Be Strong And Of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny, by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky
To be sure, it is worthwhile to praise leaders for their moral courage in resisting their evil times and popular pressure to do the wrong thing and to celebrate those leaders who rise above the level of mere politicians and become statesmen whose character can serve as a model for future leaders. It is obvious that the writers of this book think that they are giving Israel’s current leadership under Benjamin Netanyahu advice that would make him a statesman in their eyes. Yet at the same time this book’s agenda is so transparent and simultaneously so repellent that I cannot recommend the authors’ counsel as being worth following. I appreciate that the authors think that writing a book like this would appeal to Netanyahu’s desire to make a mark in Israeli history, but this book is so devoted to the authors’ mistaken ideas that it is hard to take their views on history and what makes an Israeli leader historically relevant seriously. Indeed, this is the sort of material that gives historians a bad name when they try to rank leaders because they expose themselves and their biases and reduce their credibility in general.
This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into five chapters. The authors begin with a note and an introduction that attempts to create a sense of crisis of the failure to resolve the Palestinian issue leading to a situation where Israeli’s identity or democracy is threatened. After that the author looks at David Ben-Gurion and praises his determination to achieve Israeli statehood (1), likely a necessary appeal to try to make their advice more palatable than it would otherwise be. After that the author discusses Menachem Begin (2) and his Camp David Accords, praising the land for peace approach there, even though giving up the strategic depth in the face of Egypt’s growing radicalism looks increasingly unwise. After that the author discusses Yitzak Rabin and heaps praise on the Oslo Accords (3), demonstrating again the authors’ preference for hype and folly and lack of commitment to what is in Israel’s best interests. After that the author discusses Ariel Sharon and praises him for telling the settlers to give up their dreams (4), demonstrating even more their failure to appreciate Israel’s well-being and the role settlers have in it. Finally, the authors conclude with a call to Netanyahu to provide a way for Palestinians to achieve statehood (5), after which the book ends with acknowledgements, notes, and a bibliography and index.
In our day and age, no matter how hard it is to find moral courage, there are many things to be morally courageous about. The sort of moral courage that the authors urge is closer to national suicide for a nation like Israel, which is so much smaller than the nations around it that it cannot make the same sort of mistakes that its neighbors make. The authors are clearly pushing a two-state solution and are willing to engage in dubious demographic arguments to bolster their claims and try to gain clout, which is lamentable but also all too predictable. The end result of the authors’ intellectual dishonesty and their conflation of their views with what is right and mistaking them as the same thing is a book that comes off as cloying and manipulative. The authors should stick to writing fake news columns for those who are already committed to their narratives and try not to influence people who are not on the same wavelength as they are. By and large, this book makes me think less of the leaders that the authors celebrate, and that is definitely not the sort of achievement the authors should want to achieve.