Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Another Review of the Gordis Begin Biography

From David Isaac's review of the Daniel Gordis Begin biography:

...The one subject where Gordis fails to depart from the conventional wisdom, and as a result comes up short, is the treaty with Egypt. Today, there exists an almost universal belief that this was Begin’s greatest achievement. While Gordis avoids waxing lyrical about the treaty, he does not analyze its glaring failings. As Moshe Sharon, who was Begin’s adviser on Arab affairs and took part in the Egypt-Israel negotiations, put it recently, “The peace with Egypt is nothing more than a prolonged armistice with ambassadors.”

Gordis writes of the contrast that President Jimmy Carter and his administration made between Sadat the visionary and Begin the pettifogging legalist. But he fails to point out that, ironically, it was Begin who was the true visionary, determined to create friendly and normal relationships between Israel and Egypt. He was anxious to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to make sure the new era of relations would have a firm legal foundation. Gordis omits all reference to the 50 detailed agreements Egypt signed on everything from joint agricultural research to cultural programs and exchanges, agreements Begin saw as the nuts and bolts of the new era of relations he believed he was establishing.

Sadat had a simple goal: Get back the Sinai “to the last grain of sand.” He did not need to worry about legalistic details because he had no intention of transforming relations. Those 50 agreements (outside of eight, which were published in the 1980s), gather dust in the archives of the Israeli foreign office. Central to Begin was ending the “teaching of contempt.” The promise “to abstain from hostile propaganda” was put into the text of the peace treaty itself. Yet Egypt continued to be a hotbed for inciting hatred for Israel and Jews.

Gordis does point out Carter’s cluelessness about what made Begin tick. “His public protestation of Christian piety notwithstanding, Carter had none of the biblical sensibilities or knowledge that were central to who Begin was,” Gordis says. This ignorance continues today. Kerry blames Israel for the failure in negotiations without any idea of Jewish history, of the difficulties Israel faces, and of the nature of the enmity against it, rooted in Islam and the absolute refusal to accept a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On the Gordis Begin Biography in Commentary

Daniel Gordis has established himself as one of today’s most vibrant thinkers on the Jewish people with his books Saving Israel and The Promise of Israel. What sets him apart from so many other observers is his facility for exploring large and important ideas in a way that the general reader can understand. The achievement of Menachem Begin is twofold: The illumination of a complex but pivotal figure in Jewish history and, in its execution, the guiding of the Jewish people towards a better understanding of themselves.

...While Gordis perhaps overeggs the pudding in suggesting that for Begin “Zionism was but the Jewish expression of a universal yearning,” it is true that Begin the Zionist and Begin the humanitarian, though sometimes in conflict, were never that far apart. He navigated the age-old Jewish tension between tribalism and liberalism by recognizing that the noblest tenets of universalism—human dignity, liberty, the rule of law—were secular descendants of the mitzvot, and that faith and observance could lead one towards rather than away from them.