Elvis in Jerusalem: Post-Zionism and the Americanization of Israel, by Tom Segev

Article excerpt

Translated from the Hebrew by Haim Watzman. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002. 168 pp. $23.00.

Elvis in Jerusalem, the American title of Ha'aretz columnist Tom Segev's 2001 book Hatzionim Hahadashim, is a cruel come-on. This Israeli "new historian" deals with "post-Zionism," not "rock 'n roll."

This book is of special interest to American readers because Segev argues that U.S. influence has turned Israel into a more open and democratic society. This is an unusual position for any foreigner to assume -- ask any citizen of France or Canada. If a resident of a developed country were to advocate the Americanization of his (or her) nation, he (or she) might be viewed as the sociopolitical equivalent of Ben Affleck exchanging his Hollywood wardrobe for ex-Congressman James Traficant's retro outfits. If Snoop Dogg did the same thing, his choice might be viewed as an improvement. Does that mean that Israeli adoption of American ways is the equivalent of a hard-core rapper's switch to denim leisure suits? Perhaps -- too many people view the Jewish state as the "gangsta" of the Middle East.

Segev is not one of them. He is not an anti-Zionist who views Israel as a geopolitical mistake, but a post-Zionist who exposes the Jewish state's errors. According to him, one of its greatest faults is its packaging of idealistic hagiography as history. He asserts that "real" history began when"...the government began declassifying documents from the state's early years."

For Israelis, this historical legacy is a double-edged sword. These "new historians" opened a Pandora's Box of revelations that challenged popular assumptions about Israel, creating controversies and sowing divisions between Zionists and post-Zionists. However, the fact that the archives were opened is the mark of a democratic society. Segev himself writes that "Israel is relatively liberal in this regard -- there are countries that don't open their archives at all." He does not give any examples -- is he being subtle, or merely negligent?

Traditional Zionists may view him as worse than negligent, concerning the most sensitive subject of all -- the Holocaust. …