Gershom Gorenberg

Gershom Gorenberg is a senior correspondent for The Prospect. He is the author of The Unmaking of Israel, of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 and of The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. He blogs at South Jerusalem. Follow @GershomG.

Recent Articles

Be Quiet, Bibi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is speaking about the situation in Egypt out of fear. He shouldn't.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference with Gordon Brown. (Flickr/Downing Street's photostream)
Avoiding comment is a basic skill that every diplomat and politician should master. Unfortunately, it's one that Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to learn. Nothing requires the prime minister of Israel to comment publicly on the uprising against President Hosni Mubark's regime in Egypt. But Netanyahu simply can't resist the urge, especially when meeting with naive Europeans who don't understand the Middle East. "Our concern is that when there are rapid changes, without all aspects of a modern democracy in place, what will happen -- and it has happened already in Iran -- will be the rise of an oppressive regime of radical Islam," Netanyahu said at a press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel soon after the uprising began. This week, when meeting with European diplomats, he repeated his warning: Islamic radicals, he explained, could "exploit the situation to seize power in the country and lead it backward." Netanyahu -- son of a renowned historian whose magnum opus was on...

The Vengeance of the Occupation

There's a limit to how long a fragile democracy like Israel can maintain an undemocratic regime next door.

I know that the Yiddish writer Sholem Asch didn't intend his classic play, God of Vengeance , as an allegory about Israel and the impact of the occupation. The play was first staged 60 years before Israel conquered the West Bank. All the same, what's happening in the Jewish state keeps tempting me to read Asch's drama as an allegory. In "God of Vengeance," a character named Yankel Chapchovich in an unnamed Eastern European town runs a brothel in his basement while trying to bring up his daughter as a chaste Jewish girl on the floor above. To protect her purity, he installs a Torah scroll in his home. His plan naturally fails: There's a limit to how much tribute vice can pay to virtue before the line between them vanishes. Likewise, there's a limit to how long a fragile democracy can maintain an undemocratic regime next door, in occupied territory, before democracy at home is corrupted. A border, especially one not even shown on maps, cannot seal off the rot. Take, for example, the...

Beware the Military-Religious Complex

The Israeli army's ties to the Orthodox right distort Judaism and make peace harder to achieve.

An Israeli soldier near the West Bank town of Nablus (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)
Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi stood at a lectern last week wearing the kind of size XXL skullcap that is the social marker of Orthodox settlers, praising an army program that is the pride of Israel's religious right. He looked slightly bashful. Ashkenazi, Israel's military chief of staff, lives in a rather boring suburb of Tel Aviv, not a West Bank settlement. He's not an Orthodox Jew, so he usually doesn't wear a hat or skullcap, except for formal occasions when he puts on his military beret. As a military man, he's officially not a politician. Then again, you don't get appointed to head the Israel Defense Forces without a sharp sense of which way the political winds are blowing. Before I get into the details, let me note several implications of this incident. It demonstrates, yet again, that when politicians create an alliance between the state and a religious movement, the outcome is lose-lose for both. In the strictly Israeli context, it shows the growing dependence of the army on soldiers...

Corroboration, Not Revelation

So far, the WikiLeaks cables from Israel confirm that Netanyahu is exploiting the Iran issue to avoid serious negotiations with the Palestinians.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
In January 1969, the labor attaché at the U.S. embassy in Israel sent a report classified "confidential" to the State Department. In it, she passed on the inside information on Israel's ruling Labor Party that she'd gained by having an over-the-hill politician named Golda Meir over for dinner. Meir had said that then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol would run for re-election that fall. "The tone of her remarks indicated that any other possibility was too ridiculous to consider," attaché Margaret Plunkett commented. Eshkol's health was "perfectly okay," according to Meir. As for Meir herself, she'd only agreed under pressure from the party to run again for Knesset. The report would remain classified for at least 12 years. Eshkol was actually terribly ill at the time. The ruling party's inner circle had already chosen Meir as his successor. He died a month later. In those days, if you wanted to leak diplomatic documents, you had to copy them one at a time. Had a would-be whistle-blower at...

Freezing Netanyahu

Despite the appearance of wild generosity, Obama and Clinton could have Netanyahu in a very tight spot.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
"There must be more here than meets the eye," friends and colleagues have been saying about the deal that Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu reached for a new three-month freeze on West Bank settlement building. How could Clinton and her boss be willing to pay so much -- 20 new F-35s, a guaranteed American veto in the Security Council on recognizing unilateral Palestinian independence -- for so little? Surely Obama and Clinton must be up to something. Actually, I'm beginning to suspect that they are up to something. But before I explain, two provisos. The first is that there's a common psychological error among smart people: When they see other smart people doing what look like folly, they assume that a hidden, complex plan has got to be at work. Yet as historian Barbara Tuchman taught us, intelligent leaders do sometimes march, eyes wide- open, into folly, rendering moot all the complex rationalizations of how this dumb-looking act will lead to wonderful results. The second...

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