As the Middle East conflict enters its most violent phase, Tom Segev offers a lively, contentious polemic against cherished and rigid notions of Israel's national unity and culture. In his many works of history, Tom Segev has challenged the entrenched understanding of crucial moments in Israel's past. Now, in a short, sharp, polemical book, Segev has turned his sights from Israeli history to confront some revered assumptions about the country today. Drawing on personal experience as well as all kinds of artifacts from Israeli popular culture -- shopping malls, fast food, public art, television, religious kitsch -- Segev offers a controversial point of view: the sweeping Americanization of the country, rued by most, has had an extraordinarily beneficial influence, bringing not only McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts but the virtues of pragmatism, tolerance, and individualism. And, in the fierce battle over the future of Zionism, Segev welcomes the diffusion of national identity and ideology that has taken place in the last decade as a harbinger of a new spirit of compromise and openness.
Segev's last book, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, was a New York Times best book of 2000 and enjoyed bestseller status after September 11. Now Segev presents a startling and necessary view of contemporary Israel: it is a place so Americanized that the old Zionist collective identity has been replaced by individualism and consumerism; it is a place of ethnic and religious turmoil where traditional Israeli identity has become painfully fractured. It is a place where revisionist New Historians (of whom Segev is one), using documents that became available only in the early 1980s, have shattered cherished Zionist myths, and archeologists, not finding evidence to confirm biblical tales, have shattered others. As a result, Israelis are filled with anger and confusion. For all these reasons, Segev contends, Israel is on the brink of a post-Zionist era. Post-Zionism is a fighting word in Israel, but Segev makes a powerful case for it in reasoned and measured tones. He nonjudgmentally presents long excerpts from voices on both sides of Israel's culture wars, wars as fierce as any the U.S. has experienced voices that are impassioned and anguished as they discuss whether to include the work of a Palestinian poet in the Israeli curriculum or admitting that they must let go of occupied territory despite strong emotional ties to it. Zionism has been a success, Segev argues, and its time has past. But, he admits sadly, "Palestinian terrorism seems to push Israelis back into the Zionist womb." Indeed, this may not be the best time for Segev to receive a fair hearing, but this slender book will be indispensable to anyone trying to understand current events in Israel and the Middle East. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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May 01, 2003
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