“Ethan Michaeli has a gimlet eye for the people, texture, and contradictions of modern Israel. I’m in awe of his powers of observation and his ability as a modern-day Tocqueville to take us inside one of the most complex and confounding countries in the world." — Jonathan Alter, bestselling author of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life
An "illuminating" and "richly descriptive" (New York Times Book Review) portrait of contemporary Israel, revealing the diversity of this extraordinary yet volatile nation by weaving together personal histories of ordinary citizens from all walks of life.
In 2015, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin warned that the country’s citizens were dividing into tribes: by class and ethnicity, by geography, and along lines of faith. In Twelve Tribes, award-winning author Ethan Michaeli portrays this increasingly fractured nation by intertwining interviews with Israelis of all tribes into a narrative of social and political change. Framed by Michaeli’s travels across the country over four years and his conversations with Israeli family, friends, and everyday citizens, Twelve Tribes illuminates the complex dynamics within the country, a collective drama with global consequences far beyond the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
Readers will meet the aging revolutionaries who founded Israel’s kibbutz movement and the brilliant young people working for the country’s booming Big Tech companies. They will join thousands of ultra-Orthodox Haredim at a joyous memorial for a long-dead Romanian Rebbe in a suburb of Tel Aviv, and hear the life stories of Ethiopian Jews who were incarcerated and tortured in their homeland as “Prisoners of Zion” before they were able to escape to Israel.
And they will be challenged, in turn, by portraits of Israeli Arabs navigating between the opportunities in a prosperous, democratic state and the discrimination they suffer as a vilified minority, as by interviews with both the Palestinians striving to build the institutions of a nascent state and the Israeli settlers seeking to establish a Jewish presence on the same land.
Immersive and enlightening, Twelve Tribes is a vivid depiction of a modern state contending with ancient tensions and dangerous global forces at this crucial historic moment. Through extensive research and access to all sectors of Israeli society, Michaeli reveals Israel to be a land of paradoxical intersections and unlikely cohabitation—a place where all of the world’s struggles meet, and a microcosm for the challenges faced by all nations today.
ETHAN MICHAELI is the author of The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America—named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and the Washington Post, a winner of Best Nonfiction prizes from both the Chicago Writers Association and the Society of Midland Authors, and short-listed for the Mark Lynton History Prize presented by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Previously, Ethan founded Residents’ Journal, a magazine written and produced by the tenants of Chicago’s public housing developments and an affiliated not-for-profit organization, We the People Media. Currently a lecturer at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, he is also a senior adviser for communications and development at the Goldin Institute, an international not-for-profit organization collaborating with social change activists in forty different countries. Ethan has served as a judge of national literary contests, and his shorter work has been published by Oxford University Press, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, the Forward, the Chicago Tribune, and other venues.