Josh Ruebner’s latest book, Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? (Olive Branch Press, 2018), is aptly titled considering Israel’s recent adoption of the Jewish Nation State Law, which enshrines the right of self-determination as exclusive to Jewish citizens, and the brutal siege of Gaza, among other ongoing assaults on Palestinian human rights.
Ranging from a series of insightful vignettes to short-form essays, the book’s format suits Ruebner’s writing style well. Ruebner relies on several entry points into Israel’s legal treatment of Palestinian people and land, and his essays on the peace process, political leadership, Israeli settlements, and U.S.-Israeli relations are informative overviews on each topic. Ruebner’s ability to incorporate in-depth research and statistics into each chapter while keeping his writing accessible and without getting bogged down in excessive details is perhaps the strongest feature of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State?. Ruebner’s writing here is factual, clear, and thoughtful.
Ruebner answers the question of whether Israel is an apartheid state up front, so the reader is aware of his position from the outset, but this does not necessarily take away from the book and the legitimacy of its arguments. Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? serves as a great resource for those with a general working knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or as refresher for others. The book is not an introductory text on the topic, but more of a ‘second read’ for those interested in Palestine who are looking to equip themselves with nuanced analysis.
The endnotes for each chapter are certainly sufficient, but not extensive. While Ruebner’s writing here is succinct, the book could benefit from a “further readings” section at the end of each chapter should the cited sources not satiate some readers’ need for further information.
In “Who is Who?: Israelis, Jews and Zionists,” Ruebner provides important distinctions at a time when definitions of who is Jewish and who is an Israeli are being purposefully essentialized and folded into one another. It is especially useful in the context of the current debate over comments made by U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and accusations of anti-Semitism that have been launched against her. It should be required reading for those trying to navigate the arguments being made in bad faith that muddy the rhetorical waters of the American conversation on Israel, Palestine, and the rising tide of anti-Semitism and racism in the U.S.
Other chapters also do well in capturing the diversity of Israeli society while also directly addressing its inequalities and unjust legal systems. Ruebner’s concise account of the reality on the ground in several of the chapters works to efficiently chip away at the idea that Israel is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East,’ an assertion that Ruebner renders void by simply presenting factual and legal arguments. There are other stand-out chapters here, including one focused on the U.S.-Israeli relations and one on the peace process that provide remarkably even-handed historical overviews. However, given the rapid pace of developments, Ruebner’s chapter on the Trump administration’s supposed peace plan should is worth revisiting if and when the Trump reveals his peace proposal.
All in all, Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? presents clear-eyed analysis that amounts to a strong and straightforward case in support of justice for Palestinians. Ruebner simply lays out an undeniable argument for a free Palestine by tracing the chain of historical events, legal frameworks, and policies that brought Israel and Palestine to where we find them today. Ruebner’s book is a welcome addition for advocates looking to delve deeper into Israeli policies and equip themselves with the overarching facts on Palestine.