Jewish World Review June 3, 2003 / 3 Sivan, 5763
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | It was not as an act of pilgrimage that I went to Mike's Place last week. A friend had suggested we walk down the beach from Tel Aviv toward Jaffa, the ancient seaport where my wife and I lived three years ago. And suddenly we glanced to the left, and there it was, not more than five meters from the U.S. Embassy. Surely a message of sorts, no?
The pub had been bombed on April 30 by the two now-famous Britons, Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, whose families hail from Pakistan and who themselves were college-educated and financially secure. Actually, only Hanif succeeded; Sharif's belt, filled with shrapnel and explosives, did not go off. So, doubtless disgraced by his incompetence as a mass killer, he jumped into the Mediterranean on whose shores his grotesquely decomposed body eventually washed up. The two had entered Israel under cover of membership in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which claims to comprise "peace workers," as the newspapers jejunely describe them. But make no mistake: The ISM is an intrinsic part of the Palestinian terrorist international. If some of its members really think they are promoting peace, that just makes them classic examples of what Lenin called "useful idiots."
At a conference on the new anti-Semitism I attended just before my trip, a participant raised objections to the liquidators being called "suicide bombers." This is a formulation ready-made for The New York Times and National Public Radio and the BBC because it treats the deaths of the perpetrators as more important than the deaths of their victims. Well, here's a better nomenclature for these mass exterminators: genocidal bombers. After all, the men who carry out these exploits do not disguise their intention: It is not just to kill Israelis, which would make it genocidal enough; it is to kill Jews and as many as possible. During the seven days I spent in Israel, there were five bombings similar to the one at Mike's Place. Of the five, one went awry. Overall, only twelve Israelis were killed, seven on a bus in Jerusalem. A lucky week for Israel.
Within a week, Mike's Place was back serving drinks and playing music. When my friend and I showed up, we had already been scrutinized at three, maybe four, checkpoints en route from our hotels. It was early afternoon. The pub was full. And there blared, as the signage outside promised, "blues on the beach." Are Israelis in denial? Not at all. Yes, the streets are full, along with restaurants, public transport, shopping centers, clubs, theaters, and libraries. Israelis work, study, play, dance, stroll, swim, read, and (some of them) pray. But they also calculate. Do I take this bus? Do I go to this market? Shall I allow my teenagers to congregate downtown? Sadly, the murderers do not follow predictable patterns. So Israelis cannot be anything other than fully conscious that they live in a very dangerous neighborhood. But, if they don't deny, they certainly defy. Their defiance is an expression of strength.
I came to Israel because Tel Aviv University, one of the stars in Israel's firmament, was serendipitously honoring three of my friends. Michael Walzer, a frequent tnr contributor, was receiving an honorary degree for his workfirst at Harvard, more recently at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princetonin political philosophy and Jewish political thought. You may remember from college his classic text on the ethics of military action, Just and Unjust Wars, first published in 1977. It has near-sacred status at West Point and among the strategists of the Israel Defense Forces. (Even a French edition was belatedly published after Bosnia, although I doubt any French general has seriously pondered its strictures.) Michael has published 24 books, with a range that extends from radical Puritanism in seventeenthcentury England to the very idea of citizenship and its collisions with identity. He is now editing the last of three volumes bringing to the English language public Jewish texts with contemporary commentaries on standard categories of political theory: authority, community, justice, power, etc. These are pioneering texts, and they will live.
My friend Frederick Wiseman did not receive an honorary degree (he has enough of them already) but was a beneficiary of the University's Dan David Prize, given in three categories, one for the illumination of the past, one for the illumination of the future, one for the illumination of the present. Fred has directed some 32 documentaries on contemporary American life over 35 years. His judges asserted that he probably was "the most important person ever to lift a camera for documentary filmmaking." His style is instantly recognizable: painfully spare cinematography, a clear dramatic narrative essential to the subject itself, a director who is nowhere seen or heard or even disguised in the presence of a narrator. For years, Israelis have flocked to his documentaries, which are regularly shown at their film festivals, another sign of the deep kinship between them and us.
Politically and intellectually, the person at the ceremonies who created the greatest stir was my friend from Cambridge, Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi exile and author of Republic of Fear and Cruelty and Silence, the first about the Baath regime in Baghdad, the second about the degraded politics of the Middle East. Readers of TNR also know his writings from the magazine itself and from the eleven pieces he wrote for us online during the war against Saddam Hussein. He is certainly no patsy for Israel, as his talk to the Tel Aviv assemblage (and his prior writings, too) proved. But, still, it took bravery to come, not least because intellectual thugs, particularly Edward Said, have tried to destroy him as they have tried to destroy other independent spirits in their world, such as Fouad Ajami. I am no optimist about the Middle East. But listening to Kanan's hopes for his long-brutalized country and for the coming relationship between Iraq and Israel, a modern-day echo of the ancient relationship between Babylon and Jerusalem, was not just heartening but exhilarating. He called for bridging "that terrible wall of suspicion and mistrust" that separates Jews, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, others, andno, I have not forgottenPalestinians, too. So, has Kanan dissolved my pessimism? No. But he has not left it completely intact either.
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03/27/03: Failed experiments