Israeli writer speaking here loves country but criticizes it


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Gershom Gorenberg is an American-born Israeli writer who has experienced bombs going off in the streets of his country.

And he's one of Israel's most ardent critics.

"It's a little unusual," said Nancy Bernstein, co-chair of the Pittsburgh chapter of J Street. "[Mr. Gorenberg] loves Israel; he's from Israel. We want to show our audience that being critical of Israeli policies is not anti-Israel."

Mr. Gorenberg, an Orthodox Jew, is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Sunday at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside.

The event is open to the public and sponsored by J Street, an organization that is trying to rethink what it means to be pro-Israel in America.

"[J Street's] mission is to advocate for a two-state solution," Ms. Bernstein said. "We want to fix the broken politics in America about Israel. We want to change what it means to be pro-Israel."

The lecture will be based on Mr. Gorenberg's recent book, "The Unmaking of Israel." Mr. Gorenberg said the book uses a historical analysis to contextualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also assesses the prospect of stable and inclusive democracy in the region.

"It is in Israel's own interest to reach a two-state agreement," he said. "I'm not presenting this as an ideological position, but on a close reading of Israeli history. ... I am going to discuss the need to have an open discussion."

Mr. Gorenberg's talk comes after a number of recent flash points in the region: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's criticism of President Barack Obama's refusal to draw a "red line" on Iran's nuclear development, renewed conflict in Gaza in mid-November and unexpected centrist political success in Israel's national election in January.

Although Mr. Gorenberg does not think the recent centrist shift dramatically changes the political landscape, he said it could influence the prospect of a negotiated peace.

"Before the elections in Israel, there was unquestioned conventional wisdom that Israel was moving to the right, and these negotiations had no success of succeeding," Mr. Gorenberg said.

"It doesn't guarantee negotiations will get anywhere, [but] it's a signal to Israelis who seek a two-state solution that the debate is still wide open."

Ms. Bernstein said J Street recruited Mr. Gorenberg to speak because he is likely to be persuasive for American Jews who are reluctant to hear criticism of Israel.

"We tend not to really listen and absorb [criticism] unless we view the purveyor as legitimate in our eyes," Ms. Bernstein said. "We have to be able to look clearly with open eyes about what is [happening] on the ground there."

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Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman.


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