- - Sunday, November 12, 2017


By David Brog

Regnery Publishing, $27.99, 259 pages

There are few countries in the world that produce an emotional response quite like Israel. From its birth as a modern nation in 1948, this country has faced everything from preserving ancient history to threats of annihilation by its worst enemies.

Nothing ever comes easy for the Jewish state. One thing that can be controlled to some extent, however, is the country’s long-standing reputation as a champion for democracy and freedom in the Middle East.

David Brog is up to the task. His new book, “Reclaiming Israel’s History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace,” deconstructs many of the stories and myths related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A cousin of former Israeli Labour Prime Minister Ehud Barak, he sees the world through a different lens. He’s the executive director of the Maccabee Task Force, and was founding executive director of Christians United for Israel, former chief of staff to Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, and former staff director at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The author takes the position “it is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel,” but “it is anti-Semitic to criticize only Israel.” Both sides are recognized as imperfect, but he believes critics “singling out Jews for our common human failures” are wrong. He also understands “there are extremists on both side[s] of the Arab-Israeli conflict who lie about and delegitimize the other side.”

In Mr. Brog’s assessment, “to point out that one side has a history of compromising while the other has a history of rejectionism is not to claim that one side is perfectly good while the other is purely evil. The truth is that each side to this long conflict has blood on its hands. Each side has made mistakes. Each side has produced extremists who have committed atrocities.”

Nevertheless, “Reclaiming Israel’s History” takes a more responsible approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict than other past volumes. In particular, it acknowledges a difficult truth: “The conflict between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine persists because one side — the Arab side — has linked their national liberation to the other side’s destruction.” Until this component is resolved, peace in the Middle East remains a dream at best.

Various periods of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim history are tackled in the book.

The Roman Empire “attempted to sever the connection between the Jewish people and their land,” for instance, “by changing the country’s name from “Judea” — the source of the words “Jews” and “Judaism” — to Palestina, or Palestine.” The Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini’s ties with Nazi Germany are explored, noting “[b]eyond merely seeking to extend Hitler’s Holocaust to the Middle East, Husseini may well have played a role in persuading Hitler to murder Europe’s Jews in the first place.” As well, the popular statement “a land without a people for a people without a land” isn’t a “Zionist slogan,” but came from “Christian enthusiasts of a Jewish return to Palestine well before the birth of the modern Zionist movement.”

Mr. Brog also points out that while Jews and Muslims fought alongside each other during the Crusades “to defend their homes and their very lives,” it was Jewish and Christian communities that “collapsed under the weight of Mamluk misrule.” This was the first time our society could actually “speak of Palestine as a Muslim country.”

One of the more interesting chapters deals with the Israel Defense Forces. Some people have expressed frustration with this nation’s military component, and the way it conducts itself on the battlefield. There are more international complaints about the Israeli army as compared to the Palestinian forces and/or terrorist organization Hamas.

Mr. Brog takes a sensible and factual approach to this topic. “To proclaim the morality of Israel’s army is not to insist upon its perfection,” he wrote, and the IDF is “an army of men, not angels.” Nevertheless, he noted “when judged by any realistic standard, Israel’s army is among the world’s most moral. The Israel Defense Forces has promulgated a strict code of ethics that places a high value on the lives of innocent civilians. And Israel’s soldiers consistently implement this code with impressive success. When soldiers fail to uphold these rules, they are punished. When these rules are found wanting, they are improved.”

“Reclaiming Israel’s History” therefore challenges the way some people view, or wish to view, the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it won’t provide answers to every critic, it will help prevent certain questions and inaccurate comments from being made about the Middle East. That’s a good start.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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