Sixteen thoughtful, sometimes penetrating essays and long reviews, most of which originally appeared during the past decade in the New York Review of Books, about the outstanding political personalities and societal issues of contemporary Israeli life. Margalit (Philosophy/Hebrew Univ.; The Decent Society, 1996, etc.), a political columnist, notes ""the tendency to describe and think about Israel in allegories"" and the fact that ""much of the criticism of Israel, both internal and external, is directed at its pretensions rather than its reality."" By contrast, he focuses on the specific character and historical records of such political leaders as Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, the late Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres, as well as on the psychological, ideological, and socio-economic repercussions of such phenomena as the large-scale immigration to Israel from the former USSR. His best essays, ""The Rise of the Ultra-Orthodox,"" ""The Use of the Holocaust in Israel,"" and ""The Kitsch of Israel,"" deal with the mythos of the Jewish state. Usually, Margalit writes as an observer, though hardly a dispassionate one; his ""dovish"" sentiments are evident. His fluid prose also manifests a keen awareness of the many paradoxical and ironical aspects of Israeli life, as when the author observes that right-wing immigrants ""vacillate between a sense of megalomania about Israeli might, on the one hand, and on the other, feelings of extreme self-pity and powerlessness."" His writing reveals that with the country's many internal tensions and countervailing trends, not to mention its balkanized party system, nothing is self-evident or simple about current Israeli politics. Readers who want a souvenir album about Israel at 50 should pass on this one. But others will enjoy the resounding uneasiness of Margalit's pieces.