Dec 11 2007

Charley Reese and the rabbi

 You have confirmed an unfortunate suspicion. Your postscript reflects the same reaction, albeit belated, that the rabbi expressed in his letter.  I read Reese in a completely different light — he is simply suggesting that it is not in America’s best interests to support Israel and the oil-rich (or geographically strategic) despots in the region.  I am pretty sure he has never advocated the removal of Jews from Palestine/Israel although there are many who have called for the removal of Arabs from Israel/Palestine.

My suspicion is this: Israelis have enjoyed (i.e., reaped much success) being the schoolyard bully for half a century. Their aggression towards neighbors and “foreign” occupants has been by and large unabated because the school marm (America) conveniently looks the other way.  When the other kids on the playground have the gall to retaliate, they’re the ones who get punished.  However, decades of unchecked behavior have cultivated a quiet paranoia that lurks in the background of Israeli life.  Don’t get me wrong here — Israelis love and live and die and bleed and cry just like everyone else; their lives are as precious as anyone else’s.  But behind the facade of everyday life, all Israelis know that, sooner or later, the old teacher is going to die or be replaced.  People like Charley Reese evoke such strong responses from Jews because they are reminders that, unless they begin to behave nicely, there’s going to be a reckoning some day.  Right now, the personal cost of “behaving nicely” is too high for most Israelis — too many perks would have to be sacrificed.  I suspect the situation was much the same in Southern states in the decades before the Civil War — a nagging suspicion that slavery was wrong, but not a feeling so strong and dissonant that it couldn’t be pushed into the background.

Reese is like the young boy who announced the emperor’s nakedness.  If the tale were to be retold for a modern audience, the boy would have been silenced by those courtesans who benefit from the emperor’s largess.  The rabbi wrote that the “state of Israel has a right to exist as a free, independent Jewish state in its ancestral territory in the Middle East.”  I’ve always wondered what exactly that meant.  Is “Jewish” a theological or ethnic designation, and will residents who fall outside that distinction always be second-class (or worse) citizens?  If not, what will ensure that Israel remains a “Jewish” state?  If so, how will Israel ever be anything but an example of injustice and racism?  Sooner or later, the oil is going to dry up (or an alternative will emerge to obsolete it).  When America no longer needs (or can have) the Middle East’s oil, will they continue to coddle the schoolyard bully?

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