The Spine

'the Guardian' And Israel


On its front page yesterday, November 7, The Guardian trumpeted a speech it was reprinting by David Grossman, the well-known (I think more than a little precious, but no matter) Israeli novelist. Grossman gave the address at a huge memorial meeting for Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv on the fifth anniversary of the prime minister's assassination. "What has happened to my beloved Israel?" cries out the headline, placed directly under the Zionist banner, two blue stripes and a Star of David on a white field. One thing is for sure: that Israel is not beloved by The Guardian, although 60 years ago when Henry Fairlie( who later wrote regularly for TNR) was writing editorials for the Manchester Guardian, the paper was fiercely pro-Zionist. Actually, Israel is barely tolerated by The Guardian now.

Which you can tell by the short introductory paragraph featured before the text begins. "Tel Aviv has wasted too many chances to reach a lasting peace in the Middle East, says the Israeli novelist David Grossman." Now, Tel Aviv is the big metropolis of the country, its intellectual and artistic center, a true culinary and entertainment habitat, lively, sexy, slightly salacious, a sea town with all of the cosmopolitanism that implies. But it is not the capital of Israel. As New York is not Washington, Tel Aviv is not Jerusalem. If Israel has wasted too many chances to reach a lasting peace it is not Tel Aviv, even metaphorically, that has done it. It is Jerusalem, where also the president and prime minister reside, where the Knesset is headquartered and meets, where the Supreme Court hands down its glowingly liberal rulings.

It is colossal chutzpah for The Guardian to ignore the fact that Jerusalem is the actual capital of Israel. And it tells you more than you need to know: that the newspaper's playing with this fact suggest that, in its routine coverage, it also plays with other facts, both material and symbolic. It is also true that Grossman, despite what The Guardian printed, certainly did not say that "Tel Aviv has wasted too many chances..." This is The Guardian's editors' own prejudice, and it is a scandal. As if someone were to say that the capital of Germany was not Berlin but Bonn. Or simply call Beijing, Peking.

I have my own differences with Grossman. But he is an Israeli patriot and a eloquent Zionist. He lost a son in the Lebanon war. Many of the beautiful souls of Israel did not know anyone who was killed in this last round of interminable fighting. The fighting soldiers were not Tel Avivians. I am not sure about this. But I was told by reliable and truthful people that only one child of Tel Aviv was killed in the war. And that 18 percent of the dead were children of the kibbutz, which can claim roughly 1 1/2 to 2 percent of the population. This tells you something about Zionist idealism and where it is still lodged primarily. But do not think the dissent in Israel is for the myopia of peace at any risk. It isn't. It wants a more resolute diplomatic stance not givi-give-give policy that has predominated during the last three years.

In any case, what I have learned about Grossman's son is exemplary, truly exemplary. He was brave and brilliant and beautiful. But none of this should give his father's idiosyncratic opinions more cachet than they would have on their own. Which is not much. What Grossman is telling Ehud Olmert, quite explicitly in the rally disguised as a memorial meeting, is that he must "make an offer the Palestinians can't refuse." Alas, that offer was made by Ehud Barak in 2000, and twice. And it was refused, and the great number of Palestinians who Grossman is so sure are ready to receive it were not there. Indeed, Israel started out on another process the Palestinians "couldn't refuse." The withdrawal from Gaza (I wrote from Gaza. You can find the pieces here, here, and here) should have brought some calm to the situation. The withdrawal from Gaza, one might have thought, would encourage the Palestinians to show that they can make a polity and turn it into a real society. They haven't. And, much as they have turned Gaza into a base for rockets aimed within Israel, they promise to bring (and already are bringing) agile weapons--sooner rather than later, like the ones from Lebanon--into the West Bank. And, then, what? This is what Israel has to guard against. And Grossman's fantasies do the opposite.

In all the pathos of his prose, Grossman has been one of the balmy optimists in Jewish life. Optimistic about everything. The Jews--and the Zionists--who changed the grim reality of their people were the pessimists. They knew what their neighbors intended for them. And they did not act, whatever the lubrications of the great powers, as if their neighbors intended otherwise.

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