Gershom Gorenberg identifies himself as “a left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew.”
Yet, others might simply describe him as a journalist who encourages congestive dissonance.
Gorenberg has worked as an associate editor of The Jerusalem Report and has contributed features and commentary on politics, religion and aspects of Israeli-American relations to newspapers including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. Currently, he is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and blogs at the South Jerusalem website with fellow journalist Haim Watzman. He is best known for his 2006 study on the origins of Israeli settlements in the West Bank following the 1967 Six-Day War, “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977.”
Gorenberg’s most recent book, “The Unmaking of Israel,” reveals how the country’s policies are undermining its democracy and existence as a Jewish state, and explains what must be done to bring it back from the unsustainable situation it currently faces.
Gorenberg visited Temple De Hirsch Sinai on April 17 as a guest of the Israel-advocacy organization J Street and spoke to a room packed with audience members from all walks of Jewish life. He quickly described where Israel has “dropped the ball” in its policy making over the years. While he does not put the blame of the current situation squarely on the shoulders of the Israelis, he does point out the high level of responsibility Israel faced, having been the victors in a war 45 years ago.
“If there’s anything more difficult for a revolutionary than defeat, it’s victory,” Gorenberg said.
Decisions made then, he said, have ultimately affected today’s complicated situation.
“Holding on to the West Bank was debated, but no decision was made,” Gorenberg said. “This set the stage for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Gorenberg discussed the inconsistency in Israeli policy enforcement in the disappearance — both figuratively and literally — of the Green Line, the delineation between Israel proper and the West Bank, and the building of settlements. Though settlements were against Israeli law, the government not only ignored their emergence but also began supporting them through ways such as military presence. By supporting the settlements, Gorenberg noted, the government continues supporting the religious fundamentalism of the state.
Gorenberg also argued that the lack of separation of synagogue and state has been detrimental to the democratic progress of Israel. The system its leaders set up for ultra-religious groups to have an easier point of entry into the military has led to an influx of the religious right gaining power within the military, which has led to what he believes is a breaking point.
“Their influence over the politics of settlement dissolution has been tremendous,” he said.
Like many other progressive Israelis, Gorenberg is in favor of pushing urgently forward with a two-state solution.
“The economic and social cost raises with each day of inaction,” he said.
Whether fair or not, the responsibility must rest on the shoulders of the Israeli government, Gorenberg said, because the Palestinian government is not cohesive enough to move things forward. Yet Netanyahu’s government is not making concrete moves toward negotiations, he added.
“I think that for Israelis who are interested in a peaceful solution, living under the current government has been extremely frustrating,” Gorenberg said.
One state is unrealistic, he believes.
“It removes the issue of boundaries, but it leaves all of the other issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians still on the table,” Gorenberg said. The decisions necessary for a government of a combined Israeli and Palestinian populace — right of return, settlements, land disputes, and so on — would render it dysfunctional.
“I see that as a recipe for continued intercommunal conflict, not for a peace agreement,” Gorenberg said.
Former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, in the week before Goremberg’s Seattle visit, publicly announced support for a single state. His statement, Gorenberg said, “reflects a frustration for the fact that we’ve been engaged in this process that was supposed to lead to a two-state solution over 19 years ago, since Oslo, and we haven’t arrived.”
When Gorenberg frames his message both in writing and when he speaks publicly about the situation facing Israel — especially with young people — he said, “you don’t have to accept monochromatic pictures of the conflict. You don’t have to repeat the old PR which is ‘Israel can do no wrong.’ Nor, if you become dissatisfied with that, should you switch to a position of ‘Israel can do no right.’” Instead he encourages people to learn to understand complexity and challenge themselves with cognitive dissonance.