Walls

Tuesday night—actually the Wednesday morning driving hour there–I was on the Tovia Singer Show on Israel National Radio. He has three million listeners, many in the United States. He himself lived here until a couple of months ago, when he got a good deal on an apartment in Jerusalem’s Old City and immediately bought a one-way ticket. Now he lives a stone’s throw from the Kotel—the Western Wall.

When I was a boy it was called the Wailing Wall, because religious Jews made perilous pilgrimages from throughout the world—many died en route—to at last wend their way through Arab streets, touch the wall of the ruined Temple, pray, and weep.

Now they pass through Jewish security, enter a grand sunlit plaza, and pray in joy and freedom. Devout Muslims look down from the Temple Mount above, but there is no immediate danger. There are still the occasional tears, but they are not tears of grief shed because Jerusalem belongs to others. Some chinks in the wall bloom with hardy plants, others are crammed with tightly folded paper bearing heartfelt prayers.

Tovia disarmed me at the start of the interview by telling me that in the photo of my children on this website they are climbing the stairs past his new apartment. Tovia’s views are more hawkish than mine, but there is a bigger difference. The last time I was on his show, he lived in safe America. I brought my children up those stairs, and I took them to pray at the Wall, but Tovia Singer lives there now, and to me that means his opinion trumps mine.

Tovia wanted to talk about Jimmy Carter. I flatter myself that I am Carter’s nemesis, but I have to get in line for that honor. I’ve written a series of editorials on Carter since his biased, sloppy screed against Israel came out in 2006, but he’s increasingly irrelevant.

I recently told my wife that if I were McCain’s advisor, I would say “Carter-Obama” every time Obama says “Bush-McCain.” Whenever he says McCain is running for Bush’s third term, I would say Obama is running for Carter’s second. She replied, “Obama supporters don’t even know who Carter is.” Jimmy may yet be the poster boy for the Republican Jewish Coalition, as his desperate quest for attention makes him ever more outrageous. But at the moment he’s like a malevolent five-year-old: you don’t want to encourage him by watching.

“Is the 39th president of the United States an anti-Semite?” Tovia left me and his listeners with this cliffhanger before breaking for ads and news. I said we should use this term carefully; if Carter is one, what do we call Ahmadinejad?

But during the ruckus over his shoddy book he verged on classic anti-Semitic canards–like the Jewish lobby suppressing debate by controlling the media and the Congress. He chose his words carefully, to preserve deniability, but the anti-Semitic white supremacist websites loved them.

If there was a smoking gun, it was a note in his handwriting, on taxpayer-subsidized Carter Center stationery, accusing Rabbi Marvin Hier of spreading falsehoods to raise funds. When you accuse the distinguished leader of a revered Jewish institution of lying to get money, you are straddling the line.

Another line is the ever-blurrier one between being anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. Do we think that classic European anti-Semitism vanished after the Holocaust? Please. A potent vintage of that old sour wine in the new bottles of “legitimate” criticism of Israel is often brought out of the cellar and drunk with a large dollop of Arab vitriol.

The English used to say that an anti-Semite is someone who hates Jews more than necessary. Well, if you pop the cork of unfair, one-sided, grossly exaggerated criticism of Israel–and I’ll be the first to say it does deserve some criticism–you can smell the old sour wine, and Carter has been drinking it for years.

Meanwhile, other Christians—Christians United for Israel—sent me their weekly parsha, Isaiah 62:6-7:“I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth."

There is a new wall in Jerusalem, and although it has saved hundreds of Jewish lives it has garnered her anything but praise. But while watchmen are figuratively posted on that wall, others are trying bravely to transcend it. Carter may toy with his make-believe diplomacy, rebuke Israel, and issue dark hints about Jewish power. But his effect on the real peace process is: zero, at best.

In the past few days Israel’s government has taken bold steps: discussing a grand scheme to bring water from Turkey’s rivers to Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan through the Golan Heights, and, in exchange for that hard-won piece of land, turn Syria away from Iran and toward the West; announcing direct talks with Lebanon; continuing peace talks with the Palestinian Authority; and, through Egypt, brokering a cease-fire with Hamas that just this morning silenced the Gaza rockets—at least for now.

Israel’s watchmen can never and will never rest, and these efforts may not work. But the time may yet come when she is again the praise of the earth, and she will have earned a new motto:

Israel: Bold and victorious in war, bold and prosperous in peace.

One thought on “Walls

  1. Terrific post. I have cousins in Israel (Orthodox, incidentally), and I am concerned about their safety. Re Jimmy Carter:I just read most of Bearing False Witness, and it was devastating. Thank you for your contribution to the book.  A great read for 10$.

    Best,