gracious enough to sign them as well. to me, ultimately, your book is a hopeful one. and you wrote in a beautiful passage which resonated very deeply for me. you said that a a religious person, you are forbidden to resign to despair. that despair is the equivalent to disbelief in god. to doubt the possibility is to limit god's power. or the possibility of miracles. in my last high holiday sermon which was on israel this past year, i quoted your beautiful framing of the two ways that jews remember. and i sent it to you and had quoted you, and someone came up
to me afterward who is very deeply engaged in israel politics ad,ndai yes, rabbi, but don't you think -- you ended with hope. don't you think it's just naive to hope in this moment? [laughter] and so i want to ask, do you think it is naive to say as a religious person that you are not despairing, that you actually still have hope. >> is and what gives you that hope? >> you know, in the 1990s during the oslo years when there was so much hope andptimism, i was a curmudgeon. [laughter] and i worked in those years at a magazine called the jerusalem report, and my nickname there was yesterday's man. [laughter] because i refused to get with the program and i didn't believe that peace with yasser arafat was going to lead to anything goodment and now -- anything good. and now that everyone is in despair and nobody beliefs in peace anymore, now i feel i can
lower my guard -- [laughter] and say, wait a minute, wait a minute, not so fast. and that's not only a question of temperament. finish i think that if you look at the middle east today, there's on the one happened this pathological -- on one hand this pathological disintegration. large parts of the middle east are devoreing themselves. order -- devouring themselves. on the other hand, there's an unimagined alliance, so far tacit, security alliance between israel, the saudis, the gulf states, other parts of the sunni world which we couldn't have imagined even two years ago. and no one could have conceived of israel and saudi arabia as strategic allies. and i say that the one from my point of view, the one civil very lining of the iran deal was that it brought saudi arabia and israel together against the deal. and so we are, we're looking
at -- look, just a couple of weeks ago the saudi crown prince was asked at a forum here of, in new york with the conference of presidents of major jewish organizations is there an islamic prohition to recognize manying a jewish state. and he said unequivocally, he said we in saudi arabia have no problem with israel, with the right of israel to exist. i had to read that a few times. we in saudi arabia have no problem? what -- [laughter] the last 70 years -- [laughter] and so events shift in the middle east so quickly. and, look, i'm old enough to remember anwar sadat getting off the plane in ben-gurion airport. and you have to understand the context of that. people don't remember anymore just how stunning that moment was. four years earlier sadat had
attacked israel on yom kippur and was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 israeli soldiers. so that was the most hated man in israel. he steps off the plane, and there are thousands of people cheering him in the streets, and squares are being named in his honor. and so that's israel. and and that's the reality that we live with. and i've lived in israel now for 35 years which is exactly half the life of the state of israel. and i have seen over these years at least three distinct israels; the israel of the 1980s which was a very depressed and divided israel, the israel of the '90s which was divided and depressed but also high-tech israel and the russian alia, and then the israel of the 2000s which is an israel deeply are under siege. and so israel is one of the most fluid societies that i know. and if you're asking, angela,
what gives me hope or faith, i am acutely aware or -- and i think that this is true on one level for most jewish israelis. you had asked earlier what is the jewish identity of secular israelis. and i think that what most jewish israelis -- secular, orthodox, traditional -- have in common is that on some level we're all aware that our lives are improbable. that we are living a story that makes no sense. and it makes no rational sense. and so in that sense, our national story -- and this really takes me right to the place of the conversation that american jews and israelis need to have, which is a conversation about what does our story tell us about faith, about god. and it's not an easy story. >> yep. >> but to look at our story and to realize that my daily life in
jerusalem,he most mundane, boring details of my daily life were the wildest fantasies of our ancestors. >> true. >> and so that empowers. and i think, you know, anomalies of israeli society is the happiness index can, right? >> yeah. >> the u.n. actually has this thing called the happiness index where they list, they grade cups by the level of -- grade countries by the level at how they poll. and israel, we have been in the number 11 spot now for two or three years which is extraordinary because i know of no people that complains more -- [laughter] and maybe there's a correlation, you know? but why, why are israelis who live with relentless existential threats, everyone in israel knows that the next war has already begun.
everybody knows that it's not a question of whether there is going to be an israeli/iranian war, but we have just seen the first phase of that war last week. and that war is just a matter of when and not if. and yet how do we keep scoring so ridiculously high on the happiness index? and i think part of that is is this sense that most of us have -- again, whether you're secular or a believer -- that our lives in israel have some kind of metaphysical meaning. and however you interpret that, whether it's transcending my own limited existence and having in this strange relationship with thousands of years of ancestors or whether it is literally a latiship with a transcendent being who is involved in one way or another in our destiny. personally and collectively.
but i think that it's impossible to really be an israeli and be in despair. you can certainly be pessimistic, and i'm deeply pessimistic about the short term. but like most israelis, i think we are profoundly faithful and hopeful about the future. >> beautiful. so -- [applause] i just want to thank both of you. [applause] what an extraordinary conversation to be able to share in. we're thrilled that danny levine is selling books in the back. i just want to make a couple of quick thanks before we leave. i want to thank people from my team, nicole and lauren and people who helped make sure that this program could happen. our partners at the jewish week with, we are thrilled to always partner with you and with uj
federation. because i'm a rabbi, i'm going to actually have us end with a prayer, so if i could invite u to just rise for a moment, because i do actually think, yossi, your book -- and yours, david -- are a prayer to raise up to ourhestig self, to emphasize in a deep way. so i'm going to put these words up if someone could help me, because i think many of you know this. it is not a traditional prayer, but it is a prayer for what we love about israel carrying both the bitter and the sweet. so if you'll join me in this. ♪ ♪
>> thank you for joining us. >> thank you. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> over the years booktv has covered hundreds of books on foreign affairs such as american university's sarah snyder on america's inclusion of human rights activism in foreign policy, immigration and its impact on our global standing and yale's amy chua on how group identity shapes foreign policy. watch any of these programs and more by visiting booktv.org and searching foreign policy book in the search barr at the top of the -- search bar at t