Tuesday, March 23, 2010

AIPAC Agonistes

I confess feeling a twinge of pathos when I heard on Reshet Bet radio this morning how Benjamin Netanyahu told his AIPAC audience in Washington that the Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3000 years ago, would continue doing so today, and then hearing the crowd roar its delight.

These are not stupid people. They are serious people. They know, surely, that the construction in contention is in East Jerusalem neighborhoods that threaten to entirely cut off 300,000 Palestinians from their families and commercial opportunities in the West Bank. They know that any effort to keep these neighborhoods, or preserve the status quo, will result in Bosnian style violence. They know that this violence would further undermine American interests in the region.

They know that 41% of Israelis (its professional elites, disproportionately) oppose this construction, even if a slightly larger number favor it, so that, at best, continuing Netanyahu's policy will tear the country apart. They know that Israeli governments have wasted $17 billion on a settlement project that might have been invested in Israel proper, including West Jerusalem. They know that Israel has no way of remaining a democracy if settlements continue and a peace deal, including partition of Jerusalem, is not forthcoming. (Kadima's Haim Ramon followed the report of Netanyahu's speech on Reshet Bet and made all of these points himself.)

They know that, as Ehud Olmert told me himself, he and Palestinian President Abbas had already held advanced discussions over a formula for sharing Jerusalem; that his formula entailed keeping the city physically intact, but allowing Palestinian neighborhoods to revert to the sovereignty of a Palestinian state, while the Holy Basin fell under the custodianship of Israel, the United States, and Arab countries, including Palestine. They know that Jerusalem would, ideally, be a capital for two highly interdependent states; and that whether or not Jerusalem will be an international city in any formal sense, its security in the long run will require the presence of international forces.

They also know, finally, that American Jews have about as much in common with King David's iron age Israelites as American Chinese have with the Shang Dynasty. They know that it was the fanaticism and corruption of Judean kingdoms that lost Jerusalem. They know that, since then, normative Judaism has seen Jerusalem as a moral ideal, like Utopia, not a material place; and that Zionism was meant to valorize a modern Jewish nation, not an ancient land. They know that the Passover festival begins next week, and Jews everywhere will explain to their children why freedom is a universal principle. So what exactly were they cheering?

I do not mean to ask this question cynically. There is some kind of hole in the heart that backing Netanyahu over "Jerusalem" seems to be filling. There are intelligent and decent people gathered at AIPAC, and many young people who are eager to stand for something. What is it, other than the insistence that they, who "didn't do anything," fiercely admire Israelis who did something?


pabelmont said...

"Undivided Jerusalem is perpetual capital of Israel" is a political slogan, a rallying cry, an expression of Political Correctness (PC) by which RWZs recognize each other. It is also a trap.

Repeating this phrase makes RWZs feel good, cements their community, a sort of latter-day Shema Yisrael.

However, it is also a trap, because repeating this slogan and demanding (in effect) that others repeat it before they will be heard, makes the speaker responsible for taking political actions AS IF the slogan were true or necessary.

It is, thus, sort of like a mandatory chorus of "There are no such things as icebergs" being sung (and being required to be sung) on the Titanic before and during its tragic voyage.

Mark Cohen said...

Agree with article and previous comment (love seeing it as a "latter-day Shema Yisrael"). There is also something generational at work with the AIPAC crowd. Their cheers are the cheers of Jews in their 50s and older for whom Israel was a rejuvenating force in their (barely) Jewish youth. There is something threadbare about this insistence on a united Jerusalem and about the people who celebrate it.

Joel Strauss said...

Mr. Avishai,

While I agree with your conclusion, i'd like you to further explain two points that make little sense to me. The first, is that you make a grand claim of Bosnian style violence and follow it with little support of why. Second, apply the logic you use when you say, "41% of Israelis (its professional elites, disproportionately) oppose this construction, even if a slightly larger number favor it, so that, at best, continuing Netanyahu's policy will tear the country apart" to the healthcare debate in America. By this logic, the healthcare bill should not happen because a large number of people object (can also be applied to anything considered divisive).

Potter said...

What is it, other than the insistence that they, who "didn't do anything," fiercely admire Israelis who did something?

I think this is so.

There is also plain stupidity (or hopeless blockage) at work- I beg to differ.

That Netanyahu pathos was more than matched listening to Owen Bennet Jones interview with Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem on the BBC Newshour this AM. The BBC promised the fuller version this weekend on their program The Interview. It was jaw-dropping, the 8 minute excerpt I heard today

chapter 2 on the March 23 2010 Newshour

this link works at the moment.

or here.

Y. Ben-David said...

Division of Jerusalem Equals DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM.

Giving the Palestinians soveireignity in part of Jerusalem means resumption gunfire from Arab controlled areas into Jewish areas.

Dividing the city means putting back up the anti-sniper walls, minefields and barbed war that scarred the city before 1967.

"International troops" controlling the city was tried once before...that was called "The British Mandate". It failed. Why should "international troops" endanger themselves in order to guarantee Jewish access to the Western Wall and other holy places?

Even if Jewish access is supposedly "guaranteed" according to some agreement, Jews WILL BE harranssed and the holy places WILL be attacked, just like Joseph's Tomb in Shechem, which the Palestinian Authority guaranteed, but in the end an Arab mob burned it to the ground with PA support. So forget the Jewish holy places. But, that's what you want anyway Bernie...it is only primitive Judeans who care about them in the first place, not your "entrepeneurial elites" (or do they?)

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