Jodi Rudoren’s survey piece about Israeli public opinion as the backdrop to Barack Obama’s arrival in Israel is a total bunch of mush, from the sources she chose to offer as a representative sampling of Israelis, to the substance of what they say.
The first troubling bit is the very first sentence:
Obama administration officials have made it clear that the top agenda item for the president’s visit here this week is to win the hearts of the Israeli people.
Why is winning the hearts of the Israeli people even on Obama’s agenda at all? This shows a complete misunderstanding of what the role of a U.S. president is in regards to relations with Israel. He is not the president of Israel. He’s not running for anything in Israel. He doesn’t have to win any hearts in Israel unless it’s the trust of a leader with whom he’s negotiating a peace agreement (and we’re far from that).
In fact, a U.S. president who has won the hearts of Israelis has automatically lost those of Palestinians. He would have to reject Right of Return, sharing Jerusalem, and return of conquered territory in order to win those Israeli hearts. And in doing so, he will have alienated all Palestinians.
So a U.S. president has to have not love from Israelis, but something far different and harder earned: grudging respect. Anything that borders on love or admiration will mean he’s betraying his proper role. In other words, those administration officials expose the fundamental error in the conception of this trip.
In choosing sources for this article, Rudoren adopted Tom Friedman’s trusted method of testing the temperature of any exotic locale he’s visiting: ask the cabbie who picks you up at the airport. Cab drivers are always a trusty source of the views of “the people,” after all. His whiny comment about Obama doesn’t disappoint:
“Deep inside, I think, he doesn’t like us.”
Then she queries a woman running errands at a mall.
She also interviews Rabbi Levi Kelman, spiritual leader of a leading Reform congregation in Israel (he and I attended Camp Ramah together one summer). Perhaps the rabbi of the shul where Rudoren herself davens? Here’s the clear-eyed unvarnished wisdom he has to offer:
“People don’t get the love from Obama,” said Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, who leads the left-leaning Reform congregation Kol Haneshama…“Bush and Clinton and Carter, these guys all had such a deep religious passion about this place, and Obama doesn’t convey that,” he added.
Yup, that’s what Israelis need from Obama: love. That and a few bucks will get him a cappuccino in a Kikar Tzion coffee bar. Israelis don’t need love from Obama. They need tough love. They need stern words. They need to be told off, even threatened.
When your son or daughter’s been arrested for public intoxication or drug dealing for the fourth or fifth time do you shower them with gooey love? Or do you go for something different?
The most laughable statement comes from that moral arbiter of liberal Zionism, David Grossman. He makes this schizoid comment:
…David Grossman, who is something of a national muse, said Israelis are “terrified” and “suspicious,” and need Mr. Obama to “be a real friend to Israel.” He added, “A friend should tell us the truth, and not what we want to hear.”
“I wish he shows empathy to our anxieties; part of them are real,” Mr. Grossman said. “But I wish he would not collaborate with them, with our anxieties, to the extent he will justify doing nothing.”
So let’s see: tell the truth, even if it’s not what we want to hear. Show empathy for our anxieties, but only those that are “real.” Which means you have to sort through all of them discarding the unreal and focusing on the real. After determining which ones are real, distance yourself from them because that means doing nothing. And after he’s done with all that, peace should be around the corner.
This passage is a perfect representation of the utter dysfunction at the root of liberal Zionism. Compare Grossman’s dithering with the brutal certainty of the settlers, who now run the incoming Israeli government. There is no confusion there. They want the land. They want the native Palestinians gone. They want dominance. They won’t share.
Not to mention the fact that Israel’s record of mayhem in the Middle East warrants no special consideration of the sort Grossman requests. After thousands killed in Gaza and Lebanon and potentially thousands more if Israel attack Iran, why should Obama or anyone grant Israel dispensation for its “anxieties?”
The quandary facing well-meaning Israeli liberals is the same that faced Yeats in his famous poem, Second Coming:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
…Somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.
There was a time when the center did hold in Israeli politics. Labor dominated. There appeared to be a national consensus, though it was little more than skin deep. That gave way to the rough beast of Revisionism slouching not toward Bethlehem, but toward Jerusalem, to be born. The beast built settlements and planted 500,000 settler-Sphinxes, half-Jew and half-Spartan, in the territory conquered in 1967.
Now, the center is gone replaced by brutalism, pogroms, and homicidal violence. Into all this sails Barack Obama, oblivious to political nuance, insulated from Israeli reality, with some unspecified agenda in mind.
He may be in Israel to tell Bibi to sit back and wait for Barack’s queue to attack Iran. If so, it’s not even clear that the Israeli PM will listen. In fact, Haaretz quotes an anonymous Israeli official (who my own source tells me is national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror) who says the U.S. will entirely take Israel off the hook regarding Iran. He says the U.S. has a plan. It will take out Iran’s nukes, do so with “pinpoint strikes,” and not start a regional war. It’s not at all clear how such a miraculous outcome can be guaranteed. I suppose since Amidror is a religious settler, he believes in such divine miracles when bestowed by God’s earthly messenger, Barack Obama.
At any rate, the far more thorny, far more bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict will receive its typical short shrift. Leaving the future wide open to further Israeli wars of slaughter against defenseless Palestinians.
In case anyone wants to see the true face of Israel, the one Obama will insulate himself from, just as most Israelis do, just watch this YouTube video showing heroic IDF soldiers arresting extremely dangerous 8 year-old terrorists as they make their way either to set off suicide bombs or to school (only the IDF had difficulty determining which).