Monday, October 9, 2017

Jerusalem Covenant

Today a message arrived in my inbox, prompting me to sign the "Jerusalem Covenant," a document first published in 1992 and newly distributed by an outfit called Israel365, which describes itself as "promot(ing) the beauty and religious significance of Israel." Except, as in similarly oriented depictions of Jerusalem, the most obviously beautiful and doubtlessly religiously significant Dome of the Rock is obscured (edited out). Accident?    

Sunday, October 1, 2017

De mortuis nihil nisi bene? Some thoughts apropos Shimon Peres

When it comes to setting the record straight on Shimon Peres, Yousef Munayeer is surely not objective. But I can understand that the panegyric praise heaped on the ninth president of Israel does not sit well with him. Critical Israeli voices have similarly emphasized more problematic aspects of his long and sometimes awkward career.

Peres not only lost important elections but played a role in shaping Israel's defense industry and nuclear program, and he presided over the establishment of the first settlements that ironically became part of his political undoing. Mr. Munayeer is exasperated at the whitewashing of Peres' record. But there is also something else to be considered. Take Israel's ties with Apartheid South Africa for example. Though this doesn't look good now, nor looked good then, the arms trade was an important economic factor for Israel at the time when a pervasive Arab boycott isolated Israel economically. Those weren't good days with few good options. When it comes to Peres and the settlement of Ofra, the early Gush Emunim were then not such an obvious obstacle to peace but they were becoming an important factor in public relations and the electoral landscape. Many of the founders of the early settlements don't see the current generation of extremists and price-taggers as upholding the values that had inspired them back then. Many of the more traditional settlers are eager to establish good and mutually respectful relationships with their Palestinian neighbors, believe it or not. It is easy to politicize everything, easy to obscure complexity. Of course, Peres made poor choices and sometimes even horrible ones. But he also may have made some good ones. None of this, by the way, deserves the vile demonization one can find in comment threads right here on FB, which is of course completely different and much much worse than Munayeer's measured prose.

I am not sure where I am going with this. A statesman dies and we all try in one way or another to sum up his life, his actions, his character. At moments like this we turn into "personalists," setting aside the impersonal forces we might otherwise see at work, or we subsume the individual under larger narratives where even statesmen, people presumed to have the power to act rather than merely react, are reduced to represent larger phenomena deemed good or evil. When Peres is praised as the peacemaker he ostensibly became and as who he is honored even by President Mahmud Abbas (a choice and act of courage in light of Palestinian contempt for Peres) then this, too, is a political act, one meant to shame Benjamin Netanyahu by contrast. Peres the peacemaker is a figure in an Oslo Accord narrative that is, for the left, a usable past. Munayeer wants to remind the readers of The Nation of the real Peres, not the one mythologized by the doves. It is also an attempt to separate fact from fiction, but it falls short by inadvertently feeding a counter-narrative.

[This post was originally posted on Facebook. President Peres passed away on September 28, 2016.]