After 61 years, Yuval Elizur, Israeli journalist and former Israeli consul in New York, recently returned to the Vineyard for a visit. In the 1950s, he had honeymooned with his bride, Judith Neulander, at the Menemsha Inn. He nostalgically remembered losing his wedding ring on a swim there and enjoying evening slide shows offered by the late Alfred Eisenstadt, a fellow inn guest.
Mr. Elizur revisited the Menemsha Inn on his Island stopover, searched for the cottage where he had stayed with his late wife and went to see Eisenstadt photographs at West Tisbury’s Granary Gallery. He liked what he saw of today’s Vineyard. It had not changed so much from what it had been when his bride had suggested it as the perfect site for their honeymoon. He remembered the Chilmark moors and Edgartown widows’ walks and applauded what seemed to him efforts to preserve the Island’s natural beauty.
Mr. Elizur was on the Vineyard, and in the United States, to help promote his most recent book, The War Within: Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Threat to Democracy and the Nation, which he co-authored with New York journalist Lawrence Malkin and which has recently been printed in an updated paperback edition by Overlook Press in New York. He spoke about it and Israeli politics in general at a gathering at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.
In the 1840s, his scholarly Orthodox great-grandfather emigrated from Lithuania to Palestine, then a part of the Ottoman Empire, Mr. Elizur told his Hebrew Center audience. His grandfather, like his great-grandfather, was orthodox. Both viewed yeshiva education, a study of the Talmud and nothing else, as sufficient education. Yuval Elizur’s father, however, had different ideas and wanted an education that was more than religious. Although Yuval’s father attended a yeshiva, he used his lunch money to pay for a tutor in English and mathematics, and became a successful trader, buying goods abroad and selling them in Palestine.
His sons, similarly, had educations that went beyond a yeshiva. This led to his elder son Herbert studying in England and, in time, joining the RAF, and Yuval, the younger, studying journalism in the United States.
Yuval Elizur’s first experience with American education was at the University of Missouri. When he returned to Israel, he became an intelligence officer in the fledgling state’s air force. Mr. Elizur also earned an economics degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and, after that, a master’s degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York. When he returned again to Israel he joined the staff of the newspaper Ma’ariv, then the Israeli paper with the largest circulation. He served first as an economics reporter and later became the paper’s deputy editor. He remained with Ma’ariv for 38 years, though he took leaves of absence to serve in the Israeli Foreign Office and in the consulate in New York, trying to break the Arab boycott of Israel. He was also the Israel correspondent for the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. On his Vineyard visit, he talked matter-of-factly about his likes and dislikes among Israeli political figures he has known.
“I didn’t like Ariel Sharon at all, and I didn’t like Menachim Begin,” he said. “They were both right-wing Nationalists. I liked Golda Maier and she liked me. When I wanted to resign from the Foreign Ministry, she told me to stay.”
“Bibi Netanyahu’s father was a great scholar of the Jews in Spain, but he had a fight with Hebrew University where he taught, so he went to Cornell,” added Mr. Elizur. “That’s how Bibi came to live in the United States and go to the Harvard Business School. Bibi can be very pleasant and he’s a terrific speaker. But I don’t think he’s very honest in describing the situation in Israel the way it really is. He likes to wiggle through. What Bibi wants is to stay in power as prime minister, no matter what.”
Outside of politics, Mr. Elizur made friends with the British spy story writer, John LeCarre, guiding him through Israel when he was researching his novel about Middle East terrorism, The Little Drummer Girl. Mr. Elizur also became friends with Israeli-born CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer.
He somewhat gleefully remembered being taken to the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 to see how the fighting was going.
“There were a lot of Israeli tanks around and the Syrians were shelling them. A car two cars in front of the press car I was in was hit. I said let’s go back so I can make my deadline.”
Now that Mr. Elizur is retired, life is more peaceful and he has been concentrating almost entirely on writing. This was how he and Lawrence Malkin, an award-winning foreign correspondent who has written for Time, the International Herald Tribune and the Associated Press, and lives in New York city, came to collaborate on writing The War Within. The book was first rejected by several American publishers as too controversial, but was eventually published by Overlook Press in both the U.S. and Britain.
Mr. Elizur and Mr. Malkin have written their book because they say “we believe that Israel is not a Jewish state, but a state for Jews — all Jews, observant and otherwise — a tolerant, pluralistic, progressive country that will only fail if it continues to wage war within itself.”
And what of the recently failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had vowed he would make work? Mr. Elizur is not sanguine about an agreement coming soon.
“In that last round, both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, were looking for an excuse to say no,” he said. “But a two-state solution — one Arab, one Jewish — is, in the end, the only possible one and it’s the one for which most Israelis would vote, if they were given the chance.”
Mr. Elizur left the Island for Los Angeles to publicize The War Within on the West Coast. Then he was returning to his home in Jerusalem.