Joel Doerfler


For all their talk of “complexity” and “ambiguity,” the contributors to “Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict” are in fact as politically and morally engaged as those putative classroom brainwashers and ideologues who serve as their whipping-boys. Instead of being more scrupulous and balanced in their pedagogy, these authors simply have a particular historical and ethical “take” on the subject. The Zionist-Palestinian conflict is not so very morally or politically ambiguous.

Ben White’s consistently engrossing new book, “Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel,” argues that “The end of Israel as a bipartisan issue of concern in US politics, along with the wider left’s alienation from and the far right’s embrace of Israel” will undermine Israel’s ability to maintain the status quo. But is he right? Joel Doerfler wonders if Israel can get along without its traditional allies.

Micah Goodman’s book Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War has been celebrated for its “pragmatism” and “realism” and topped the Israeli nonfiction best seller list for weeks while being read by Benjamin Netanyahu and many top officials involved in administering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Joel Doerfler says, “the most striking thing about Goodman’s argument is the utterly conventional and largely unexamined set of historical and moral assumptions on which it is founded.”

Gershom Gorenberg uses the rendering of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s newly published “Go Set a Watchman” to draw an analogy between readerly reinterpretations of literary texts and the putative ways historians have revised their understanding of Israel. He says if Israel can make peace now it will change the way people view the Nakba. Joel Doerfler says, “Whatever one makes of Gorenberg’s thoughts about the reading and interpretation of imaginative fiction, his historical musings are manifestly problematic.”