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.