This Israeli Memoir Will Shake Up Jewish Liberals

by James M. Wall

Larry Derfner’s memoir, No Country for Jewish Liberals, is must reading for anyone even slightly interested in the “issue” of Palestine and Israel. Read it before he arrives at a location near you.

The author is expected to arrive in the U.S. soon to begin a book tour arranged by his American publisher, Just World Books.

He should be seen and heard on any platform from which word can go out to decision-makers, tax-payers, and devotees of honest, probing, revealing and inspired writing.

His memoir tells the personal story of an Israeli journalist working in a society which is living a lie, a society that extends from Derfner’s birth state of California, to his present home in the Jewish settlement city of Modi’in.

His title, No Country for Jewish Liberals, echoes the opening line from William Butler Yeats’ poem, Sailing to Byzantium”, “No country for old men”, a title also utilized for a 2005 book by Cormac McCarthy and a 2007 film, No Country for Old Men.

Yeats wrote his poem in 1926 when he was in his early 60s. Wikipedia writes that the poem “uses a journey to Constantinople (Byzantium) as a metaphor for a spiritual journey”.  Derfner is now in his early 60s. His life journey began in California as the son of  Holocaust survivors. He worked as a journalist during the upheavals of the 1960s before moving to Israel in 1985.

Derfner’s publisher accurately describes his book as an exploration of his personal and political life, which views “Israel’s moral decline through the lens of his own experiences”.

In reviewing the book for Mondoweiss, James North writes:

No liberal Zionist who reads this 260-page, sprightly-written book will be able to close it with their complacency intact. And among what Derfner calls the “right-wing chickenhawks of organized American Jewry,” there will be teeth-gnashing and a dilemma: should they ignore Derfner and hope that few notice him, or should they launch a campaign to try and smear him?”

Derfner initially arrived in Israel as a “true-blue” Zionist. He confesses he had little awareness of the history that ushered in the modern state of Israel. His change to a new reality as he worked as a journalist, was gradual. His experience as a journalist and his obligatory service in the IDF led to an awakening to what had happened to the country he continues to love.

He recalls one particular incident in the West Bank when he drove with a fellow soldier to transfer a large pile of trash to another location, any location. The driver found the “right site” and dumped the trash next to a large Palestinian garden next to the road.

An outraged Palestinian woman charged the truck, screaming at them in Arabic. The driver used what little Arabic he knew to call her “a whore”. He told her to shut up as he drove away.

Repeated moments of such cruelty led to darker topics and changes in the content and tone of Derfner’s increasingly caustic columns for the Jerusalem Post, a conservative Israeli newspaper.

Finally, at the age of 60, in one column he tried to explain what had led to Palestinians “fighting back” violently. He was fired by the publisher. Derfner understood that he had finally crossed the economic fence that kept journalists from writing what smacked them in the face on a daily basis.

He regretted the column and even offered an apology on Facebook. The publisher refused his request to run the apology in the Post. Derfner confessed he had failed to consider his column’s impact on a reading public that lived under a dome of denial, a dome he had finally escaped.

One key paragraph in his memoir outlines his understanding of the distorted reality Israel and Israelis have created to live as occupiers. Below is a screen shot of that paragraph:

Larry Derfner began his journalistic journey in 1981 with City News Service of Los Angeles.  After moving to Israel, he had a long career as a columnist and feature writer with the Jerusalem Post. He has also worked as a correspondent in Israel for U.S. News and World Report, and as a contributor to the Sunday Times of London, Salon, The Nation, Tablet, Forward and many other publications.

After he was fired by the Post, he began work as a copyeditor and op-ed contributor for Haaretz. He continues to live in Modi’in, Israel with his wife and sons. In his memoir, Derfner says he and his wife have attempted to instill in their sons both a love for Israel and a recognition of the impact of the Palestinian occupation on the morality of their nation.

Larry Derfner has performed a great service by writing No Country for Jewish Liberals, the story of his journey to the painful discovery of how a entire population continues to live under a dome of deceit.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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4 Responses to This Israeli Memoir Will Shake Up Jewish Liberals

  1. AWAD SIFRI says:

    Jim, Many thanks for helping create awareness of what really sounds like a great book:”No Country For Jewish Liberals”.
    It is liberal Jews, like Larry Derfner, and many others, who can change views and hearts of other Jews and gentiles, alike, in North America and Europe.
    Like the Germans before them, during the Nazi era, many Israeli Jews pretend they are not aware of what goes on behind the Apartheid Wall, or inside it, in Israel ‘Improper’.

  2. Sami Joseph says:

    I am afraid, admirable as Larry Derfner is, the overwhelming majority of Zionists will dismiss him as that of another “self-hating Jew”!

  3. Peace now says:

    Larry Derfner stands out as a soul and self searching Jew. No matter how much distortion is made by the Zionists and ultra rightists, truth finds its way even in a trickling way.

    Thanks Jim for putting the spotlights on all the issues that need to be addressed , to bring about the truth about the Just cause of the Palestinian Nation.

  4. John Kleinheksel says:

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for liting up Larry Derfner, who would help “liberal Zionists” see the bankruptcy of the Zionist vision for Israel.
    Speaking for the “Kairos” movement (see ), we have long felt that liberal Zionists will not get it done. Zionism itself needs to get “undone”, replaced with the One State pluralistic democracy championed by the USA. Of course, Palestinians are fearful of the “one state” they experience right now.
    Of course, this is an impossible bridge to cross for present day Israel and the Likud administration under PM Netanyahu and his settler backers.
    The Separation Wall will not stand the test of time, even though Israel as a separate people runs deep in their DNA (think the Hebrew Scriptures). Israeli leadership keeps demonizing Palestinians as untrustworthy, devious “terrorists”. Yet, we all will have to find a way to live with each other, side by side and unafraid.
    Their military (backed unstintingly by the US) seems to rule the day. BUT, fermenting forces for justice have a way of lifting the concrete. Sorry, status quo, but your efforts to seal the tomb will not prevail. There is Spirit unleashed in the world right now that cannot be squashed. Get used to it. Harness it. Move into the future with it. Unafraid.

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