Interview with Donna Rosenthal – The Israelis - Aviva - Berlin Online Magazin und Informationsportal für Frauen Interviews im Juli 2024 - Beitrag vom 09.10.2007

Interview with Donna Rosenthal – The Israelis
Annegret Oehme

The American journalist and author Donna Rosenthal talked with AVIVA about life in Israel, stereotypes and her book "The Israelis – ordinary people in an extraordinary land".

AVIVA-Berlin: First I would like to thank you for this great book, which is not just about facts and figures but also about the people. You called it in English "The Israelis – ordinary people in an extraordinary country."
Donna Rosenthal:The book is about stereotypes and I had many stereotypes about East Berlin from the movies. And today I was in two high schools in East Berlin. I told them I was surprised. My book is written for Israel, but also for every other country, because everywhere the people have to deal with stereotypes.

AVIVA-Berlin: Who did you write your book for?
Donna Rosenthal: Originally I wrote it for journalists, as you see in the first chapter. My journalism students asked me to write a book. So I wrote it originally as a "bible for journalists". There are so many who write about the conflict, but not the people. So I wrote it for them originally and then I wrote for everybody. And I´m, very happy and surprised that also in Israel the people tell me: "Oh, we learn from your book". The government of Israel, the foreign ministry, uses it. Now they are using it in non-Jewish high schools in America. And today in East Germany they are reading the book.

AVIVA-Berlin: First your book was published in English. Where else had it been published?
Donna Rosenthal:This month it will be published in Japanese and then Chinese. The first foreign language was German and that had been very important to me. Because I think it is important for Germans. I think, when they are talking about Jews they are thinking just about the past. I was shocked, how few people in Germany had ever met a Jewish person and how few ever met an Israeli. So there are many stereotypes. Germany is so important to Israel and they hear about Israel all the time.
I didn´t want to write about the Holocaust. There are a million books and I wanted to go to the future.

AVIVA-Berlin: Are there plans to publish it in any Arabic countries?
Donna Rosenthal: I would like it very much, but It took me a lot of effort to translate it into German. If there is a publisher, I would like to do it.

AVIVA-Berlin: Your are writing about so many different Jews, like Ashkenazim, Mizrahim and Sephardim. Why did you devote a whole chapter to the Mizrahim?
Donna Rosenthal: Most of the people in America and Germany are thinking, that the Jews in Israel are mostly Ashkenazim. In the book half of the people are Mizrahim. 50 percent of the Israelis are Mizrahim, half of the Jews in Israel, and I wanted to give them a voice.

AVIVA-Berlin: You introduced your book as a "bible for journalists". What does this mean?
Donna Rosenthal: There is more than the blood in the country and you can´t understand the country without knowing the people.
I´m not in the book. You know, there are so many different books about Israel and the Middle East. And many journalists think they are fantastic: "look I am the journalist. Here is what I think, what I saw." So when people read this book, they say: "Oh she´s orthodox, she writes about the orthodox" or "Oh she´s Mizrahim, she writes about the Mizrahim" and it goes like this. Everyone who reads the book, thinks I´m them – which makes me very happy – because I´m not in the book. And they all like it, very left wing, very right winged, the Christians, because it´s not political. When I wrote the book I tried to get different representatives from each group.

AVIVA-Berlin: You described different phases of Aliyah. How would you differentiate between immigrating, for example, to the USA, which also had always been a land of immigration, or to the State of Israel?
Donna Rosenthal: America is very big. Israel has the size of Hessen. So, for example, you have one million immigrants. In America you maybe never see them and they could live five hours by airplane away. But in Israel you have to deal with them, you maybe meet them in the bus.
But here the army is an important thing. You are Ethiopian, left winged, right winged and so on. If you are together in a camp, you have to talk with the others. And that´s why the army brings so many different people to talk together, sleep together and maybe to marry. But it´s not paradise.

AVIVA-Berlin: You also wrote about the problems for and with the Russian immigrants. A few weeks ago the Israeli police caught a group of Russian Israelis around Eli Buanitov, who founded a Neo-Nazi group. Have you heard about this? How could that be possible? What could be done against the violence and frustration among Russian youth in Israel?
Donna Rosenthal: It think it´s usually a minority. First of all, most of the "Russians" are not Russians, they are Ukrainian. I call them former Sowjets. Half of them are not Jewish. Based on the "Nürnberg law" you can come to Israel with just one Jewish part of your grandparents. So if they are older, not religious, they have problems to learn the language and to integrate. When you are younger it is easier to come to Israel. And it also takes time to educate them. There are more than one million Russians. It´s possible to live in a "Russian bubble" with Russian TV, Russian newspapers… The Russians who came in 1973 were not so many, so they had to learn Hebrew. I think this is one problem and it takes probably another generation. But there is also a "brain-drain", so many conductors, doctors... But these are the Russians you don´t read about in the newspapers.

AVIVA-Berlin: In the German translation, the fourth part of your book is called "Schizophrenia: non-Jews in a Jewish state". What were your motives for this title?
Donna Rosenthal: I wanted to show, how it is to be an Israeli called Mohamed. I have a friend called like this, who is very happy with his job in a hospital. He has many Jewish friends, but if he speaks Arabic to his children after a terrorist attack, the people are afraid of him.
And I also tried to show, that there are so many different kinds of Arabs. Some of them are radical - "call me Palestinian", some are in the army, some wanted to be called Israelis…
It´s a little schizophrenic; it´s a land with a Jewish flag. Maybe you are happy about this. In the Israeli diplomatic corps, there are some Bedouin. But some people don´t understand, how could that be: "A Bedouin Moslem in the Israeli army?" . But he is also an Israeli. It´s very complicated.

AVIVA-Berlin: In your book you describe some examples of peaceful co-existence in Israel like the settlement "Neve Shalom", where Jewish, Moslem and Christian children play together and at most are arguing about a knife. It seems to be a little paradise among other villages and gives hope.
Do you believe that peace is possible today?
Donna Rosenthal:No. "Neve Shalom" is mostly a German and an American project. It´s not growing. Many Israelis don´t even know about it.
I wrote a part of the book in Jerusalem at the "Street of Prophets" and I learned not to make prophesies about Israel and the Middle East. I suppose, that peace maybe means the absence of war, but it depends on whom you ask. Some Israelis would say yes, some no …

AVIVA-Berlin: Thank you very much for the interview!

Please read the review of Donna Rosenthal "Die Israelis" on AVIVA (German).


Beitrag vom 09.10.2007