Saturday, August 05, 2006

1980s Friedman

Almost finished From Beirut to Jerusalem. Mostly, I take issue with his constant shock that Israel sometimes does things less picturesque and innocent than yelling angrily at fellow drivers out a car window or yelling angrily at you for taking too long to decide which sort of hummus to order. But I'm also baffled by Friedman's conviction that Israel should ignore the Holocaust and focus on positive, uplifting bits of Zionist history instead. Friedman bemoans the fact that Israelis, who used to learn only of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, now hear the full story of the genocide. "Today-- unfortunately-- the teaching of the Holocaust is an essential element of Israeli high-school education and in the Israeli army officers' course. No one goes to [first kibbutz] Kibbutz Degania anymore." (p. 280). Uplifting as Zionist history often is, Israel exists in a large part because of Jews who may not have felt all that excited about being Jewish, but knew themselves to be such, and needed a place to go. Political Zionism came about before the Holocaust, but was largely a reaction to the proto-fascist anti-Semitic movements that were to become Nazism. Friedman argues that Israel is mistaken in seeing itself as a victim, as having any relation to a history of a notably victimized group. This strikes me as absurd and as a pointless thing to desire. Zionism, and now Israel, are the best answers Jews have come up with to avoid being victims. Calling Israel "Yad Vashem with an air force" (p. 281) makes for a nice sound byte, but misses the point. The idea is that a Jewish air force prevents anything like the Holocaust from happening to the Jews again, in Israel or elsewhere. An air force doesn't prevent Jews from being killed for anti-Semitic reasons, but having our own political state does prevent Jews worldwide from being passive and resource-free victims of external will. Friedman accuses Israel both of fatalistic apathy and of agression whose root is a feeling of always being a victim. But how could it possibly be both? Regardless, it's unreasonable for Israelis--and Jews elsewhere-- not to know both the positive and negative reasons for there being a Jewish state on the world map today.

This article by Ethan Bronner in this week's Week in Review compares today's Israel-Lebanon conflict with the one described by Friedman, in the early 1980s. Bronner offers both a positive and a negative possible outcome from the current conflict. The positive one, if it is in fact a possibility, suggests that Israeli victimhood is by no means fate:

If this war ends with a multinational force taking Israel’s place and Hezbollah significantly weakened, Mr. Olmert may well be able to go on to his grand plan of removing Israelis from large sections of the West Bank, finishing the building of a barrier between Israel and the area, and setting the boundaries of a democratic Jewish state for a generation. This, too, is a Sharon legacy. Mr. Sharon is the one who adopted this plan, late in life, and made withdrawal from land seem less like a concession than an act of Israeli self-assertion and self-definition. When a bulldozer moves, even backwards, it makes a powerful impression.

The above photograph, from the NYT article, reveals that Sharon was once quite nice-looking. This information is useful for no particular reason, but there you have it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Strangely Sharon was always pudgy even in his special forces days.