Can We Talk About Israel?: A Guide for the Curi­ous, Con­fused, and Conflicted

By – September 20, 2021

Can We Talk about Israel? is a supreme­ly nuanced dis­cus­sion of the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict, past and present. It is broad in scope yet detailed in analy­sis, thought-pro­vok­ing for the well-informed yet acces­si­ble for the new learn­er. It is an impor­tant and need­ed addi­tion to the books on the subject.

Sokatch is remark­ably deft at hold­ing mul­ti­ple com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives at once. The detailed prose moves quick­ly, begin­ning with suc­cinct expla­na­tions of Israel’s his­to­ry, from ancient to present. Sokatch simul­ta­ne­ous­ly describes the Zion­ist joy upon receipt of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion, and why Pales­tini­ans felt so betrayed by the British dis­missal of Hus­sein-McMa­hon promis­es. In the same breath, Sokatch sum­ma­rizes why the Zion­ists accept­ed the Peel Com­mis­sion pro­pos­al and the Pales­tini­ans reject­ed it, hon­or­ing and clar­i­fy­ing both sides. When revis­it­ing the destruc­tion of the vil­lage of Suba (Tzu­ba), Sokatch takes the read­er on a quick jour­ney beneath the soil to reveal why the Pales­tini­ans of Suba mourn the loss of their home, and why the Israelis who then found­ed Pal­mach Tzu­ba see them­selves as reclaim­ing land lost almost two thou­sand years ago. Sokatch’s dis­cus­sion of the assas­si­na­tion of Rabin is sim­i­lar­ly nuanced, paint­ing a com­plex pic­ture of how Rabin’s hopes and Yigal Amir’s fears (stoked by oth­ers) col­lid­ed in tragedy.

As the CEO of the New Israel Fund, Sokatch’s agen­da is quite clear, and he shares that stance up front. He runs an orga­ni­za­tion with a goal of advanc­ing Israel as a lib­er­al democ­ra­cy, and ensur­ing com­plete equal­i­ty for all inhab­i­tants. He believes that the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict is, essen­tial­ly, a strug­gle between…‘righteous vic­tims.’” The book is not over­ly slant­ed for or against Israel, Israelis, or Pales­tini­ans. Sokatch pos­es crit­i­cal ques­tions, and strives to give hon­or to why dif­fer­ent peo­ples hold dif­fer­ent mem­o­ries about his­tor­i­cal events, or feel dif­fer­ent­ly about pos­si­ble solu­tions to con­tem­po­rary challenges.

Sokatch does not shy away from assess­ing dif­fi­cult sub­jects. Some read­ers might appre­ci­ate his will­ing­ness to dive into the debate about the term apartheid,” Boy­cott, Divest­ment, Sanc­tions as a con­cept ver­sus BDS as a move­ment, and the poten­tial apoc­a­lyp­tic risks of Israel’s strong sup­port from the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­ni­ty which influ­ences Israeli pol­i­cy and Jew­ish activ­i­ty regard­ing the Tem­ple Mount. Oth­ers might crit­i­cize Sokatch for being too left” because of the con­tent choic­es, yet the book does not read as such. The sub­jects are con­tro­ver­sial, but the argu­ments are well craft­ed and sup­port­ed, leav­ing noth­ing out, and also much room for dis­course. The illus­tra­tions by Christo­pher Nox­on high­light key sto­ries and cap­ture their emo­tions. The side notes through­out, cou­pled with the exten­sive glos­sary and bib­li­og­ra­phy at the end, pro­vide ample oppor­tu­ni­ties for con­tin­ued study.

If you’re look­ing for a detailed, nuanced con­ver­sa­tion about Israel, this is the book for you. It is an impor­tant addi­tion to the exist­ing lex­i­con, with a fresh and hon­est voice, a crit­i­cal eye, care­ful atten­tion to detail, great con­cern for the humans at the heart of the sto­ry, and the resolve that one should not give up hope for a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion (or res­o­lu­tions), some­how, someday.

Joy Get­nick, PhD, is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Hil­lel at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester. She is the author of the Melton School of Adult Jew­ish Learn­ing Beyond Bor­ders: The His­to­ry of the Arab-Israeli Con­flict, has taught his­to­ry at area col­leges, and pre­vi­ous­ly worked in the JCC world and as the direc­tor of a teen Israel trav­el sum­mer program.

Discussion Questions

Can We Talk About Israel? is not the last book one should read to under­stand Israel, but for any­one look­ing for a clear, con­cise, open-heart­ed, hon­est look at the his­to­ry of Israel and a rel­a­tive­ly bal­anced pre­sen­ta­tion of the issues sur­round­ing the Israeli – Pales­tin­ian con­flict, this book should be among the first one reach­es for. It pro­vides a thought­ful, hon­est jump­ing-off point for con­ver­sa­tion and pro­vides the back­ground nec­es­sary to allow for deep­er explo­ration of Israel from a place of knowledge.

Daniel Sokatch does not shy away from address­ing the deeply chal­leng­ing issues that are part of Israel today. Instead, he rais­es impor­tant ques­tions that many choose to ignore, and he does so in nuanced and respect­ful ways. As a result, Can We Talk About Israel? is indeed what its sub­ti­tle pur­ports to be, name­ly, A Guide for the Curi­ous, Con­fused and Con­flict­ed. This is the text that peo­ple who have been strug­gling to find mate­r­i­al to ground an open and hon­est com­mu­nal con­ver­sa­tion about Israel, its his­to­ry, its present, and its future have been wait­ing to read.