The Ghosts Who Rule Us: A Book Review by Israeli Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog

Anyone familiar with the Israeli system of government cannot simply reject such a scenario, involving revenge and corruption on a vast scale.

Isaac Herzog
Isaac Herzog
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Tel Aviv's Sarona Market, once home to members of a rigid, German religious order.
Tel Aviv's Sarona Market, once home to members of a rigid, German religious order.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Isaac Herzog
Isaac Herzog

“Hahayal Mispar 2” (“The 1001st Year”), by Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom and Gadi Bloom; Yedioth Books (in Hebrew), 403 pages, 76 shekels

I connected instantly with this novel. It flowed fast and furious and I couldn’t put it down. Since that’s not my usual way of reading, I started to wonder what it was that attracted me so powerfully to the book. At first I thought it might be because the climax (or perhaps only one of the climaxes) occurs in the vicinity of the Polish city of Zamosc, in the province of Lublin. It’s a place to which I have a personal connection. My mother’s family came here from Zamosc, a beautiful city of palaces that was built as a copy of the Italian city of Padua, commissioned by the city’s founder, Prince Zamoyski.

To that end, he invited artists and builders from various nations, with the result that in the mid-16th century my forebears made the journey from Italy to Poland. A few centuries later, I had the privilege of dedicating the reconstructed and rehabilitated synagogue in the heart of the city, together with the mayor, Marcin Zamoyski, a descendant of the founder.

The province of Lublin is magnificently wooded, but every sign, cemetery and monument is like a reminder of the horrific events that befell our people there a little more than 70 years ago.

Those horrors will haunt us always. Not only in historical documentation, Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies and shocking archival footage, but also in prose, some of it ostensibly fictional with no basis in reality. Yet somehow, there is always a solid, factual foundation. This also appears to be the case with “The 1001st Day.”

The protagonist is a journalist, Dory Gazit, an investigative reporter for an influential Israeli newspaper, The Public’s Right. A veteran, world-weary journalist of the old generation, from before the era of social networks, he hasn’t been in a relationship for years and is about to lose his job. Then, a case of political corruption that he uncovered in the past and that won him glory, returns to him big-time from a different angle and changes his life.

Zionist Chairman Isaac Herzog.Credit: AFP

A chance encounter with Tamara, a young academic, develops into a tense, convoluted affair that spans continents and draws in a large cast of characters. The story takes place in a time frame that moves from the end of World War II to the present, in circles that have no before and no after. Everything is swept up in this whirlpool: journalists and their sources, police officers as well as criminals and their families, corruption at the highest level of Israeli politics and in the Israel Defense Forces, brutal serial murders and liquidations, a mysterious underground organization that operates like a cancer in the body of the state, and a budding love story.

Naturally, there are also ghosts – or perhaps they are real people who strike at us unexpectedly. The plot’s conclusion seems to be only the start of the true story, or maybe of the next book.

Gadi Bloom is the editor of the weekend magazine of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. At times I had the feeling that he was also the model for the book’s protagonist. It’s also clear to me, as one who in his youth was a local reporter for that newspaper and poked around in its archive quite a bit, that the description of the decaying editorial offices is drawn from images of the paper’s longtime headquarters at 2 Mozes St. in Tel Aviv, now abandoned in favor of a new building in Rishon Letzion.

Bloom’s wife, Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom, holds a doctorate in political psychology. It sometimes seemed to me that her image, too, was reflected in the character of Tamara, the academic, who suddenly and against her will bursts into a dark, insane world, one that is ruled by ghosts together with forces driven by a desire for revenge. The book’s characters, from the police investigators to the jealous professors of Tel Aviv University, in Ramat Aviv, are drawn masterfully. It always seems as though we know them from somewhere.

Without spoiling the tension, I will consider two insights that arise from the book. The first is that it would be quite simple for a small, sophisticated underground organization to seize power in a small country like ours. Everything begins and ends with extortion in the right places, forbearance and cleverness. True, this is only a fictional thriller. But nevertheless, no one who is familiar with the inner workings of the Israeli system of government will be able to dismiss every scenario that possesses certain similar characteristics with utter disdain. For the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and those who plot against us have never passed from the world. Nor from our very midst.

The second insight lies along the thin line of the plot’s secret, so I will say only this: If you visit the Sarona neighborhood – the restored section that was built by the Templers in the heart of Tel Aviv – you see beautiful, reconstructed European-style buildings that have been turned into a bustling market and a center of attraction for visitors. Stop and look around for a moment and remember that this was the home of the members of a rigid German religious order, who came to the Holy Land in the 19th century and established a flourishing farming settlement that was done away with and abandoned during World War II.

It was in the name of and “in honor” of those German believers, many of whom, according to the historical records, supported the Nazis, that special legislation for expropriating their property – the German Assets Law – was enacted in the state’s early years.

Did anyone say ghosts? A small hint: The Nazis planned to turn Zamosc into Himmlerstadt. I’ll leave to readers to discover the rest of the plot for themselves.

Knesset Member Isaac Herzog is head of Zionist Union and the Labor Party, and leader of the opposition.

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