OK, Some Truths About Jerualem (for Elie Wiesel and others)

Gershom Gorenberg

My latest piece for the American Prospect:

Lest it be said that I never agree with anything that Benjamin Netanyahu says, I actually concur with one clause — not a whole sentence — in the speech he gave Tuesday evening. “The struggle for Jerusalem is a struggle for the truth,” the prime minister of my country said.

The rest of his speech consisted of the usual quarter-truths and myths that make up most statements about “eternally united” Jerusalem — by Netanyahu himself, by other Israeli officials, and by often-naive American supporters. Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel’s open letter, published as a full-page ad last month in The New York Times and other U.S. papers, is a good example of the art form.

Netanyahu was speaking at the start of the celebrations for Jerusalem Day, the sundown-to-sundown national holiday marking Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967. (The anniversary is set according to the Hebrew date, rather than the civil date of June 7.) The venue was Merkaz Harav yeshivah, the seminary most identified with the stream of religious Zionism that gives metaphysical meaning to Israel’s victory in that war. Netanyahu’s right-wing ally, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, was admirably more honest speaking both at Merkaz Harav and the next day in Parliament. Rivlin acknowledged, with pain, that Jerusalem is not “bound firmly together” — the words from Psalm 122:3 so often cited in speeches about “united” Jerusalem.

Rivlin also admitted that outside of religious Zionists, most Israelis now ignore Jerusalem Day. Since East Jerusalem serves as synecdoche for all the conquests of 1967, this says something about wider attitudes toward the occupation. Most religious Zionists, along with politicians of the secular right, are still celebrating Israeli rule over the “Whole Land of Israel.” The majority of Jewish Israelis have simply put the occupation out of their minds, as a problem that seems both faraway and beyond solution. Meanwhile, those concerned with the occupation as a threat to Israel’s character and future do mark Jerusalem Day, not as a celebration but as the time for some truth-telling.

Read the rest at The American Prospect; come back to South Jerusalem to comment.

3 thoughts on “OK, Some Truths About Jerualem (for Elie Wiesel and others)”

  1. This comes a little late for all the attention here to the Eli Wiesel ads a few weeks ago but still such well articulated truth-telling may somehow seep into those quarters where the Wiesel and Netanyahu “talking points” are picked up and repeated. But the truth does not necessarily matter in some echo chambers.

    Shame on those who lie so. Eli Wiesel has had some time to rectify his “misstatements”. Has he?

  2. I was in Tel Aviv once. Well, twice, this the second time. High summer, sitting at an outdoor cafe, I had the only shade. A couple with an infant came by, looking for a seat. Feeling guilty, I offered my table. The man said, “What, that is not kosher!” His wife stage whispered to him, “He’s American.” They were immigrants, clearly from their accents. They sat somewhere else; I did not have to move.

    Our competition never stops. We hide it and crow it in the same day. We live in myths to escape what we do: so Jerusalem is above politics. All can find housing in Jerusalem. All can worship freely. Somewhere there is a city absolving us of all our fights. That Israel has it, America not–a blessing for us, curse for you. Perhaps all those who venture so close to god are cursed.

    I have found the peace of god a socially enforced ignorance, willing bondage, a joy at the expense of those who cannot, definitionally, be there, so are not in sight or hearing. Elie Wiesel needs the peace of god, above politics, and the price is far less than what he saw elsewhere.

    Be comforted, Israel: in Gaza, Hamas orders the destruction of a few shanties (May 2010), set up on “government” land, they say, the Greek chorus backgrounded chanting these homeless lost theirs in an Israeli raid. The search for God’s peace goes on, turns elsewhere, elsewhere just another us.

    Politics is encounter of the other. Nothing is beyond that, God Itself an other. Offer your table, and see what happens.

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