Politics and Prophecy
by Ari Shavit
Spiegel & Grau, 464 pp., $28
Ari Shavit is one of Israel’s most prominent journalist-prophets. The fact that his new book, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, has been published first in English indicates that the audience in this case is less his countrymen than the English readers of the diaspora. If the subtitle of the book is banal, its title is suggestive, for My Promised Land is very much about Shavit: his family, his experiences, his views. The book has been received, if not as prophecy, with remarkable encomia: Leon Wieseltier called it “an important and powerful book” in The New York Times; Franklin Foer of The New Republic said “this is the epic history that Israel deserves”; Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic described the book as “beautiful, mesmerizing, morally serious.”
In fact it is a good book, very well written and punctuated with fascinating stories, though it does not provide brilliant insights. Its achievement is, rather, to remind the reader, and especially the left-of-center Western reader, of the astonishing achievement that is Israel and of the difficult challenges it faces. Denunciations of Israel are easy; Israel’s choices, Shavit says, were and are very, very hard. For this reason alone the book is valuable. Shavit’s own biases—he calls himself a left-wing journalist—do not diminish, but most likely broaden, the appeal of the book.