Jeffrey Goldberg is the recipient of numerous journalism awards and currently writes on the Middle East for The New Yorker magazine. On its surface his book Prisoners: A Muslim & A Jew Across The Middle East Divide interweaves the memoir of an American Jew’s enchantment and subsequent disappointment with Israel, on the one hand, and the reportage of a knowing journalist covering the Israel-Palestine beat, on the other. Its main interest, however, is as a sophisticated work of ideology, one meriting more than passing attention. On a political level it registers the limits of what is currently permissible to acknowledge in enlightened liberal sectors of American Jewry, while on a personal level it registers the limits of what an enlightened believer in the faith can admit to himself. More broadly it signals the eclipse of liberal American Jewry’s love affair with the Jewish state, itself integral of the beginnings of a larger American estrangement from Israel.
Eschewing Thomas Friedman’s formula in From Beirut to Jerusalem (a book to which Prisoners bears obvious comparison), Goldberg does not quote a Fouad Ajami here and a Rabbi Hartmann there to lend credence to his prepackaged opinions but rather seems to speak from the authority of intimate knowledge. And indeed, Goldberg made aliyah in the 1980s and lived on a leftwing kibbutz, served as a military policeman in the Palestinian detention center Ketziot (Ansar Three) during the first intifada, and reported from the Occupied Territories during the Oslo years and the second intifada. He attached himself to one Palestinian from Gaza in particular named Rafiq Hijazi, the odyssey of this personal friendship mirroring and humanizing in Prisoners the larger drama unfolding in the Holy Land. On a side note, Goldberg depicts as an extraordinary act his forging of a personal bond with a Palestinian, and commentators have reacted in tones of hushed awe. Yet, although such a relationship between Jew and Arab might have raised eyebrows a few decades ago, in the real world it is by now a commonplace. In the hermetically sealed ghetto of American Jewry, however, it is still cause for bewilderment.