Choosing Life in Israel, by P. David Hornik (REVIEW)
by Edward Alexander
The first two words of the title Choosing Life in Israel, by P. David Hornik, are fraught with double meaning for any literate Jew. In Deuteronomy 30: 19, Moses calls heaven and earth “to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life.” In 1 Kings 18:21 the prophet Elijah tells all the children of Israel that they cannot vacillate, but must choose sides: “‘How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” For Hornik the choice was between the American corner of Diaspora, where he grew up (near Albany, New York) and Israel, to which he made aliyah (i.e., “went up”) at the age of 30 in 1984. He had come to the conclusion that, whatever the attractions of life in America might be, however tangible the possibility of still living a Jewish life here–the Jewish future lay elsewhere, in the Land of Israel. Although Hornik’s columns deal with a dizzying variety of topics, they are unified by this theme of choice, and in several different ways.
The book comprises sixty short newspaper columns previously published in American Spectator, Frontpage Magazine, and PJ Media. (He has also written for the Jerusalem Post, Moment, and Israel National News.) The first, shorter section of the book, called Living in Israel, is intensely personal, and centers on the author’s decision to depart for Israel. Despite its omnipresent difficulties and dangers (unlikely to diminish greatly in the foreseeable future), Israel has afforded Hornik what Hillel Halkin recommended in Letters to an American-Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Polemic (1977), the most powerful plea for aliyah from America ever written: “a land and a language! They are the ground beneath a people’s feet and the air it breathes in and out. …you cannot even buy cigarettes in Hebrew without stirring up the Bible; you cannot walk the streets of Tel Aviv without treading on promised land.” The immediate causes, or antecedents, of Hornik’s choice of aliyah were outrage at the way in which the great powers treat Israel, and—who knows why any of us do what we do?—Theodore Bikel’s Folk Songs of Israel.
Within America itself, to be sure, Hornik, a burgeoning journalist, had recognized the need to choose “between two opinions” in another sense. Ruth Wisse once divided American Jewry into two parties—the one that judged Judaism by the standards of the New York Times, and the one that judged the New York Times by the standards of Judaism. Finding himself in the latter camp, Hornik has become one of Israel’s best informed and most astute journalists, in the process setting himself in opposition to the ethos of the Times. One of that paper’s self-fascinated stalwarts is the subject of a sharp critique by Hornik called “Thomas Friedman: At Home in a Middle Eastern Mob.” Friedman has, throughout his career, made it clear that he would not have been among those benighted Jews who in 1948 danced in the streets when Ben-Gurion made his famous pronouncement that the Jews, like other peoples, now had a state of their own. But he was so elated by the “Arab spring” revolution of 2011 that he joined the revolutionary revelers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. He subsequently assured readers of the Times that the anti-Mubarak “democracy protesters” displayed not a bit of Jew-hatred or anti-Americanism. Friedman’s bubbly Pollyannaism was confuted by other reports , especially those concerning the sexual assault on his fellow-journalist Lara Logan, set upon by anti-Mubarak idealists shouting “Jew! Jew!” Friedman, Hornik suggested in his column, is not only one of those Jews who dance at everybody’s wedding except their own; he also felt compelled to scold Israelis for their mean-spirited failure to dance in celebration of the overthrow of Mubarak, with whom Israel had achieved a cold peace, a fragile modus vivendi. It goes without saying that, having built a highly successful career on the paradox that, for Times bureau chiefs, reporters, and aspiring State Department kibitzers in Israel, nothing succeeds like failure, Friedman felt no need to apologize to Israel or his readers when the Arab spring turned to autumn and Mubarak was replaced by the Jew-hating Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.
Jews like Friedman—professing “friendship” and even “love” for Israel while invariably taking the side of her enemies—are a favorite topic of Hornik’s. His article of March 2011 called “The J Street Conference: Where’s the Outrage?” mercilessly unmasks an organization that might better be called “Zionists against Israel.” J Street misses no opportunity to blacken Israel’s reputation, and very few opportunities to encourage campaigns to delegitimize it, yet insists on calling itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” Werner Cohn, the eminent sociologist, has observed that “Not since the days of the Communist Party has there been a comparable spectacle of methodical disingenuousness in American political life.” Funded by the Israel-hating billionaire George Soros (whose celebration of Hamas as “a force for peace” is dealt with in another Hornik essay), J Street boasts–justifiably–strong ties to the Obama administration. Fancying itself a (Jewish) government in exile, it has a “Rabbinic Cabinet” whose members include supporters of Hamas’ relentless bombing of Sderot and also Michael Lerner, pioneering promoter of the Palestinian cause within the Jewish community. Hornik points out how J Street exploits the (typically Jewish) failure to understand that exclusion—or (once again) choice– is as much a function of intellect as inclusion. Its capacious “big tent” provides a platform at its conferences for groups (like Jewish Voice for Peace) even more ferociously anti-Israel than J Street itself.
J Street is exceeded in palpable misrepresentation and the pursuit of moral rectitude in disregard not just of reality but of mortal danger (to Israelis, that is) by that phenomenal worldwide industry called Peter Beinart. Hornik mockingly labels him a “Zionist Pioneer” for his invention of a new stream of Zionism labelled “Zionist B.D.S” (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions—against Israel). Beinart’s adopted label is a politicized version of “Jews for Jesus,” that is, an apostate’s fraud. Hornik sardonically suggests that a still more appropriate label for “Beinart Zionism” would be “Boycott Zionism,” in which the ambiguity of the slogan’s first word—adjective or imperative?—would have a powerful appeal for Israelophobe proselytes. Beinart, although second to none in tooth-baring hatred for Israel as it actually exists, insists on calling himself a Zionist. More explicitly than J Street, he supports the 65-year old Arab boycott of Israel, but with a difference: he would boycott only the Jews in disputed territories, which he thinks should be judenrein—Judea, for example. Hornik wonders whether Beinart can be blissfully innocent of how “that exquisite distinction might be lost on others.” Beinart published his book The Crisis of Zionism at a mid-point in President Obama’s trajectory from “first black president” to “first Jewish president’ to “first gay president” and so provided his hero with the second person of his triune divinity. He was duly rewarded with an invitation to the White House in May of 2012 to “share” his views on how to renew the “peace process.”
As these samples illustrate, Hornik’s writing about “Israel’s Struggle to Survive” (the title of Part 2 of his book) adheres to the French precept: one must laugh in order not to cry.
Reprinted, with permission, from the Chicago Jewish Star.