By P. David Hornik
Reviewed by Ruth King
David Hornik moved to Israel in 1984. In the preface to Choosing Life In Israel he states: “This book is both about my own choice to live in Israel and Israel’s choice to live and thrive in the face of challenges.”
Hornik’s book is a compendium of personal and political essays he has written since he became one of Israel’s most incisive journalists. Arranged in chronological order, they revisit in eloquent prose a besieged nation’s triumphs and tragedies, its ancient stones and its modern cities, its beauty, its warts, the incalculable harm of mindless appeasement, and its holiness. Hornik’s heart is in Israel’s history and the vision of Zionists restored to an ancient land, but his mind is also focused on politics and the hypocrisy of those whose aim is to tarnish and delegitimize the Jewish state. This print anthology is a welcome reminder of events that shaped Israel’s destiny and the contemporaneous reaction of a clear-eyed observer.
The euphoria that accompanied President Obama’s visit to Israel is reminiscent of the great optimism engendered by the Oslo Accords. In “Intifada” written in 2003 and again in “Washington-Bibi is In. Peace is Dead” written in 2009, Hornik speaks sarcastically of the extent to which commentators and journalists disregarded the spree of terrorism that followed Oslo: “Many Israelis – if their charred bodies weren’t long ago interred – have such pleasant memories of those years (following the infamous handshake between Rabin and Arafat) in which 200 Israelis died in terror attacks, a total far beyond any previous comparable period in Israeli history.”
In 2005, in “The Wages of Appeasement,” Hornik wrote: ”…treating the likes of Hitler or Arafat or Stalin or Kim Il Sung, as benign, rational individuals…who just want to improve situations, is a very basic lapse of adult functioning.“ And, he presciently noted, well before Israelis focused on the threat of radical Islam: “The test is whether today’s democracies
can stand up to the jihadist assault with its unprecedented dangers.”
I recently asked one of Israel’s top journalists, an American who, like Hornik, moved there many years ago, why the foreign press, including Jews, echo the complaints and outright libels of Arabs in writing of Israel. The answer: “All the foreign journalists — and diplomats, for that matter, whose sport is bashing Israel — love being stationed here even while they are trashing us in their columns. They stay in nice places in trendy neighborhoods because they get a lot of bang for their buck. They have fun … The Government Press Office, which spoon feeds them translations and arranges trips and interviews, unlike the Arab countries they cover, does not penalize or threaten or ban them for any harsh criticism of Israel.”
Here is how Hornik, in a 2011 column, describes one of those leading “calumnists” of Israel. “Tom Friedman, of course, does not live in a country surrounded by neighbors where journalists are beaten and sexually abused by a mob of ‘democracy supporters,’ where a terror potentate threatens invasion and conquest, or where much of the population is enamored of a mass child murderer. How much easier to visit the Middle East for a jaunt, hobnobbing with the Facebook and Twitter savvy youth in Tahrir Square, and direct one’s bile at Israel.”
But Hornik’s book is not just an indictment of Israel’s foes: it is also a paean to Israel and depicts the nightlife, the beaches, the cafes and the intensity and joy of life in Israel. In the “Epilogue-Some Things I Love About Living in Israel”, he writes of the Land of Israel: “It’s a varied, beautiful, and sacred land…it exudes sacredness.” Of Jerusalem, he writes: “Whenever I think of its name, there’s a heart fluttering sensation.”
I asked him why he had originally decided to move to Israel. This is his reply: “I grew up in what could be called a pro-Israel home, but not a Zionist home. Moving to Israel wasn’t something that was encouragedor on the agenda. I was very attracted to the idea of Israel — a distant place where Jews spoke a different language, ran things by themselves, and where the Jewish holidays were the national holidays.”
“In my twenties I became strongly interested in politics, with Israel’s affairs as my most intense focus. My admiration grew as I came to understand better what the Jewish state was
up against, how tough it had to be to survive.
At the same time, I found myself amazed at how cynically — especially so soon after the Holocaust—the world’s organizations, its democracies, and even U.S. administrations treated this struggling little state. These passions grew and grew until I felt my loyalty to Israel become my primary loyalty, meaning there was nothing to do but go and live there. It has been a productive and successful decision for me in every way, the best thing I’ve done.”
Publishing this fine book is the second best thing he’s done and a gift to his American readers.
This is an abridged version of a book review by Ruth King that first appeared in Mideast Outpost (www.mideastoutpost.com), the monthly publication of Americans for a Safe Israel. For the full article visit www.jewishledger.com.