Israel declares independence: new series

Mosaic marks Israeli independence day with the first installment of my new series on Israel’s Declaration of Independence. This essay does more than lay out the series. Read the declaration and hear it read, and soak in the atmosphere that enveloped the Tel Aviv Museum on May 14, 1948, where David Ben-Gurion and his colleagues renewed Jewish sovereignty after a hiatus of 2,000 years. 

“When Ben-Gurion’s car pulls up, he emerges with his wife Paula to the salute of a policeman. His crisp return salute, captured on film, will become one of the iconic images of the day. The hall is now packed, standing room only….”

Read the rest at Mosaic, at this link.

Abraham Accords: the real deal?

Earlier this month, I interviewed David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, for the Jewish Leadership Conference. It was a frank exchange, and I pressed him on the relationship between the “Deal of the Century” and the Abraham Accords. Was the deal conceived, at least at some levels and by some persons, as a throwaway for precisely something like the ice-breaker with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain? “We were triangulating towards an outcome,” he admitted, “either one of which would have been acceptable.” 

There will be many competing versions of what happened; Friedman’s deserves a thorough read. Go to this link, at Mosaic.

The clash of civilizations: whose idea?

In Samuel Huntington’s famous 1993 article, “The Clash of Civilizations?” (yes, it had a question mark), he wrote that “on both sides the interaction between Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilizations.” Then he brought this supporting quotation from Bernard Lewis:

We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations—the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.

In a footnote, Huntington located this quotation in Lewis’s article “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1990.

The quoting of Lewis by Huntington led to the widespread conclusion that it was Lewis who came up with “the clash of civilizations,” and who seeded Huntington with the idea. So when Lewis died in 2018, many obituaries gave him credit (or blame) for inspiring Huntington. 

But this turns out to be trickier than it seems.

  • First, it’s quite possible, even likely, that Lewis borrowed “clash of civilizations” from someone else.
  • Second, Lewis wasn’t altogether happy with the way Huntington recycled “clash of civilizations,” and hesitated to endorse it. This may have been due, in part, to the criticism of Huntington made by Fouad Ajami.
  • Third, by “clash of civilizations,” Lewis meant something both less and more than Huntington’s “clash.”

I explore all this in a webinar for the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), an association founded by Lewis and Ajami. View my full presentation below.