The return to Zion has been a trope in Jewish history for more than 3,000 years. It pertains to the people Israel itself. And it applies also to individual Jews, both in the abstract and in the tactile, as a matter of conscience and as a fact of communality. You will know already from my other writings just how much I pity those Jews who are alienated from these considerations or, worse yet, haven’t the slightest idea of what I mean. Of course, ignorance of one’s past can excuse a lot. But it’s not a satisfying answer to inquiring children.
I’ve written about Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington and a favorite of the king, at least five times (“This Is A Scoop … A Scoop About Saudi Arabia,” “When Progress Is Made Progress Should Be Recognized,” “The Saudi Ambassador,” “A Circus Or A Conclave,” “Why Should Israel Make Peace With Failed States?”). I should have written about Adel soon after we met. It wasn’t a year before he invited a few of us roughly from the TNR crowd (Fouad Ajami, Michael Kinsley, Tom Tisch, James Woolsey, and one or two others) to be his guests on a visit to the kingdom.
I kinda like Senator Scott Brown, the Republican junior senator from my home state of Massachusetts. No, I did not vote for him. But I certainly did not vote for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate anointed by the party hacks to the seat everyone called “Kennedy’s seat.” Ted Kennedy held that seat for almost half a century, and he filled it with distinction off which some members of his family poached. He actually turned himself into a brainy man, not quite an intellectual but smart about the world in which we live and keen about the culture which surrounded him.
The New York Times called it a rare rally—and a rare rally it is. Alas, Somalia is not a Muslim country about which we particularly care. It has no oil. It is poor. It suffers from ongoing drought. It has a new enemy: pirates. And, after all, it is an African society with Arab undercurrents. When did anybody really care about a place like this? It is true that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have grasped these people to their hearts—and to their fortunes. But that’s not nearly enough. Maybe nothing would be nearly enough.
It’s just about a week since Russia and China, in a rare joint action, vetoed a European-sponsored resolution that “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by Syrian authorities.” The only thing strong about this defense of civilians was the use of the word “strongly.” And, as Colum Lynch reported in The Washington Post, the resolution demanded that Damascus “cease the use of force against civilians” and grant “fundamental freedoms” to prisoners.
Kol Nidre is the most haunting prayer in the Jewish liturgy. I would gauge that more Jews attend synagogue at this moment than at any other time in the year. (You’ve already missed it if you wanted to go.) For some it may be an act of desperation, a stance between belief and non-belief, hovering somewhere between trust and trembling. In any case, it is my or your—if you had decided to try—last chance to settle accounts with God, in the heavens or with the god of your imagination.
Or, better yet, “my ass.” The Arab Spring has been with us for nearly three quarters of a year. This is not a long time as history goes. But the annual flowers of the spare land have long ago vanished into the crude, mostly gritty sand that is the Middle East. It’s not, though, as if it is at all back to “normal” in the Arab world. And, frankly, we haven’t the slightest about what normal in the Arab world is or will be. The Muslims and the Jews and the increasingly scarce but differentiated Christians who constituted the region lived (and live) recreant lives.
I take the liberty of suggesting that you read a speech given yesterday by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.N. General Assembly. Netanyahu has been unlucky in the treatment of his remarks for a quarter century. He has been even more unlucky in the treatment of his offers to the Palestinian people to start the peace process which they, alas, have refused to do. An article by Neil MacFarquhar and Steven Lee Myers in the Times projects Dame Catherine Ashton, the “foreign minister” of the European Union, as the leading light in the diplomacy of Europe towards Israel/Palestine.
Not yet two months into his presidency, Barack Obama designated Chas Freeman as chair of the National Intelligence Council. It wasn’t the first indication that the United States would likely embark on a new and what was at best a jejune and shallow foreign policy. But the appointment was disturbing all the same. Altogether aside from some raw anti-Jewish biases, Freeman had done a good deal of time in the foreign service, stationed in venues where the instincts of his hosts were especially appreciated by this oh, so cooperative Washington emissary.
It is not actually his region. Still, with the arrogance that is so characteristic of his behavior in matters he knows little about (which is a lot of matters), he entered the region as if in a triumphal march. But it wasn’t the power and sway of America that he was representing in Turkey and in Egypt. For the fact is that he has not much respect for these representations of the United States. In the mind of President Obama, in fact, these are what have wreaked havoc with our country’s standing in the world.