Stanley Ringler is an American Reform rabbi who left a key leadership position in the Hillel organization to move with his family to Israel in 1986.
In Israel, Ringler engaged in the development and implementation of political support groups, political education programs, and lobbying in Israel and the US in support of the campaigns, policies and governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak.
His is a story of perseverance and commitment to an idea. In his new book, The Arc of our History, Ringler tells of his involvement in America in liberal causes – civil rights, ending the war in Vietnam, and his devotion to the search for peace for Israel.
A book of three histories
Ringler’s book is actually three histories. One is the history of his family, starting in Poland. He tells about Jewish life in Eastern Europe going back to the to the 14th century. This is not an encyclopedic history of Jews in modern times, but he does cover very well Eastern Europe, North America and Israel.
The main story is a history of the last 74 years in Israel, including the struggle of Soviet Jewry for the right to emigrate, and of their difficult absorption and politicization. He also details and reports on the consequences of two intifadas, the peace process, the wars in Gaza, and in Lebanon as well.
What makes this book unique is his insiders history, as director of the American Desk and of Labor’s ideological educational program.
Of course, it wasn’t always Labor that signed on for peace treaties, it was Menachem Began who signed with Egypt. That agreement is told here as well.
Much of the history of Israel’s early years is dominated by the Labor Party. But it was not to last. One of the unexpected and dramatic changes in Israel’s political development was the arrival of nearly one million Russian Jews. Ringler assembled a large staff of Russian speakers and writers who reached out to the new arrivals in Russian Language newspapers and educational forums.
They set out to convince the Russian immigrants that they were not the much-despised communists they knew, but rather Labor Zionists they could vote for. Rabin was elected prime minister with the help of their additional votes. So too Barak, although Ringler indicates he squandered their support along with the impressive backing he received from other groups due to his faulty decision to welcome Shas into his coalition.
He writes about Rabin’s strained relationship with AIPAC – he was opposed to AIPAC’s self-defined expansive role of lobbying the American administration in addition to its traditional role with Congress. Rabin had successfully engaged the Nixon administration when he was Israel’s ambassador, and was opposed to having to compete with AIPAC’s staff in his relationships with administration officials from the president on down.
One of Ringler’s dramatic reports grew out of his recognition that senior AIPAC professionals and lay leaders remained enamored with the Revisionist view of the “importance” of settling and holding the West Bank. This was in direct contradiction to Rabin’s and Labor’s emphasis on the peace process. Ringler also warned of the consequences of the incredible ideological programs and challenges made throughout the American Jewish community and political establishment by Likud supporters and professionals led by Benjamin Netanyahu in opposition to the peace process.
The history of the political choices offered in those 70 years is long and complicated. This book will be a valuable reference guide to students of history and politics.
Ringler’s book is not the usual spinning historical events to make Israel look good. This is not a right-wing revisionist history. He records the many attempts to establish two states, which nearly came to pass.
To me, the fascinating and even-handed approach to Ariel Sharon shows why Ringler is a historian who is capable of objectively reporting the facts. Of course, Ringler is critical of Sharon having deceived Begin about his strategic plan to invade Lebanon as far north as Beirut, to confront the Syrians en route, and to help facilitate the creation of a Christian Lebanese government.
The consequences of failure were bitter and costly for Israel. Sabra and Shatilla were only one part of the story. It is all the more interesting to note the expansive description Ringler gives of Sharon’s role as prime minister years later. His bold and unilateral decision to withdraw the army and the civilian infrastructure in Gaza, and to initiate a similar process in the northern West Bank, led Ringler to express regret over his having been debilitated by a stroke.
As Sharon was detoured by a stroke, so Rabin was detoured by assassination. Ringler writes that Barak’s inability to respect the role of colleagues, political professionals, and other international leaders in defining his views and in advancing his policies led to his failure on both the Syrian and Palestinian tracks. The consequence was his controversial and hasty withdrawal from Lebanon.
This hefty volume of more than 500 pages is the work of a good writer who witnessed many of these events in person. ■
The Arc of Our History: A Social and Political Narrative of Family and NationGefen Publishing House, 2021626 pages, $29.95