Disavow, Renounce, Didn’t Hear

Gershom Gorenberg

Just in case I’m ever struck by the mad thought of running for political office in Israel, I’d like to set the record straight: I don’t agree with the prophet Isaiah’s political views. He doesn’t speak for me. No way.

It’s true that I’ve enjoyed some of his sermons, and I took some comfort from the spiritual stuff, like that vision of heaven, with the six-winged creatures praising God. But I attended to Isaiah strictly for the religion, not for the politics. I mean, I’m a patriotic Israeli (even if my lapel pin got lost in the wash, honestly).

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even there the day he said,

Ah, sinful nation!
People laden with iniquity!
Brood of evildoers!
Depraved children!
They have forsaken the Lord,
spurned the Holy One of Israel,
Turned their backs on Him!

but if I was there, I slept through the sermon. Otherwise, I would have told him that I might just run for office, and therefore I cannot tolerate him cursing my country.

Actually, now that I look for the first time at the transcripts (thank God there’s no YouTube clip) I can see it gets even worse.

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South Jerusalem’s Swimsuit Issue

Mondays are women’s nights at the Jerusalem Pool, where I swim every day. From the hours of six to nine p.m., this South Jerusalem pool is closed to me simply because I’m a male. On Wednesday nights, women get the same treatment.

Daniel Pipes spends some of his no doubt precious time chronicling swimming pools in North America and Europe that have separate men’s and women’s hours. These pools have instituted separate sex hours to accommodate Muslims, where as in the case of the Jerusalem Pool, it’s to accommodate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews.

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Half-told stories: “Exodus,” the Armenians, and Holocaust Day

In real life, Yossi Harel didn’t really look like Paul Newman. Harel was the commander of the “Exodus,” the illegal immigration ship that was stopped by the British in 1947 before it could bring 4,500 Holocaust survivors to Palestine. In real life, the “Exodus” carried the survivors back to Germany. When Leon Uris fixed up the story for his potboiler, the boat got here. In the movie, Newman played Harel, renamed Ari Ben Canaan. OK, so Hollywood makes everything prettier and simpler and bigger. Nonetheless, Yossi Harel really was a hero, who also commanded three other illegal immigration ships.

Harel died last weekend, at age 90. The Hebrew obit in Ha’aretz quotes him describing what drove him. When he was 21, he said, he read Franz Werfel’s novel “40 Days of Musa Dagh,” about the Armenian genocide during World War I. “The book influenced my generation. I knew it by heart and my sense of mission grew sharper. I knew it was my job to save Jews.” Later, commanding the immigration ship Knesset Yisrael, he stood on the deck and looked north toward Turkey, and “the story of the Armenian people’s fight connected to my mission. To bring the survivors of the Holocaust, the refugees, to a safe shore, was the greatest thing I could imagine.”

For Harel, according to that testimony, there wasn’t a line between answering one genocide and another. He was helping Jews because fate had put him in a place where those were the people he could help.

Last week was the memorial day for the Armenians.

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How the Bush Administration Pursues Peace

Ha’aretz reports today on the latest leaks about the potential for Syrian-Israeli talks, and then hoses down the sparks of hopes with these paragraphs:

Following contacts between Israel and Syria, officials say significant U.S. involvement will probably be necessary for negotiations to move ahead, and that Syria is still demanding such involvement.

Both Israeli and foreign experts on Syria told Haaretz on Wednesday that a change in the American position was not on the horizon…

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Missing the Bus, or Milton Friedman’s Legacy

It’s Pesah, and the kids wanted to liberate Mom and Dad from their keyboards for a day of hiking, perhaps an overnight. We all have to leave our personal Egypts, after all. Nonetheless, I went back to screen, to check bus routes at the Egged bus site . Our family is among the holdouts, still living without a car. Once this was a normal Israeli lifestyle. Now it’s as strange as – say – being Orthodox and dovish. One might as well be Martian, or lack a cell phone. In town we walk, or take buses or cabs. I ride a bike. Occasionally, we rent a car for vacation, but to do that on Pesah, I would have to make a reservation before the tourists did, and pay way too much.

I thought of taking a hike I used to take with the kids, from Haifa University to Kibbutz Beit Oren in the middle of the Carmel forests and then down to the coast. My wife would have needed to skip the second half to get back to work. Once there was a bus from Beit Oren to Haifa. No longer,

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Don’t Spy For Me

Dear Young American Zionist,

You want to help Israel in any way possible, and you’re fired up by stories you’ve heard and movies you’ve seen about Israel’s heroic soldiers, commandos, and Mossad agents. You meet some guy with an accent who persuades you that Israel’s future depends on some classified documents you’ve got access to at your job. Here’s your chance to place yourself among those heroes.

Don’t do it.

Why not? Because it’s not the right thing for you to do as a Zionist, and not the right thing for you to do as a citizen of the United States of America.

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More on “Southern Exposure”

Readers of Gershom’s last post may be interested in an article I published in Nature last year on Elad’s role in running the site of the City of David excavations.

As I reported in the same journal earlier this month, a group of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists recently unveiled a draft agreement about how archaeological sites and artifacts would be treated under a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

As Gershom notes, every historical or archaeological site can provide the basis for a variety of different stories. True, archaeological artifacts and sites provide hard facts that limit the kinds of stories you can tell. A Palestinian scholar who proclaimed that City of David structures dating from the eighth or ninth century BCE were actually from the early Islamic period would have a hard time getting anyone to take his case seriously because we know from other sites that buildings built in those periods have distinct styles and methods of construction. An Israeli who tried to argue that Arabs never ruled Jerusalem would run up against all those layers of Muslim and Arab remains that excavators have found all around the city.

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Southern Exposure: Telling Jerusalem Differently

“Ancient Jerusalem Safari” said the sign on the side of the open-sided bus. It was parked this morning in the lot at the end of the promenade that stretches from UN Hill almost to Hebron Road. The promenade is an arc of stone walkways and stairs, of lawns and landscaping with a view northward of the Old City walls and the Dome of the Rock, which appear just close enough to be reachable, just far enough off to still be the double-page color illustration of the city at the end of the quest that I read about in a childhood book whose name I’ve forgotten but whose story I think I’ve remembered for a moment when I wake from a dream.

The promenade may be my favorite spot in South Jerusalem, partly because of the view and the quiet, partly because both Palestinians and Israelis spend time there. Riding my bike there on a weekday, I’ll pass Israeli joggers and women from Jebal Mukkaber in ankle-length dresses and sneakers out for their health walk. On one park bench I’ll see a young Orthodox couple, on another a young Palestinian couple – both having found a place public enough that it’s not immodest to be meeting there, private enough that they can really talk. In the morning, I usually pass several Jews praying by themselves, facing northward. In the afternoon, I’ll see a Muslim or three, kneeling toward the south. On Saturday afternoons, families from both sides of towns are picnicking and playing soccer. Whole congregations – especially ones that give women a role – come here to pray on the night of Tisha Be’av or at dawn on Shavuot instead of walking to the Western Wall, where the crowds of ultra-Orthodox brook no innovations in worship.

But on the middle days of Pesah and Sukkot, the promenade sprouts moveable police barriers and private security guards.

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Marching up J Street, Passing Marty Peretz in a Shtreimel

Much as I’ve come to disagree with Marty Peretz, I admit that I hesitate viscerally before criticizing him. Marty opened the pages of the New Republic to me in the 1990s. So attacking him feels like an act of ingratitude, if not a minor violation of oedipal inhibitions toward a one-time mentor. In his own blog, though, Marty appears to have thrown off all inhibitions. He’s turned obscene in print, figuratively and literally, as in his new screed against J Street. Even stranger, he’s exhibiting a definite ultra-Orthodox tendency in defense of his bellicose version of Zionism.

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Misunderstanding Identity: The Left and the Neocons Unite

America is the land of freedom. It is the world’s standard for democracy; its ideals of personal freedom and civil rights are the envy of all enlightened citizens of the world.

If you grew up in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, as I did, this is what you learned at school.

The myth of American freedom is a strong one, and one reason it’s strong is that it contains a lot of truth. But the democracy of the United States is hardly perfect and it does not necessarily produce enlightened governments, leaders, and policies.

Paradoxically, the myth of American freedom is strongest today in two groups that see themselves as negations of the other—the neoconservatives and that slice of the American left that might be best defined as subscribers to Harpers and The New York Review of Books. The neocons believe that the way to make the world a better place is for America to export its democracy forcefully—and with force, if necessary. The leftists wouldn’t force anything on anyone, but they do think that if other peoples would just be reasonable and adopt the U.S. constitution, war, conflict, and unreason would give way to well-mannered societies much like those in America’s great suburbs.

There’s a textbook example of this on display in the current issue of Commentary, where that magazine’s assistant editor, David Billet, reviews Bernard Avishai’s new book, The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise will Bring Israel Peace at Last.

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Journey to Hebron: Nightmares and Hope

Yehiel and I met Elliott at the appliance repairman’s shed on a side street in South Jerusalem.

Elliott Horowitz, a historian at Bar-Ilan University, had already paid for the almost-new washing machine, with cash that friends have pledged to repay. We wrestled the heavy white hunk of metal into the back of Yehiel’s undersized station wagon, and set off – three guys with skullcaps and graying beards driving to Hebron with a washing machine for a Palestinian stonecutter.

It was Elliott’s idea.

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Liberal Israel Lobby: Here, today!

J Street, the new lobby devoted to supporting Israel by supporting peace, goes public today. Here’s part of my column at The American Prospect:

Today’s public launch follows many months of organizing led by the new group’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a media consultant and former Clinton administration staffer… Unlike existing Jewish peace groups, J Street is registered for tax purposes as a 501(c)(4) organization, meaning that it can operate fully as a lobby. A sister organization, J Street PAC, will endorse and raise money for candidates.

To win J Street PAC’s backing, Ben-Ami told me, a candidate’s position should be that “the single most important step to support Israeli security and U.S. interests is to reach a negotiated peace agreement,

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