Shmuel Rosner on Why American Jews Need to Change
King-of-Jewish-Media Shmuel Rosner has moved his show from Ha'aretz to the Jerusalem Post, and, to celebrate, I thought I would ask him a bunch of earnest questions about the future of his country, and also about hummus:
Jeffrey Goldberg: Is what we're seeing in Hebron a continuation of the same sort of settler struggle, or does it represent something new in the evolution of the movement?
Shmuel Rosner: It is not exactly new, but yet another proof that the settlement movement is crumbling and that the fear some people shared--that the state of Israel will not be able to deal with the possible need to evacuate settlements--has no basis in reality.
What happened in Hebron and is happening now in the West Bank is, of course, very troubling, but it is also somewhat encouraging. The Israeli government had vowed to evacuate a house in Hebron and, once the order was given, it unceremoniously did it within an hour or so. The radical elements threatening to prevent such evacuation proved to be a paper tiger, and the disgusting acts of "revenge" they were perpetrating after the fact are signs of frustration, not strength. Those radicals are not only alienated from Israel's larger society, they are also at odds with the settlement movement itself.
Of course, this does not mean that Jewish radicals are not a cause for concern. As we've learned time and again, events in this region can be easily ignited by acts of alienated fundamentalists. So I think the real question for now--a question to which one can receive more than one answer--is about the real number of people aligning themselves with those fringe elements of the Jewish far-right. Surely, it is more than a bunch of kids. Yet, again, the house in Hebron was not "defended" by thousands, but rather by hundreds. And contrary to what these people presumably believe, the lines they were crossing will not make the state more reluctant to "deal" with them, but rather more determined.
JG: You just moved back to Israel. What's your least favorite aspect of life there? And, what don't you miss about America?
SR: The answer to this question is very simple, but it is also complicated: the smallness of Israel is the least favorite aspect of life here, but of course, it is also one of those things that make Israel the special country that it is. It is what gives Israel its sense of intimacy, what makes Israeli society a close-knit society. It is this thing that makes me feel as if I really know almost every tree and every turn of every road here. As if I know so many people that I can barely cross a street without being interrupted by someone I know from school, or the military, or work, or my kids' school.
But it is also what makes Israel intense in a way that can be suffocating; it is what makes it a country of limited opportunities and a place in which one can't escape, not even for a while, from the all-too-familiar things that one already knows. A couple of years ago, not long after coming to Washington, I was interviewing Charles Krauthammer for the newspaper (I think this interview was published only in the Hebrew edition), and I remember him saying something that is obvious, but was also an eye opener for me, because of the way he framed it. He said that no American can really understand the psyche of people living in a very small country, and he was quoting Milan Kundera's definition of a small nation: "one whose very existence may be put in question at any moment; a small nation can disappear and it knows it."
As for things I do not miss about America--that's easy, but might suprise you: American bureaucracy. Amazingly, I grew up believing that the US is not just the land of opportunity, but also the land of efficiency and good organization. I'm sorry to report that my impression of America is quite different. I found your bureaucracy so impersonal, so inflexible, so unwilling to make life easier for those in need of services, so by-the-book-no-matter-how-dumb-the-book-might-be, that its mind boggling. In this case, maybe it is the smallness of Israel that makes its services--from the government responding to citizens' complaints to the last cashier in the smallest of supermarkets--so much better. It is all the qualities that gave Israelis a bad name--their short-temper, their nosiness, their tendency to cut corners--that makes them better at giving a better service. They might not be as polite--they aren't as polite--but they will actually help you fix what needs fixing. What you get in America is the most polite ineffectiveness one can get. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, press zero and I'll transfer you to the next available agent.
JG: Do American Jews have a role to play in bringing about a just and equitable solution to the Middle East crisis?
JG: Does anyone read Ha'aretz anymore now that you're not there? And could you, as briefly as possible, explain the biggest flaws in the way Israelis practice journalism?
SR: Does anyone still read Ha'aretz? You tell me. I am now more interested in those who read my blog in the Jerusalem Post. As to the second part of your question, Israel, in general, is journalistic haven. The informality of the country makes it much easier for reporters to call high officials at their cell phones over the weekend. It makes it easier for them to get into every event in every corner of the (small) country. Israelis practice journalism with the same qualities and flaws they do everything else. They are resourceful and creative, but in too many cases they are also very aggressive and nuance-averse. That's a real problem for people interested in serious journalism.
SR: Israel has made a commitment - not to Obama but rather to Bush - to evacuate illegal outposts. I hope Israel will do exactly that without a need for Obama to apply pressure. It is a shame that such a thing is a matter of discussion between the US and Israel: what's "illegal" should be removed by Israel not because of some outside intervention, but because Israel
The best hummus I know of--and I hardly know them all--can be found in a small shop, just across the street from the new "Mishkennot Ruth Daniel" Jewish Reform Center in Jaffa. It's been there forever, and if you don't mind cigarette ashes in your food, you can order some salad too.