This issue of the Israel Studies Review is going to press after the new government in Jerusalem has settled in and is trying to practice what was referred to in the election campaign as “the new politics,” a concept that already calls for some serious analysis. However, one of the facts of life for those of us whose careers are subject to a stately academic rhythm is that we are always behind on the latest events, yet still too close to them to be able to provide a deeper perspective. This is by way of pointing out that our articles were all written in 2012, before the latest major political changes took place in Israel, including the latest election. However, we believe that their lasting value will transcend the immediate headlines.
When I was a child I remember being fascinated by a bundle of very old letters which my grandmother kept at the back of her writing desk, tied together with a piece of faded ribbon. The letters were still in their respective envelopes; some had stamps bearing Queen Victoria’s head – Penny Blacks and Reds – which I marvelled at, for these were collectors’ items already in the 1950s, or so my older sister informed me. The envelopes were addressed in different styles of copperplate handwriting in blue or black ink which had sometimes spitted a careless blot or two randomly across the neatly etched script. Inside, curling characters scrolled across the folded pages, which occasionally enclosed a small memento: a sepia photograph or a pressed flower – a violet still faintly blue. The writing itself seemed to speak volumes to a small child who was still painstakingly learning to form her own characters at school; but the letters were far more than mere handwriting to be deciphered and interpreted. For me, as for my grandmother, these were distinct voices from the past. And in their different rhythms of speech, forms of expression and often oldfashioned vocabulary, these individual letter-writers seemed to momentarily live again when their words were reiterated.
Researching and writing contemporary history move forward in a
certain rhythm. Today, the 1960s are the decade of major interest,
whereas the 1970s increasingly are becoming the testing ground of
new approaches and reinterpretations. By contrast, the 1950s seem
of little interest—with most of the issues solved and most sources
accessible. But this could be a false impression, especially if one
takes into account the dominant views on this period that have
become popular in the last years. After 1989/90, with the fall of the
Berlin Wall, the unification of Germany, and the end of the Cold
War, many historians developed and corroborated an interpretation
of the postwar decades—a now widely accepted master narrative of
the “German question.” With the benefit of hindsight, they claimed
that Konrad Adenauer’s policy of Western integration was a necessary
and inevitable course, which facilitated eventual reunification.
Other political options would have rendered the Federal Republic of
Germany (FRG) dangerously open to stronger communist pressure or
even would have presented the Soviet Union with the opportunity to
expand its empire to Germany as a whole.