Recycled: A Note to Hillary on Jerusalem Disunited

Last year I wrote an open letter to Hillary Clinton, then frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, on the mistake she was making by promising support for “united Jerusalem” – or rather the mistake in believing there was any such thing as undivided Jerusalem.

A very long year has passed, and Barack Obama has just chosen Hillary as his secretary of state. Freed of the need to win reelection as senator, burdened with responsibility for policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, she has the opportunity and obligation to update her understanding of our riven city. So here’s some reading material for her (the start below, the rest at The American Prospect). Just trade “candidate” and “president” for “secretary” and it reads fine.

Dear Hillary,

A colleague alerted me to your recent position paper on Israel, with your promise of support for an “undivided Jerusalem.” I appreciate the warm feelings, but I admit I was confused by your description of my city. Since you are a careful, wonky candidate, I figured you must have details at your disposal. So this morning I called a Palestinian cabby friend, and together we went looking for the “undivided Jerusalem.”

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Obama at AIPAC, in the Capital of Nixonland

Gershom Gorenberg

I’ve just finished reading Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland , an impressive depressing portrait of my native country in the years just before I decided to move to South Jerusalem.

Perlstein’s portrayal of the relation between Nixon’s inner furies and the political furies of the 1960s and early ’70s bear out a thesis I’ve argued in the past : Some leaders succeed because their “…personal struggles resonated powerfully and subliminally with a wide public. It was the crippled Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example, who could tell a crippled America there was nothing to fear.” Sometimes a leader can uplift for this reason; sometimes he or she can release a bitter flood. Menachem Begin saw himself as unjustly ostracized and excluded from power. His resentment was pitch perfect for those Israelis who felt the country’s elite had denied them respect. His politics deepened all the divisions in Israel, and we suffer for it till today.

Perlstein descibes Nixon in similar terms: Someone who from boyhood onward felt that the elite looked down on him, that he was out of fashion through no fault of his own, and who managed to fuse the anger of all the others who felt left out into a political movement. That was the emotional basis for Nixon’s ability to unite everyone who felt excluded by the exuberance and anger and hope of the ’60s, who felt assaulted and threatened by the changes. To that ability, of course, Nixon added a sociopathic disregard for truthfulness and legality that would make Ariel Sharon look like an honest man.

I hope to write more about the book later. For now I’ll note that while Nixon used a stunning arsenal of trickery to manipulate the 1972 campaign and ensure that the weakest Democrat would be his opponent, he wasn’t the only the only one ready to lie blatantly. Perlstein describes one of the desperate measures that Hubert Humphrey used to try to win the California primary that year: Pamphlets circulated that were signed by Jewish actor Lorne Greene:

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Obama. What’s Complicated Here?

Gershom Gorenberg

Dan Kurtzer, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and an Orthodox Jew, is in Jerusalem for the 60th anniversary celebrations. This morning my wife heard him being interviewed on Israeli Radio, in Hebrew, about the U.S. election. Kurtzer explained that he’s backing Barack Obama.

This was not exactly a revelation. Kurtzer has explained his reasons for backing Obama at length . Here’s some key snippets:

…we have had eight years of disaster with respect to our foreign policy, and I have to share with you as an analyst, we have had eight years that have [compromised] the security of the state of Israel.
An administration that has ignored the search for peace in the Middle East to a point where you have chaos in the Palestinian Authority, and you have a sham process called the Annapolis process, in which our Secretary of State, whom I admire personally, travels to region and announces when she gets there that she is bringing no new ideas.
You have an administration that hasn’t engaged in the peace process, and so inherited a bad situation in 2001 and is leaving it in a worse situation in 2008. And you have an administration that has gotten us engaged in a war in Iraq that has not only cost American lives… but it’s now being called the $3 trillion war…And I would share with you that the cost to the security of Israel is incalculable.

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