Israel's Place in the Middle East: A Pluralist Perspective, by Nissim Rejwan. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1998. vii + 195 pages. Notes to p. 207. Index to p. 216. $49.95.
This is the first book that places the Arab-Israeli conflict into a broader historical and cultural context, thereby removing Jewish-Arab relations from a violence-dominated discourse. Nissim Rejwan develops a comprehensive picture of ArabJewish relations and a fascinating survey of Judeo-Arabic culture. Not only does he challenge some of the prevailing myths on Jewish-Muslim religious hostility, but he also establishes a foundation for a new perspective on the State of Israel. Rather than seeing the Jewish state solely as a product of an essentially European nationalism -Zionism-and thus as a foreign entity in the region, Israel's Place in the Middle East: A Pluralist Perspective reclaims Israel's place as a Middle Eastern country through its Judeo-Arabic heritage.
The book, which is essentially an inter-disciplinary synthesis of the existing literature with an original angle rather than new sources, is divided into three parts. The first part looks at ArabJewish relations in history and compares the situation of Jews under Islam to that of Jews under Christianity. The second discusses the proposition that Israel is, in fact, a Middle Eastern country by analyzing its history, culture, religion, and demography. And the third examines the changes in Israeli society alongside the changes in Arab nationalism under the rather wishful title of "A Postnationalist Middle East."
One of the most interesting aspects of this extremely well-written book is the deconstruction of both Arab and Israeli myths about each other and themselves. For instance, addressing the Israeli charge of "Arab anti-Semitism," Rejwan shows that anti-Semitism is grounded in Christian theology with no equivalent in Islam, and is thus an exclusively Christian and predominantly Western phenomenon. He does, however, criticize Arab demagogues for perpetuating European antiSemitic tracts alongside highly "political," rather than historiographical works on the naqba.
Rejwan then proceeds to take on assertions by Arabs that Israel is a foreign body in the region as well as Israeli claims that they are European, by pointing to Israel's Middle Eastern roots. He sees these roots comprising Judaism, as opposed to secular European Zionism: the Messianic hope of return to the promised land, the history of dispersion characterized by inequality under Christianity and equality under Islam, the continuity of Jewish life in Palestine, and the extraordinary role of Palestinian Jewry in the Jewish world. …