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The State of Israel vs. the Jews
Cover of The State of Israel vs. the Jews
The State of Israel vs. the Jews
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PopMatters: Best Book of the Year 

From an award-winning journalist, a perceptive study of how Israel’s actions, which run counter to the traditional historical values of Judaism, are putting Jewish people worldwide in an increasingly untenable position.


More than a decade ago, the historian Tony Judt considered whether the behavior of Israel was becoming not only “bad for Israel itself” but also, on a wider scale, “bad for the Jews.” Under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, this issue has grown ever more urgent. In The State of Israel vs. the Jews, veteran journalist Sylvain Cypel addresses it in depth, exploring Israel’s rightward shift on the international scene and with regard to the diaspora.

Cypel reviews the little-known details of the military occupation of Palestinian territory, the mindset of ethnic superiority that reigns throughout an Israeli “colonial camp” that is largely in the majority, and the adoption of new laws, the most serious of which establishes two-tier citizenship between Jews and non-Jews. He shows how Israel has aligned itself with authoritarian regimes and adopted the practices of a security state, including the use of technologies such as the software that enabled the tracking and, ultimately, the assassination of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Lastly, The State of Israel vs. the Jews examines the impact of Israel’s evolution in recent years on the two main communities of the Jewish diaspora, in France and the United States, considering how and why public figures in each differ in their approaches.
PopMatters: Best Book of the Year 

From an award-winning journalist, a perceptive study of how Israel’s actions, which run counter to the traditional historical values of Judaism, are putting Jewish people worldwide in an increasingly untenable position.


More than a decade ago, the historian Tony Judt considered whether the behavior of Israel was becoming not only “bad for Israel itself” but also, on a wider scale, “bad for the Jews.” Under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, this issue has grown ever more urgent. In The State of Israel vs. the Jews, veteran journalist Sylvain Cypel addresses it in depth, exploring Israel’s rightward shift on the international scene and with regard to the diaspora.

Cypel reviews the little-known details of the military occupation of Palestinian territory, the mindset of ethnic superiority that reigns throughout an Israeli “colonial camp” that is largely in the majority, and the adoption of new laws, the most serious of which establishes two-tier citizenship between Jews and non-Jews. He shows how Israel has aligned itself with authoritarian regimes and adopted the practices of a security state, including the use of technologies such as the software that enabled the tracking and, ultimately, the assassination of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Lastly, The State of Israel vs. the Jews examines the impact of Israel’s evolution in recent years on the two main communities of the Jewish diaspora, in France and the United States, considering how and why public figures in each differ in their approaches.
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  • From the book Introduction

    An unbridgeable hiatus


    The year was 1990. My father was nearly eighty, and he was patiently answering my questions. He and my mother lived in Charenton then, a tiny suburb just outside Paris. It was a Sunday morning, and like every Sunday in those years, I had come over to ask my father about his life. My mother was probably in the kitchen, cooking. My wife and children would arrive in a few hours, and we would all have lunch.
    My father often spoke about his family, Judaism, and his complicated relationship with religion. The son of a somewhat unorthodox Orthodox rabbi, he became an atheist but remained devoted to the Bible (things aren’t always simple). He talked about why he turned his back on religious practice, but also about his youth in Poland, his love of Yiddish literature, why he didn’t go to Palestine when he had the chance, and much else.
    On this particular Sunday, my father was recalling life in his birthplace, Vladymyr, in what is now Ukraine. It was a typical town, buffeted by the region’s constant upheavals. Its nearly forty thousand inhabitants included twenty thousand Ukrainians, fifteen thousand Jews, two or three thousand Poles, and a few others. In 1911, when my father was born, it was a part of the Czarist Empire. As an eight year old, he watched the Red Army march into the town, and remembered how this raised the Jewish population’s hopes. The pogroms would finally end! But the Bolsheviks were defeated two years later, and withdrew. The town fell under the control of the nationalist Polish state, with its anti-Semitic aggressions and quotas for Jewish students.
    My father left for France in 1938, when he was twenty-seven. It was a lucky move, because the town was occupied by the Soviets the next year, then in 1941 by the Germans. On September 1, 1942, Nazi Einsatzgruppen killed nearly the entire Jewish population, including my father’s parents, his brothers, their wives and all their children, his uncles, aunts, and cousins. In 1945 Vladymyr became Soviet again, and was eventually named Volodymyr.
    In the 1920s, as my father told it, young Jews like him eager to break free of the oppressive anti-Semitic atmosphere and the stifling rule of shtetl rabbis, had only three options. The one chosen most often was Bundism, a worker-oriented ideology behind Polish syndicalism during that country’s industrialization. The Bund advocated a socialism in which Jewish “nationality” would enjoy broad cultural autonomy built around its language, Yiddish. The second option was Communism — Workers of the world, et cetera — and many young Jews signed on. Its path was the steepest, but it seemed the most promising. An end of exploitation for all, including Jews, and the dawn of a wonderful society whose concomitant universal brotherhood would necessarily lead to the end of anti-Semitism. The third option was Jewish nationalism, which combined two great currents. The largest by far joined ethnic nationalism and socialism; the other was ultranationalistic and chauvinistic, like most such movements in Eastern Europe. This Jewish nationalism, which melded all those tendencies, was called Zionism. Its goal was to build a Jewish state in Palestine, which was then under British colonial rule. At fifteen, my father threw away his kippah and joined socialist Zionism.
    On the Sunday in 1990 when we were talking — it was soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall — my father interrupted himself in midreminiscence and said, “So you see, we won in the end.” “We” meaning Zionism and the Zionists. The Bundists,...
About the Author-
  • Sylvain Cypel is a writer for Le 1, the magazine America, and the online news website Orient XXI. He is a former senior editor at Le Monde, which he joined in 1998 as deputy head of the international section, following a five-year tenure as editor in chief of Courrier International. From 2007 to 2013 he was Le Monde’s permanent US correspondent in New York. Cypel holds degrees in sociology, contemporary history, and international relations, the last of which he earned at the University of Jerusalem. He lived in Israel for twelve years and is now based in Paris. His book Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse was published by Other Press in 2007.

    William Rodarmor has translated some forty-five books and screenplays in genres ranging from literary fiction to espionage and fantasy. In 2017 he won the Northern California Book Award for fiction translation for The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. His recent translations include And Their Children After Them by Nicolas Mathieu (2020) and Article 353 by Tanguy Viel (2019).
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    August 1, 2021
    A French author who spent more than a decade in Israel laments the seemingly insurmountable gap between the promise and the present-day reality of Zionism in Israel. As Cypel, former senior editor at Le Monde and the author of Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (2007), writes, in terms of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the more it changes, the more it stays the same. The author delineates how decades of strife have so degraded the essence of the original founding ethos of the state--"one primarily rooted in a progressive conception of humanity and society"--that Israel today is unrecognizable to its own Jews and those in diaspora. The military state, whose tactics include systematic cruelty, colonial racism, and dehumanization, is aimed at wearing Palestinians down and pushing them out. As the world looks away, Cypel writes, Israel can act with impunity; the real test is not how far the Israeli government can push the Palestinians, but how far Israeli society will "go in its acquiescence." Making effective use of solid sources--newspaper articles, interviews, speeches, and others--the author regards the recent passage of the "Basic Laws," defining who gets to be a citizen, as a chilling example of how the nation-state has grown more insular and "hyperethnocentric." As Cypel shows, all of the following have led to the alienation of the Jewish diaspora, especially in America: enlarging the settlements and pushing the Palestinians into areas around cities; racism toward African asylum seekers; massive weapons sales to authoritarian, antisemitic states; censoring of humans rights leaders and harassment of dissident groups; and the courting of the Trump administration and his evangelical cronies. So what about the future? "If the State of Israel wants to survive without fundamental changes," writes the author, "it will be forced to gradually enforce a totally structured, codified apartheid. In Israel, Cypel effectively argues, force has triumphed over international law.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 6, 2021
    Journalist and self-described anti-Zionist Cypel (Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse) delivers an impassioned if one-sided critique of Israel’s “rightward drift” since the 1967 Six-Day War that resulted in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Cypel details acts of violence committed against Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and civilians, describes the discriminatory treatment of non-Jewish citizens by the Israeli government, and notes that technologies developed by Israeli cybersurveillance firms were used by Saudi Arabia to track journalist Jamal Khashoggi before he was assassinated in 2018. Cypel argues that these and other “appalling” actions by modern-day Israel (“a racist, bullying little superpower”) conflict with the tenets of Judaism and have led “to a widening political and cultural gap between Israeli and American Jewish life.” But he barely mentions previous attempts by the Israeli government to trade land for peace, and downplays anti-Israeli rhetoric and actions by Iran and other countries in the Middle East. Readers looking for a more balanced and incisive treatment of this subject would be better served by Daniel Gordis’s We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel.

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Sylvain Cypel
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