Know comment: Fall reading recommendations

Arab democracy is seen as a dangerous luxury, and they prefer “pragmatic” deals with tyrants to defeat violent Islamist extremism.

Palestinian youths slinging rocks 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian youths slinging rocks 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Settle into a warm recliner during a chilly fall night and sink yourself into these long-form essays and books. My recommendations include studies on Palestinian settlement aggression, democracy in the Arab world, the industry of lies against Israel, antisemitism, Zionism and Haredi army service.
• Countering Palestinian expansion: Prof. Hillel Frisch warns that, for first time in 100 years of conflict, Palestinians are beating Israel at its own game. In a study written for the new Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (, where he is a senior fellow, Frisch writes that “in the domain that Israel had excelled best, and had always shown its ingenuity – the strategic building and expansion of settlements – the Palestinians have overtaken Israel.”
Frisch warns that the Palestinian Authority has embarked on an aggressive settlement building campaign to enhance the prospects of Palestinian statehood and deny Israel important strategic objectives such as the protection of greater Jerusalem and its hinterland.
With funding from Arab states and the European Union, the Palestinians have created new settlements of their own which number thousands of building units and dwarf Israeli settlement in the Jerusalem area. Many of these buildings are encroaching increasingly on the major road to Ma’aleh Adumim, with threatening implications for long-term security. The situation is even more problematic in the Hebron area and in the South Hebron Hills, he writes.
Frisch says that strategic Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria must be renewed in response to Palestinian settlement expansion, and as a means of imposing costs on the Palestinian Authority for trying to delegitimize Israel in international forums. Israel’s present “conflict management” approach, he writes, has succeeded in reducing Palestinian terrorism to manageable proportions, but is an insufficient response to the dangers of Palestinian territorial expansionism.
• Realism and democracy: In a new book, Realism and Democracy: American Foreign Policy after the Arab Spring (Cambridge U.), former Bush W. administration deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams makes a powerful argument for refusing to abandon those struggling for democracy and human rights in the Arab world.
For too many American policy- makers, he warns, Arab democracy is seen as a dangerous luxury, and they prefer “pragmatic” deals with tyrants to defeat violent Islamist extremism. Deals with tyrants will not work, he writes.
“Repression helps Islamists beat democrats, while political openings offer moderates and liberals a chance.”
Abrams has been following the recent dramatic developments in Saudi Arabia with this perspective in mind. Writing in The New York Times, he questions whether the aggressive consolidation of power now under way by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) “is a good thing for the US, or even for Saudi Arabia. That question will best be answered retrospectively, in about a decade. MBS is a modernizer, but thinks the path forward is an absolute monarchy, and everybody better get out of his way.”
• Industry of lies: Ben-Dror Yemini’s 2014 best-selling book, Taasiyat Hashkarim, has just been published in English as Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict (printed independently and sponsored by ISGAP).
Yemini reveals the steady flow of malicious anti-Israel propaganda posing as news and scholarship that poisons the debate about Arab-Israeli affairs. Gross untruths about Israel drive the parties further apart, he writes, not only defaming Israel but also setting back the legitimate interests of the Palestinians, whose cause they are contrived to advance.
Yemini analyzes several types of lies about Israel: insidious lies (half-truths and suppressed information); lies of proportion (such as attaching terms denoting thoroughgoing evil such as “apartheid” to Israel); academic lies; and big lies (which distort reality so grotesquely that ordinary people assume that nobody would have the effrontery to promulgate them if they weren’t true).
• Integrating without changing: Col. (res.) Yonatan Branski served for 25 years in the IDF in both battle and field command positions, including a stint as commander of the Nahal Haredi Battalion, now called the Netzah Yehuda Battalion. In a comprehensive study of the possibilities for Haredi integration in Israeli society written for the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, Branski argues that military service can be a catalyst for better integration of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the workforce and institutions of higher education.
This requires, he says, genuine respect for Haredi ideology (hence the article title “Integrating Without Changing”) and real adherence to concepts of democracy and pluralism; and Branski has specific recommendations for the IDF.
• “The Functions of Antisemitism”: Ruth R. Wisse, professor emeritus of Yiddish literature and comparative literature at Harvard University and a senior fellow of the Tikvah Fund, has penned another one of her majestic, sweeping intellectual essays in the fall issue of National Affairs. Writing about the rising tide on US college campuses of antisemitic sentiment – often in the form of hatred of the Jewish state – Prof. Wisse argues that the Antisemitism Awareness Act recently passed by the US Senate is poorly matched to the realities of antisemitism.
“Antisemitism cannot be subsumed into the framework of civil rights acts, because antisemitism is not discrimination.
It may result in discrimination, but in essence it is a political ideology that serves a political purpose. To take antisemitism seriously, let alone to subdue it, requires first recognizing its political nature.”
“Politics organized against the Jews has been practiced, at one time or another, in every Western society and throughout the Middle East for more than a century. This organizing principle has been adapted to the purposes of Communism, fascism, pan-Arab nationalism, and progressivism, and it has persisted as an anti-liberal force that appeals to extremists on the Right and the Left. It is time for scholars to study this seriously, not in the name of special pleading on behalf of the Jews, its proximate target, or the liberal order, its larger enemy, but simply because anti-Jewish politics is such an enduring and ubiquitous force.”
• Forgotten Balfour truths: Of all the essays published this fall for the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, perhaps the best was Prof. Martin Kramer’s article (published by Mosaic) reminding us that the declaration did not legitimate Zionism. It was Zionism, through its diplomatic efforts, which legitimated the Balfour Declaration.
Kramer also pushes back at the distorted accretions of a century. The largest of these is the notion that the Balfour Declaration arose outside any legitimate framework, as the initiative of a self-dealing imperial power. “This is utterly false. The Balfour Declaration wasn’t the isolated act of one nation. It was approved in advance by the Allied powers whose consensus then constituted the only source of international legitimacy. Before Balfour signed his declaration, leaders and statesmen of other democratic nations signed their names on similar letters and assurances.”
Kramer also reminds us that for all the Balfour hoopla, it is “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine,” the “deep, underlying principle of self-determination,” “justice,” and even “Providence” that undergird our return to Zion. “The poetic simplicity of the Balfour Declaration resides in its presumption that a home for the Jews in their land needs no justification.”