A ticking clock?

Journalist Gregg Carlstrom thinks Israel’s biggest threat is not Iran, but rather comes from within.

THE AUTHOR wonders how much Israel’s internal challenges threaten its survival (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
THE AUTHOR wonders how much Israel’s internal challenges threaten its survival
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Roving Middle East journalist Gregg Carlstrom’s new book How Long Will Israel Survive? The Threat From Within won’t be found in any Jewish Agency lobbies, or passed out as required reading on a Birthright trip. It won’t be lauded as a must-read by champions of Israel as a human rights beacon in the region. Rather, his work will wind up largely on the shelves of liberal Anglo Zionists concerned with Israel’s future. Perhaps these readers haven’t visited Israel in a while, and want to see how things stand in the Jewish homeland. The author paints a bleak picture.
Carlstrom, a Cairo-based correspondent for The Economist and The Times, for the most part sets aside the conflict with the Palestinians and even the looming threat of Iran to deal with internal issues threatening Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state. As the author writes, “Race, religion, economics: these are not usually the subjects that make the foreign media headlines about Israel. And yet they are perhaps a greater long-term challenge than the stagnant Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The author, who writes that his interest in Israel was piqued by a story his Ashkenazi American grandmother told him about visiting Jerusalem and not believing her eyes when she saw a garbageman wearing a yarmulke, has a penchant for being able to sum up intractable elements of Israeli society into neat and tidy vignettes, interspersing his own man-onthe- street interviews with both Jewish and Arab Israelis alongside bite-sized reporting of the elements in Israeli society that he finds worrisome.
He tears into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, as well as large swaths of Israeli society. In fact, few Israeli politicians make it through the pages of the book unscathed, and it seems that only Ayman Odeh gets left out of Carlstrom’s damnations, with the author referring to the Joint Arab List leader as “friendly” and “mild-mannered.”
To many Israelis, Operation Protective Edge feels both like a lifetime ago and only yesterday. Elements of fascism that appeared in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are brought up in the book, reminding readers that it wasn’t just a dream, that they did happen, and that perhaps it’s something that merits a societal discussion. For instance, Carlstrom writes of a rally in Tel Aviv just before the end of Protective Edge.
“The last [rally] happened on 9 August, days before the cease-fire, where several right-wing protesters were photographed holding signs that read, in Hebrew, “one people, one state, one leader” – a translation of the famous Nazi propaganda slogan “ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer.”
To his credit, Carlstrom spends a good deal of time discussing Israel’s Druse minority and their social and economic isolation compared to the country’s Jewish majority, often overlooked in books about Israel.
Though the subject matter is intense, Carlstrom provides some comic relief with witty asides that recall his often humorous Twitter account.
“‘Only part of the price increase of cottage cheese after deregulation can be attributed to increases in input prices,’ three scholars concluded in a 2016 study of the stuff,” he writes of the so-called cottage cheese protests of 2011. Then, parenthetically, “Some academics, it seems, get all the fun assignments.”
One of the obnoxious elements of Carlstrom’s book is how often he relies on the line “[this] will be discussed later in the book.” Perhaps it allows him to prevent printing the same information twice, but after seemingly the dozenth time, it comes across as though Carlstrom or his editor didn’t spend enough time sequencing the chapters.
What is Carlstrom’s prognosis for Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state? The book is certainly worth reading to find out, but suffice it to say that recently the doomsday clock, a symbolic timer measuring how close we are to man’s annihilation on earth, was moved to 11:58, two minutes to midnight, i.e. annihilation. Carlstrom would likely agree that Israel’s doomsday clock is quickly approaching midnight as well.