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.