Maxim Katz is an unlikely Russian politician. There is his Jewish surname, his youthful age of 27, and his long, flowing dark hair. There is also his choice of profession: A former poker national champion, Katz now makes his living by staking promising poker players to big-pot tournament games, in return for a cut of the winnings. He didn’t even live in Russia for an eight-year stretch, from 1993 to 2001, when he resided in Tel Aviv.
The demonizing of Israel, dismissing the democratic Jewish state as a right-wing, religious, racist project, continues. The latest storyline describes ultra-Orthodox Israelis—known in Hebrew as haredim—as medieval Neanderthals rapidly converting Israel into an Iran-style theocracy. This popular caricature encourages those liberals seeking excuses to stop supporting Israel.
In the Jewish struggle around Zionism there were at least three strands in opposition so fierce that it was evident that the very meaning of “the people Israel” was at stake. The first of these was a vast religious cohort, at once immensely learned or purported to have such learning and having, as well, the authority of the sages. Or the ages. While ongoing study and “trust in the Lord” constituted their program, they practiced a politics that was fundamentally anti-political. God was both their instrument and their end.
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.
I wish it would be historically possible—that is, historically honest—for Israel to be omitted from the long list of target countries that have been the victims of terrorism. Alas, it is not. But President Obama has a habit of making such lists, and he always fails to include Israel (or anyplace within its borders) as a target of this distinctive and most vicious form of warfare. Still, the fact is that, as early as the 1970s, Palestinian liberationists had begun to perfect the careful tactics of random battle against Israelis. If not precisely Israelis, then some other Jews. Why not?
Walking down Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv these days, I can hardly recognize the street where I live. The normally laid back atmosphere has given way to a sea of tents, people, slogans, speeches, and music. The protest has entered its fourth week and it seems to be growing stronger every day, inviting people from all over the country to participate, perhaps for the first time, in a political demonstration. The protest started when a group of mostly young people began living in tents in order to draw attention to the increase in rent prices Israel has seen in recent years.
Tel Aviv—Among the many signs and witty slogans in the improvised tent camp that has recently sprung up on Rothschild Boulevard, part of a larger economic protest movement happening nationwide, one says “ROTHSCHILD, CORNER OF TAHRIR.” To be sure, it is hard not to acknowledge that, while watching protests sweep the Middle East, Israelis have gotten a lesson in participatory democracy from the residents of some of the least democratic countries on the globe. But, while Tahrir Square may have served as an inspiration, the grievances in Israel are certainly not the same as they were in Egypt.
Jerusalem—It was a nation of ambivalent Israelis that listened to President Obama’s latest Middle East plan—an interim agreement based on ending the occupation of the Palestinians while somehow ensuring the security of the Israelis. Israeli ambivalence is peculiar: It has nothing to do with uncertainty or confusion. Instead, to be an ambivalent Israeli is to be torn between two conflicting certainties.
... and the dog ceased his barking. I actually began to weep softly only when the siren stopped. It was 11 a.m., Monday, and for two minutes all Israel—but not, I admit, its Arabs—ceased what they were doing and stood, quietly, introspectively, in camaraderie and in remembrance. This was Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for the Jewish state and the Jewish nation. Ceremonies were held throughout the country—a tiny country, I do not hesitate to remind you—for whose survival 22,867 soldiers had fallen in battle since 1948.