For a change, Monday’s New York Times actually had a few good words to say about Israel. Their lead editorial, “Istrael’s Diplomatic Offensive,” praised Ehud Olmert’s government for bypassing George W. Bush and Condi Rice to make peace with some of its more unpleasant neighbors.
“Israel is increasingly willing to explore conversations with states and groups Washington would prefer to ignore and isolate. In recent weeks it has agreed to a limited, Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with the Hamas authorities in Gaza and is engaged in indirect peace talks with Syria, sponsored by Turkey. It is attempting to start similar discussions with the Lebanese government, despite — or more likely because of — Hezbollah’s growing political influence.”
I guess it’s gauche to point out that some of us have been writing about Israel’s courageous new peace efforts for weeks. To its credit, The Times goes on, “There are clear risks. Hamas may not respect or enforce the cease-fire; there have been almost daily violations. Syria may be as unbudging as it has been in past negotiations. Hezbollah may block talks with Lebanon or use them to buy time to build up its armaments and political leverage.”
Duh. Still, as they say, it’s right to try, even if Olmert is a besieged and weakening leader. Some on the right, both in Israel and the United States, find the peace offensive offensive. Some live with rockets raining down on them from Gaza while the IDF observes a cease-fire that the other side breaks with impunity. Some, Bible in hand, build new West Bank housing in places they believe should stay Jewish forever—even while Olmert’s government moves toward a Palestinian state. And some, of course, prepare to attack Iran.
Not all of this makes sense—pretty soon, I believe, Israel will have to break faith with certain Jewish Bible-thumpers. But the Middle East is a dangerous neighborhood. Only a fool would fail to prepare for all contingencies, and Israelis are not fools. But finally, the world’s leading newspaper recognized that they are taking great risks for peace.
More typical of The Times are two articles that appeared the previous day in the Book Review. One, “Israel’s Identity Crisis: Proposing an egalitarian democracy unencumbered by Jewish privileges,” was a glowing review of a book by Bernard Avishai.
According to both author and reviewer, Israel has to “develop a national consciousness and identity based not on religion, but simply on being Israeli — to remove all privileges accorded to Jews and make Israel a modern, egalitarian democracy. If all Israeli citizens were simply Israelis, rather than Jews, Muslims or Christians, there would be no ‘demographic threat.’”
I don’t know what world these men live in. Every other nation in the region, and many others throughout the world, would of course continue to be Muslim. No one would presume to deny them that right—least of all The New York Times. But teensy Israel would volunteer to give up its Jewish identity in the interest of spreading true democracy. And all would be well.
I hope Mr. Avishai and his adoring reviewer leave the night-light on when they finish reading this fairy tale to their children. It does sometimes get scary in the dark.
I was struck by the word “unencumbered” in the tag line—“unencumbered by Jewish privileges.” That wasn’t written by either the author or the reviewer, it was written by Times copywriters and vetted by Times editors.
No doubt the first encumbrance to go would be the right of return, then the right of self-defense, and finally the right to survive. The whole idea gives new meaning to the phrase “suicidal left.” Will the last Jew in Israel please turn out the light?
An essay in the same issue describes an old Hebrew novel about the shelling of a Palestinian village to drive the residents out during the 1948 War for Independence. The great Israeli writer A. B. Yehoshua, interviewed for the article, called it a classic. It represents the kind of soul searching many Israelis do, and they are the Israelis The New York Times likes to praise.
But Yehoshua also said that the history of Israel “hasn’t been ‘taking innocent citizens’ and trying ‘to do harm to them…It’s a war between two peoples about the land.’ The Palestinians ‘don’t want us for their own reasons, and we have to be there because we don’t have another place. This is the tragedy.’ Even if the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are ‘evil,’ Yehoshua added, ‘we cannot say that the other side doesn’t want to push us to the sea.’”
“It’s a war between two peoples about the land…This is the tragedy.” One definition of tragedy is an inexorable conflict between two goods. The suicidal left and the liberal press that praises it want to turn the tragedy into a fairy tale in which the Jews do the right thing, save the day, and disappear. Fortunately, the Jews prefer non-fiction.