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Bombs and Bonds

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide may be one of the best books about the Middle East published in recent years. (Full disclosure: As a member of our editorial board, Goldberg is also … Read More

By / December 14, 2006

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide may be one of the best books about the Middle East published in recent years. (Full disclosure: As a member of our editorial board, Goldberg is also Jewcy family.)

The New Yorker staff writer’s new memoir chronicles his transformation from a teenaged Jewish Long Islander tormented by “wild-eyed Irish pogromists” to an IDF prison guard who develops a profound, poignantly tenuous relationship with a Palestinian prisoner.

Goldberg’s nuanced study of that friendship—forged in vicious conditions, enduring through the dashed hopes of the Oslo Accords and two bloody intifadas—produces no saccharine revelations, no tidy reconciliation of Jewish nationalism and universalism. And yet, despite all the ominous strategic realities and political adversities, Goldberg’s riveting narrative suggests there is hope to be found in the simple act of two people talking.

Goldberg recently discussed his memoir and the Middle East with members of Natan, a network of young Jewish philanthropists. We came, we saw, we videotaped. We now inaugurate a new department, Broadcast Jews, with the best of Goldberg’s clips.

The Making of a Zionist

Subjected to regular rounds of anti-Semitism—including a neighborhood game called "Bend the Jew"—Jeff turned to "Jewish Power," which was the one thing he didn’t have. From Kahanism to Jabotinskyism, Jeffrey’s ideological peregrinations masked a simple Zionism: Israel was the place where Jews would never surrender lunch money to someone named O’Flaherty.

The Borscht Red Belt

Jeff’s heart is torn between the pull of the tribe and the pull of Jewish universalism. The solution: a socialist Zionist summer camp in the Catskills where young Long Island Jews attempt to milk cows and have sex—both unsuccessfully. Can they reconcile the ethnocentric and the universal? The charter of “Socialist Zionists for Animal Rights” says they can.

An Ex-Prisoner Becomes Jeff’s Savior

So you’re driving along the West Bank, minding your own business, when all of a sudden a car filled with AK-47-wielding Palestinians pulls up behind you. Do you dial up the American embassy or State Department? Jeff did neither. He called an old PLO bomb-maker he used to guard and asked for help. Years later, the response still colors Jeff’s view of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Underdog is Not Always Right

Do Jews control the media? We only wish. Jeff struggles to make sense of European coverage of the Israel-Hizbollah war, and recalls watching Hutu refugees flee Tutsi communities that resisted their own butchering. Do the suffering always deserve our sympathy?

An Imperfect Life on Earth

Every antisemite has their favorite Jew. So what has Jeff accomplished by breaking bread with terrorists? While he considers this, Jeff rails against the Jewbots who denounce any criticism of Israel, and wonders whether Israelis are capable of an Abu Ghraib.

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