Tom Friedman Tells Obama and Netanyahu: Read Ari Shavit's Book

New York Times columnist praises 'My Promised Land' for its 'deep insight, compassion and originality.'

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If U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are looking for a book to cozy up with during the holiday season, New York Times top columnist Thomas Friedman has just the one for them – Ari Shavit's latest must-read.

In an op-ed published on Sunday titled "Something for Barack and Bibi to talk about," Friedman recommends the latest book by Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, "My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel," for those trying to make sense of the Middle East conflict and are looking for a book about "the real Israel."

The book comes just in time, Friedman writes, as the U.S. is involved in two key negotiations for Israel's future – the Washington-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and the nuclear talks between the world powers and Iran.

"Shavit is one of a handful of experts whom I’ve relied upon to understand Israel ever since I reported there in the 1980s," Friedman writes, praising Shavit for his complex view on Israel, able to keep in mind "several truths" at the same time.

"Shavit winds the history of Israel through these truths, starting with his own family," he says. "His great-grandfather, a lawyer, was a founding father; his grandfather helped to build Israel’s education system; his father, a chemist, worked among the scientists who built Israel’s nuclear program. He then weaves in the next waves of immigrants, the broken survivors of World War II who joined up with the idealistic Zionists to rebuild the Jewish commonwealth in its ancient homeland. "

In his book, Friedman says, Shavit wrestles with a contradiction that lies at the basis of the Zionist idea – Jewish refugees coming back to life in their ancient homeland, a land which was now occupied with another people. As for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian, which began with the Oslo accord in 1994, Friedman says the book "challenges the Israeli left."

"The uniqueness of Shavit’s book is that when you’re done with it you can understand, respect or love Israel — but not in a dogmatic or unthinking way, and not a fake or contrived Israel," he writes. "Shavit celebrates the Zionist man-made miracle – from its start-ups to its gay bars – while remaining affectionate, critical, realistic and morally anchored."

"My Promised Land," which was written in Hebrew and English simultaneously over the course of five years and is due out this week, was awarded the first-ever Natan Book Award. The judges called the book the most important work about Israel written by an Israeli in recent years.

The judges included three top American journalists – The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, The New York Times' David Brooks and New Republic editor Franklin Foer.

The book will be published in English by Random House and in Hebrew by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir. The book will come out in countries including Israel, U.S., Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. It is also available for pre-order on Amazon.

Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport. Credit: GPO
The cover of Ari Shavit's book.

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