tv Yossi Klein Halevi Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor CSPAN June 23, 2018 10:30am-11:51am EDT
so what i suggested why don't we bring in a republican pollster. why don't we bring in a republican strategist. not everyone would do it, but we find some to do it. why don't we bring in someone from the think tank or a twriwr that has more conservative views. why don't we think how they're thinking about the world and how they think about politics. maybe we'll learn something. >> afterwards airs every saturday at 10:00 p.m. eastern and sunday at 9:00 p.m. eastern and pacific. all previous afterward programs are available to watch on our website book tv.org. . . .
and faith and god and where israel sits in and it was not primarily a political conversation but given the events of this week that is where we have to begin. i am going to start here, you published this exquisite book, it was published yesterday, the official publishing date, may 15th, for some people in your part of the world is known as the day of the catastrophe, the day after the establishment of the state of israel on may 14th. that is quite some time for the publish date for your book. we see how gaza is burning and i wonder, to begin, what would you want to say to your palestinian neighbors in a week like this? >> first of all, thank you, it is a privilege to be with you and with you, david. good evening, everyone. i would start by saying that i
share the anguish of palestinians this week, the anguish of the casualties, the shattering of a whole people, and i don't share their outrage, see "specifically of what is played out on the gaza border. i don't share the outrage, and the wider context. we also have a story. this is not being heard in the west. it was rare to hear the palestinian story, and a
necessary corrective their story has come in but the imbalance is in the other direction. what i tried to tell mice palestinian neighbor is i am ready d eager to engage you, to hear your story, to hear your story however painful it is, but i need you to hear my story too. the image of israel and the jewish people is set to palestinian story in the media, in schools and mosques, a distortion in the deepest way. and and it is monster's. and if you want to step back
this week. what palestinians are gathering in protest against is not the result of 1967. many of us in his real, if you were to uproot every settlement tomorrow and withdraw to the 67 borders that would not substantially alleviate the palestinian grievance which is a grievance over 1948 and gaza is the classic case of that. when palestinians say they want to go home, palestinians living in gaza, where are you? you are living in a part of palestine, the only part of palestine with a semi-sovereign government, why are you
demonstrating to return back to homes, your grandparents or great-grandparents lost in a war 70 years ago that you are never going back to. there is a certain fantasy that is built in, into the palestinian demands which this week really highlights. 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 is life. >> you will have to forgive me but because these two are giants in my mind i should also give a little introduction to the two of you in case anyone might not know you both. yossi klein halevi is senior fellow at the hartman institute. he cofounded with a mom abdulla the muslim leadership initiative which trains muslims or teaches them about israel and zionism in the land of
israel which has been controversial in the muslim community but courageous and incredibly important. he has written many books including light dreamers which won the jewish book award and is a new yorker born here in brooklyn and went to brooklyn college and a masters of journalism and moved to israel in 1982 and lives in jerusalem and we are pleased not only that he is here tonight as well. and in the journalism scene and over the last 25 years this work has taken him across the world. he is now a political analyst in cnn and host of the gregory podcast and a quite beautiful memoir, and faced in a secular world how it houses your faith. and the next question to you,
the image of this week for those paying attention to the news in israel was the split screen that we saw. we saw the picture of benjamin netanyahu unveiling the jerusalem embassy and intentionally on split screen, we saw smoke and people dying in gaza and this was intentional image that goes viral and doesn't have a lot of nuance to it or complexity or historical background and context, as someone who has been in media what is the responsibility of the media to give us more than the convenient image where we split screen and cast people into villain and victim? >> i will answer that a couple ways, to directly address that the problem is the news media
doesn't care about the story because it is intractable and it is not moving, nobody cares. >> good news for an israeli writer. >> that is the reality, people don't pay attention, you pay attention to flash points, don't do appropriate context, there's a lot of anti-israel bias in selection, placement, tonnage of coverage and up-close imagery, it is very easy to provide broader context and insisted on saying hamas is a terror organization recognized by the united states and that is an objective fact. it is unfortunate but where i want to take this, i am thinking about our conversation and what i hope people will take away is the split screen
of my jewish identity, that played out for me because i will agree with eric in a way that he and i won't agree with, that israel is too central to our jewish identity. i agree except i will put the emphasis in a different way, it is too central to our jewish identity. what is happening in israel is tragic, loss of life, the attempts to breach the wall and ultimately deny our jewish story and israeli jewish story, to displace israelis, that is tragic too. the notion that we have to begin here on this topic also bothers me because the question of israel's politics and
negotiations with the palestinians reaches my head and heart but doesn't always touch my soul and i think we have to find the proper balance of dealing with a week like this and in all its complexity, not letting it overshadow how we think of ourselves as jews in the rest of our day and the rest of our week. maybe set it up that way. >> i will follow up on that in a minute because i would push back, as a person who does not understand my jewishness without israel. each of us have different views on how central israel should be but sticking with the split screen image i want to push, the very different split screen experience in israel or
american jew, and the vast majority, the embassy move was a historic celebration and split to american jews, a lot of complicated feelings around it, some were very upset about it, what was going on in gaza which for most israelis there is great pain around it but not a lot of moral ambiguity that this is their right to defend themselves, this needs to happen, they are taking excessive force and in israel on the same day all these things were happening there were 10,000 israelis in ravine square celebrating that an israeli had won the 2018 eurovision competition with this awesome song, doing a woman's empowerment song, and it was completely unexpected and when there is talk about boycotting israel, the fact
that israel won was enormous and this is almost completely off the radar of a typical american jew who has no idea. you have this incredibly different experience of historic day in israel when all of this is going on and an israeli would experience this in a different way from a split screen of an american jew. what does it feel like to be an israeli in america when all this happened and what is your sense of what this says about the difference between diaspora and israeli jews? >> speaking of a split screen, 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 been writing about israel from israel for american jews primarily. i never actually left this
community and the growing dissidence between these two centers of jewish life which is what you are describing, is increasingly painful to me. i feel that i am seeing the project of my life which is an interpreter, i tried to play a similar role to israelis speaking of american jewry. what has happened in american jewry since i left, the renaissance and part of the jewish community. that american jews are rightly expressing. a simultaneous translator between two different jewish experiences.
in one sense i think there is a built in disconnect between the two communities that is simply unavoidable and that is we live in opposite geographies. in america, you live in the freest and accepted diaspora jews have ever experienced. the most welcoming and we live in the most hostile region, most dangerous region on the planet because each center of jewish life has created an opposite response. and it is the most environment you are in and the hostile environment has become the toughest kid on the block and that means we are on a collision course in our strategy.
the irony for israel, one of the acute strategic dilemmas we face, the tactics that keep us relatively safe in the middle east, for example creating the deterrence where the message gets out to hamas, palestinians and gaza that if you try to break through the fence you meet with live bullets and that has been an effective strategy. what israelis are saying is if the fence had broken down and thousands of people streamed over the border there are thousands of casualties. in the middle east that makes week. >> the media questions,
everybody goes to their battle stations. the beauty of the book is to transcend that. but palestinians go to their station, the media does its thing and does it poorly and the community in america is gripped by this, where should we stand, there is a lot of division around that, the politics and a round of security decisions because we don't live your life, we don't know. don't misunderstand me, israel is critically important to my head, my heart and my soul. for me that is not purely a --
it is important to me as an american that israel is secure, as a jew, it is so much deeper than that, as a holy place, my journey through the bible takes me and gives such meaning and as a community we are asked to rally around israel in a defensive sense which is you should give to protect israel, you should give and you never know, things could go sideways and god for bid anything should happen to israel and there's a lot of agreement about that but we stand apart because it is a different language, different geography and american jews don't understand the day today and growing tired of trying to understand the day today. >> israelis need to accept that. if american jews feel the way you do toward israel i don't think we need to expect more
than that and the obsessive list in parts of the jewish community is creating back lash in the jewish community and an imbalance in the community and that is very painful. >> you talk about security. >> i feel a connection to you. had a wonderful experience when talking about my book, a minister in san francisco, i feel i have met an old friend for the first time. i feel that way with you and why do i feel that way? it is because we share something i believe is a soulful connection that i want to deepen and i look forward to
visiting you, that is different, a different kind of connection that we share. so the interesting piece about that is when we talk as a community about that connection, israel, i may love israel but israel doesn't love me. you may come to love me. the israeli government doesn't love me back. it doesn't view me as a jew. if you a don't view you as a jew from the synagogue. >> or their rabbi. >> israel wants me to stand on the corner at all times but doesn't recognize me, nor my children who they wouldn't recognize as jews even though i am committed and on the path. that is a factor that i think
is part of this american jewish identity. >> i see you pushing back particularly on a political israel and you are pushing for a more multifaceted multidimensional way of seeing israel which includes the people, the culture, history, the context. i just wonder if that is a luxury we american jews can see when if there is literally existential threat to the country, we would like to make israel about more than the politics, let's make it spiritual. when security is beyond reproach in some of these questions. >> like jack nicholson said, you need me on that wall, you want me on that wall and do what the israeli government on that wall protecting israel and the military as a family, we support that. as an american jew and american jewish leader you have to think
more about the ties that bind, is it just thinking every day about the existential threat to israel? >> got to be more. >> one of the ongoing frustrations that i have is we don't know each other's jewish lives. is really music, israeli rock music is some of the greatest music that is being produced anywhere. not that i know it is happening in finland but it is extraordinary music and i think it is the greatest jewish music being created anywhere. the music we hear on the radio that our kids dance to is profoundly jewish and american jews are being deprived of one of the sources of jewish creativity, vitality in this generation. at the same time, israelis have
a very superficial and 1-dimensional idea of what american judaism is and don't understand the different forms of experimentation. what i tried to tell my fellow israelis about american judaism is american jews, those who commit to a jewish life actually feel joy in their judaism. that is a very strange idea. israelis feel 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 is this extraordinary sense of what you have managed to do here is to own judaism. in israel we feel we are owned by judaism and you own your judaism. you can do with judaism whatever you like because it is america and you can do anything
you like, even judaism and that is something that is liberating. we need that in a sovereign jewish state to figure out wha judaism should look like in a free public jewish space. >> part of what you're getting at is it is a luxury. i have a lot of luxuries in my life including as an american jew whose father changed his name from ginsberg to gregory and my mother is carolyn fitzpatrick which is why i have this here. i self identify my whole life so i haven't experienced anti-semitism in the same way others have. what is important is to understand we as american jews can and should hold this thing we call identity and all its components parts and should not be told it has to be one thing or another.
we cannot say we should just focus on israel and forget about becoming literate jews or 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. that is where the breakdown is happening. i respect and admire all parts of jewish organizational life but i guess i want to look. when i come back i was so moved by your book, ike bought for copies. >> did you hear that, everybody? four. >> i would love you to inscribe this to my wife who is not a jew for whom the question of israelis complicated in our family life and i think you speak to her about us in a way that i love. i want you to inscribe it to my daughter because i want her to begin to feel what i feel about what it means to connect to our jewish brothers and sisters in
israel and why that should matter and you have a lyrical way to explain that to her. let's get the balance right and pull this together. >> if i can say a word about the balance and where i feel each community has something to teach the other, what we need to learn from you is to take the quest for identity seriously and that is what i love about your book, israelis tend to take identity for granted. it is the air we breathe. you don't have to think deeply about being jewish in israel and most israelis don't think deeply about those issues and that is a strength and weakness of having a sovereign jewish state. where i think american jews can use some infusion of israeli
nests which you were speaking about a moment ago which is taking x essential threats seriously. my nightmare of a dysfunctional american jewish israeli relationship is each community will take on the attributes of its geography and israel will become increasingly middle eastern, increasingly brutal, we will be brutal jews and american jews will become what my father, a holocaust survivor called stupid jews and a stupid jew is someone who has lost the ability to deal with existential threats, who doesn't even understand that jews could face x essential threats and so we need to have these conversations because each community has developed a certain approach to jewish life that the other community needs to hear.
>> we have a lot to learn from each other and one thing that gets in the way is the way communities feel hurt and betrayed by the other, we can talk a little bit about how the american jewish community feels hurt and betrayed in ways we are not acknowledged, and pluralistic judaism is not valid in the way certain democratic values are not valued but tell us the way israelis feel betrayed by the american jewish community. >> i would like to affirm the other part of that equation which is that i really do understand why american jews feel betrayed by israel. as somebody who's deep commitment is jewish people, i feel betrayed as well and what i try to tell my fellow
israelis is in some way we don't deserve the love of american jewry. i don't really believe that and would not say that to american jews. >> you just did. >> for 70 years the state of israel has been insulting and humiliating diaspora jews. at some point there is a price to pay for that. and the current drift, alienation, is a belated expression of that hurt. so that is one side of the equation. the other side is a deep sense of hurt, i would even use the word betrayal, that many of us felt during the iran deal debate and in israel the overwhelming majority of the political system from the
labour party right word opposed the deal, something like 90% of israelis opposed the deal. >> you could never get that many choose to agree. that is amazing. >> let alone getting saudi arabia and israel to agree about iran and large parts of the american jewish community set aside or actively supported the deal. i experienced that as a blow to the heart. i wrote an op-ed after the deal past in which i addressed the american jewish community and said for the last year we have been getting messages from you about how alienated you are from israel so let me return the favor. i'm hereby divorcing and i have spent 30 years going back and forth between these two
communities and i'm finished. i never sent it out. >> i respectfully push back on that and say there is a lot, things that is really government does with regard to its security, politics, with domestic politics that i may agree with or not agree with or feel distant from but at that level it is -- there's a family aspect of it and i'm going to say okay. .. . >> i'm really not sure. but it was the united states government position that it took, and it was its deal. and so the notion at the people hood level, i get worried about
us allowing ourselves to contemplate separation, let 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 of is really important because what you say to me is, listen, you do have certain liberties in america and all these doors open up to me and that's great. but don't forget that there is an ancient hatred that krouches at the door to paraphrase the bible. and that is this ant sem tism that's there. and what you live every day with i cannot turn a blind eye too. just the other day at a school in my community, there was a horrific expressions of anti-semiti anti-semitism. two kids were expelled from a very high profile prep school. and it was very painful to me i was talking to some of the parents. because it's a sign of the
social media and how many young people don't understand the power and the pain of anti-semiti anti-semitism. and so i need to be reminded of that as an american jew. and i will take that lesson. but i wanted to say a word for god here, which is, you know, the reason why i feel so strongly about israeli is that when i have visited israel, i have felt very close to god. it is a powerful, soulful feeling to be there on chabot. to be at the kotel. and i am even willing to deal with all of the fact that i can't take my daughter to the same part of the kotel, 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 how to deal with these -- what we may see as betrayals on the
part of our government to stay connected to people who try to understand each other in the same way that you want us -- you want israeli, you want american jews to understand the other in, you know, among palestinians. >> i feel very strongly that the future of our relationship are exactly those issues that today divide us, and that is judism and how we express our judism. 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 that's -- that is the area that we haven't even begun to explore. >> uh-huh. >> 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 happens. 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 they would not longer be exi exiled. and the great fears 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. >> yes. >> 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're living one form of dream that has been fulfilled, and that's
-- that was a deep dream that jews carried. we thought we had it in the 19 hundreds. and we kept hoping this time it was it. so even though we had this great dream of return, we also had a parallel kind of sub mer sieve -- subversive dream. we have found it in our homeland. 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. 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 having. >> and so i really agree with that. and i think rabbi talked about the importance of the jewish calendar as being the things that you don't write on the to-do list but you write in the diary. because it's really more permanent. so 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 tell me think about how i keep a skending in my -- ascending in my judism. you know, it's interesting.
when i was in israel there was a group of us and we met afterwards with the president. and it was very emotional for me. it was an emotional day. but i was less emotional because i was more kind of emotionally disciplined in that moment. but later on i said sitting in the presidential palace, i said what's the point of all of this? what is the point of all of this? and he said in a kind of way and maybe it was oversimplified, judism can't survive. he said you on this spiritual, ethical path, trying to be the best person you can be and failing keep it on that path. because that's what this is about. it's to keep jews safe for this pursuit. >> so this is, i think, the crux of what's so painful. we can decide that it's not an easy place for you or me to be
in israel -- to be jews in israel. let's put it to the side. i feel bad for israelis. because for most of them, they do not have access to judism -- there are very few other options. so you have -- and you have when you have state controlled religious status. you have a jew that says i can't get married. of all places, i can't have a jewish marriage with my reform rabbi in the jewish state. so i think about even putting aside jews, you can come home and 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 jewishness in israel. >> first of all, i'm not saying this to justify but to explain how we got to this point of having only one form of judism. the overwhelming majority has family roots in countries where there was no alternative religious to orthodoxy. i do see the beginnings of change. and i would urge american jews to pay taeattention -- closer attention to what is beginning to stir on the grass roots. one of the things that american jews tend to not understand 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 the 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 called tax on the ground. and what i urge the liberal denominations to do is create facts on the grounds. 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 conform tiv movements. now, the deal should never have been rescinded. it was outrajs -- outrageous. on the other hand, there is an area of the wall that is there
for prayer for medication. my wife sara and i -- sara who is here with us, we're med tarts -- meditators. sara runs a meditation facility which you all are 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 quietist part of the wall. [ laughing ] >> now, why isn't there non-stop 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 mitzvahs. there should be round the clock prayer. you can go to the wall at 3:00
in the morning, and they pray. go at 3:00 in the afternoon to the egalitarian space, and you might see sara med tagt -- 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. >> can i ask you, rabbi, how you think about if we seem to be talking about the ability to hold certain parts of this relationship up at the same time. so as i've thought about this and as we're talking about it, there's very much the kind of jewish nation family story. who are we? where do we come from? the state of israel and the state of the state of israel that demands our attention as a people, as a connected people who love each other. and have stuck together and survived even in exile. so that's an important conversation. then there's the question of
faith. of relationship with god. i guess my question to you is how do you think i 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 scomplution -- exclusion of another. >> well, i remember a beautiful teaching in which you say the way jews understand god is not necessarily through nature or through other ways that they think about god or god who acts through history. who acts like through acts of not necessarily intervention but things we think about that. so for me i think just being able to uphold the sense of hopefulness is an act of faith. a way that is kind of intertwined. also i think engaging with israel that is much deeper than the political level and loving
the people who are there. loving the culture that comes out of there, which i do listen to that rock music. >> we have to talk about that. >> yes. >> and i think i remember a beautiful moment when i was in israel just last summer and i visited the place where they started something because they realized they wanted some observance. they still wanted it to be a jewish city. so they started this thing where people came together. they had -- someone would give a little but it was mostly filled with intellectual israeli. i remember thinking about how this happened and it was an israeli think 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 there was secular israelis and
people from all over the world. and looking over at this water and then the next prayer was a prayer that was actually a poem set to kind of -- by an israeli rock singer. i was just thinking this only happens in israel. kind of the melting of biblical and modern and secular all together in this way right in the places where all of this -- all of this history happened of our people. to me, that was like this moment of like this is what we cannot get anywhere else but in israeli israel. and it changes my sense of connection to jewish people hood. so i guess part of this is about being there and experiencing it. but it's also maintaining a sense of space. i mean, i would ask -- i want to ask both of you about where god plays a role here. but if you think of a god that intervenes in history in some way and 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, they -- he
decided god is not deserving of my prayers anymore. which is such a jewish response because it's not that god doesn't exist. it says god still exists. 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 saved or redeemed us. in this moment, do you feel like god is playing a role at this moment and are we being punished or rewarded? what is the role here? >> david, i think i should defer this to you. [ laughing ] >> i actually saw this happening. i was at the wall on my first trip to israel with him. i saw him pray. i saw him become a man of
prayer. my father died a religious jew. very much a believing jew. and what my father would say about the holocaust is there were certain things i don't understand and i'm just effectively putting it on the shelf. and i also think that's a very jewish response is that after awhile you kind of make your peace with god. and then the relationship resumes. i think of the jewish relationship with god as this tument -- tumultuous love story and sometimes god accuses us of faithlessness and sometimes we accuse god of faithlessness. one of my favorite poets jacob glotsky wrote a poem about how in sinai we received the tora and in ublin we gave it back. and my father gave it back after the war. he and actually his generation
gave the tora back. but then he and his generation gain reclaiming it. what i write in my book, i have a chapter in my book about the holocaust and faith. and what i write is i'm not the son of destruction. i'm the son of rebirth. i was able to reestablish a relationship with god, then i certainly feel that i could do that. >> a recent book that you shared. >> there's so much i don't understand about god. but i'm really searching. i don't know how you can be a
believing jew that reads the psalm and not understand what it is to have a longing in israel and as the result of war is almost a sense of a redemption. so i guess for me, you know, i feel like 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 god down to the kind of community level and then i hope it's a reminder where i need god the most is on the amtrak or in the airport. because that's where i feel the most stressed and most aggravated and where i'm most likely to forget this person has a job to do.
this person is stressed out too. this person has been dealing with people who forget to see them. and so i was saying earlier when i first started speaking about my book, a lot of federations would say to me, yeah, we know you've written this book about god. yet we prefer if you didn't really talk about that. we'd rather you talk about anti-semitism and israel and politics. well, now in the trump era, they said, listen, if you can just talk about god, that would be great. don't mention politics. don't mention israel. and i thought part of me was like right on, let's go, let's talk about god. but then i realized it's covering up something really per nishus -- per nishus -- pernicious in our community. we're losing something that god expects of us to see each other as brothers and sisters to respect each other and to say it's okay if we can't agree about our president. it's okay that we -- we can hold
on to 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 is 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, do 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 with 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 happening here at central which i'm so proud that we're hosting. and then we will take questions for a little bit and i'll ask one last question. but i wondered you wrote this
book to your palestinian neighbor. and i know 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. >> yeah. we're going to buy it here. [ laughing ] >> but you are doing your book live in america. not in romala. and you're doing it in a reformed audience? and how did you want this book to be seen? >> so my primary audience is my neighbors. however many or few will read, i don't know. it's -- i'm going to really try to get this out there. and i envision this as the -- as a public conversation between an israeli writer and palestinians and people throughout the arab
world about the jewish story, our envisionist in the region. and this is a -- a sequel in a way to a book that i wrote about 20 years ago which was a journey that i took into palestinian society into islam and christianity in the west bank and gaza to try to understand the palestinian story. so now i'm trying to tell my story. that's my primary audience. at the same time i'm very familiar 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 israeli story for the 21st century. and i feel we're still stuck in an oels israeli narrative. and this really goes back to
much of what you were saying. what is israel in the 21st century? what is israel between the holocaust, between the european roots of zionism in a country that is now a majority of jews from the middle east. and so there's -- 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 will also be translated into hebrew. and there is a whole other kind of conversation that i need to
have with my fellow israelis about what are we thinking is going to be 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 to 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 to american jews. >> right. >> and what's our deep claim that goes way beyond the holocaust. >> right. >> and what should it mean to my teenage children who are part of a generation for whom the holocaust is farther and farther away. >> right. it's as old as inquisition history. >> right. if i can add my blurb. i didn't really know what to expect and i was deeply moved by the book and i feel very strongly that at first 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 love 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 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 has given me the gift of us being a jewish family and sacrificed her own tradition. she doesn't quite understand. i think you so beautifully share our story. and again i say for my daughter, 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 coexist ens that we still can't make a reality. >> so there's the pitch. not just only for yourself.
for every college student you know. for every non-jew that has had any question about israel, 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 rabbi arbach is helping us. so if you have a question, just make a quick question because we don't have a ton of time. you would ask the question quickly. and we'll try to answer succin t succinctly as well of the. >> yossi -- >> where is the question coming from. >> over here. >> i don't see. >> i find the term diasper jew deeply offensive. i'm an american jew and i don't feel i'm in the diasper.
i'm home. i feel like israelis keep using that term as if distancing us from you. i'm only out of israel and it's only 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 heartman 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 jewery, that question is recurring. some of my colleagues will not use the term die aspera. i insist on using it. that is, i would say, what remains of my zionist critique
of jews that don't live in israel. you have to understand how far we have come because once we would have used the term exile to refer to american jewery. and we still have israelis f. you still have some that refer to gala. i can't refer to them 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 koertion -- coercion. many jews living outside of israel have now made a choice. you are a die aspera -- diaspora jew by choice.
that is my 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 life. and i don't mean to say that to denigrate american jewery but rather to strengthen. >> there is a long history of dispora jews. >> i want to thank the panelist for a very enlightening discussion and very informative. as an orthodox jew, one of the things that concerns me the most is the bdf movement. and when i speak to my israeli counter parts, they say what's bdf. we don't know what that is. that's not bothering us at all. well, in america when i speak to my counter parts here in america, it seems to be the
number one trouble facing us and i was wondering what your thoughts are and if it's something we should be concerned about and fight against or is it something that is a fad that is going to go away? >> i think israelis are krnd about bdf, at least in my experience. they may not know the initials but they know there's a growing boycott movement. my concern about bdf 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 number of young americans, including many young american jews. and so there seems to be something tainted about the words zionism in israel. and as soon as -- when you set
up on campus an israel apartheid league, it doesn't matter how many people 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 -- in hebrew we have an expression go prove that you don't have a sister. and i won't explain the contents for that. [ laughing ] >> 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 bdf is how quickly the anti-israel jumps the finer line to anti-semitism. you speak to that that israel itself is a crime. 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 -- it's not only, you know, people who are 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 taint of zionism. we have to educate them. and as much as i feel strongly that we have to become -- and i say to you, as a non-orthodox jew -- how important it is for me as a non-orthodox jew to become more literate in judaism. we then also have to be really literate about the political secular nature of our story and our nation hood and make sure our young people get it. and don't feel stigmatized by it. >> thank you.
[ inaudible conversations ] [ laughing ] >> this is actually addressed to both of you. and it's a statement, a question made as a statement but i'd like to 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 impacted you, made you feel a certain way. but mr. greg re is talking about his a scent to god. it's to god and he's on that path, which is sort of an amorphous thing. and mr. klein halevi is not talking about god really at all about parenthetically but he's talking about facts very much on earth, and that means palestinians in gaza. that means a cynical use of the
people in gaza. there's a huge disparity. and 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 it's a question i have of both of you. >> no. i mean, i'm intrigued by what you say. and i think i understand. i guess here is where i would tie them together. i mean, i think that yossi is addressing what we in the jewish community have to face, which are questions and challenges and the crisis around jewish nation hood. which is israel, of course, but it has to then do with the larger sense of the jewish nation, which is who are we and how are we connect and how do we understand each other. and, you know, what the zionist founder said is that we'll save judaism after we save the jews.
right. and so i think that's part of that tension that you're speaking to. i guess what i'm saying is that we are in a hopeless position in 2018 that for the immense challenges and threats facing israel that worry me greatly, there is still an opportunity in israel and outside of israel for the pursuit of our jewishness in all its form, including faith. including the family. nationalism piece. and that we're just -- we can work at the same time towards all of these things that we a pyre to be. >> i -- aspire to be. >> i would just add that what you and i have in common is i think really two things. we're both spiritual seekers and we're both journalists. >> right. >> those don't always go together, as you wrote in your book. >> no. yeah. >> and so i think that each of those polls creates a balance
and makes sure that one doesn't spin too far out in one direction. >> 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 in the community. i like to believe in something i call spiritual citizenship, which is how do we hold our ethical 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 talk to each other and how we respect each other. and, by the way, we can't forget we're jews when we start talking about politics. we should still respect each other's points of view and be different than the national conversation. let's not just mirror the divisiveness of international media. is that what we aspire 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 that we see the connection and not allow it to
feel so desperate. me as a community can say, no, no, no, we get it. let's get our arms around it and hold on to it. >> i would say that also, you know, a similarity here is both of you are religious people, not in the way that religious israeli would say but each in your own way. and to kind of ask a final question here, because then 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. as a religious person, you are forbidden to resign to the dispair. the dispair is equivalent to disbelieve in god. to doubt the possibility is to limit god's power or the possibility of miracles. in my last holiday sermon which was on israel this last 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 afterwards who is very deeply engaged in israel politics and said, yes, rabbi, but don't you think you -- owe yyou ended wit hope. don't you think it's naïve to hope in this moment. so i want to ask, do you think it is naïve to say as a religious person that you are not dispairing. that you actually still have hope. and what gives you that hope? >> you know, in the 1990s during the outflow years when there was so much hope and optimism, i was a curmudgeon. and i worked in those years at a magazine called the jerusalem report. and my nickname there was yesterday's man. [ laughing ]. >> because i refused to get with the program. and i didn't believe that peace was going to lead to anything good. and now that everyone is in
despair and nobody believes in peace anymore, now i feel i can lower my guard and say, wait a minute. wait a minute. not so fast. and that's not only a question of temperament. i think that if you look at the middle east today, there is on the one hand this pathological disintegration. large parts of the middle east are devouring themselves. on the other hand, there's an unimagined alliance so far past a security alliance between israel, the saudis, the gulf states, other part of the sunni world that we couldn't even imagine two years ago. and no one could have conceived of israel and saudia arabia as strategic allies. and i say that the one from my point of view, the one silver
lining of the iran deal is it that it brought saudi arabia and israel together. and so we're looking at -- look, just a couple of weeks ago the saudi crown prince was asked at a forum here in new york with the presidents of major jewish organizations if there's an islamic prohibition to recognize a jewish state. and he said unequivocally, he said we in saudi arabia have no problem with israel and with the right of israel. i had to read that a few times. we in saudi arabia have no problem. the last 70 years --. [ laughing ] >> and so events shifted the middle east so quickly. look, i'm old enough to remember. i watched the doc getting off the plane at the airport. and you have to understand the context of that. people don't remember anymore just how stunning that moment
was. four years earlier sub dot had attacked israel 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 on the streets and squares are being named in his honor. so that's israel, 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 is a very depressed and divided israel. the israel of the 90s which was divided in the press but also high tech israel and the russian. and then the israel of 2000s which is an israel deeply under siege. and so israel is one of the most
fluid societies that i know. and if you ask what gives me hope or faith, i am acutely aware -- and i think that this is true on one level for most jewish israeli. and you asked earlier what is the secular identity. i think what most jewish israeli orthodox 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 ralings -- 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. >> yeah. >> but to look at our story and
to realize that my daily life in jerusalem, the most mundane, boring details of my daily life were the wild est fantasies of our ancestors. >> true. >> and so that empowers. and i think, you know, one of the great anomalies of israeli society is the happiness u.s. you're aware of the happiness. the u.n. actually has this thing called the happiness index where they list -- they grade countries by the level of how we poll. and israel we have been in the number 11 spot now for two or three years, which is extraordinary because i know of nobody anywhere that explains more. and maybe there's a correlation. [ laughing ] >> but why -- why are israelis
who live with existential threats. everyone in israel knows that the next war has already begun. everybody knows 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 happiness index. and i think part of that 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 meta physical meaning. and however you interpret that, whether it's transcending my own limited existence and having this strange relationship with thousands of years of ancestors. or whether it is literally a relationship with a triscendent
being involved personally and collectively. but i think it's impossible to really be an israeli and be in despair. you can certainly be possess mis tick. and i'm -- 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 i just want to thank --. [ applause ] >> -- both of you. what an extraordinary conversation to be able to share in. we're thrilled that danny lavine from jay levine is selling books in the back. i want to thank people from my team, rabbi nicole arbach and lauren dickel and people who make sure this program do
happen. partners at the jewish week, we're thrilled to always partner with you and with uj federation. because i'm a rabbi, i'm going to have us end with a prayer. but in the a traditional prayer. if i can invite us to just rise for a moment. but i do think yossi your book, and yours david, are each a prayer for us to raise up to our highest self to be understood, to empathize 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. >> thank you. >> 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. ♪ music
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