A NEW ISRAEL: Democracy in Crisis 1973-1988 by Bernard Avishai

A NEW ISRAEL: Democracy in Crisis 1973-1988

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A collection of 28 essays, most of which have appeared in The New York Review of Books, repeating the themes Avishai set out in The Tragedy of Zionism (1985). Can a state be both Jewish and democratic? Zionists think so--that is the basis of Israel--but Avishai disagrees. He points to the lack of ""structure"" in the Israeli democratic system, the disillusionment of the Israeli electorate, various inequities, and bureaucratic impediments to social action as flaws in the Israeli democracy. To replace what he considers a failed Zionism, he calls for a new democracy--one defined by little other than its constituency of Hebrew speakers: democracy as defined by language. Avishai's premise is provocative, but most of the essays in which he develops it are quite dated. A portion of one, for example, concerns possible successors to Menachem Begin, yet Yitzchak Shamir, the current prime minister, is not even mentioned. Many of the essays do contain nuggets of historical interest, but the information supplied is easily accessible in less prolix form from newspapers on microfilm. Moreover, Avishai's Judaism seems more political than theological. Thus, in a long essay attacking Commentary magazine and its editor, Norman Podhoretz comes off as a virtual apostate because he no longer follows the precepts of George McGovern. Avishai is not a mn-of-the, mill Israel-basher. He reports on interesting conversations with interesting people, and on occasion even has good things to say about Israel; but in his definitions of democracy, Zionism, and Judaism, he seems narrow and obtuse.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1990
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin