Another Tack: Isolation I – How not to be Ill

Israel’s predicament uncannily resembles the plotline in Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s now-classic 1956 tragicomedy ‘The Visit.'

By
July 2, 2010 15:56
SWISS PLAYWRIGHT Friedrich Dürrenmatt. ‘In his fam

Friedrich Dürrenmatt 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

There was a rapturous turkey trot in old Turkey the other day. Led by President Abdullah Gul, the Turks and their guests jumped for joy and did their springy one-step to celebrate Israel’s obvious ostracism.

“This is a clear manifestation of how Israel isolated itself,” Gul, who chaired the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, exulted. Twenty-one of CICA’s member-states (with the single exception of Israel) “deeply deplored” its interception of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara.

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In unwavering unison, such gracious paradigms of international fair-mindedness and evenhandedness as Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Bashar Assad of Syria and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan – as well as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and PA figurehead Mahmoud Abbas – all “expressed their grave concern and condemnation for the actions undertaken by Israel” and denounced its “blatant violation” of international law.

Reveling in ostensible rectitude, Putin warned: “We can’t allow a new flame to flare up in the Middle East.” Gul laid righteous indignation on thick by announcing: “It is impossible for us to forgive the bloodshed.”

Similar spectacles are reenacted on some scale or another almost around the globe. No self-respecting city, campus or festival can resist garnering glory by whacking Israel. It’s a grand batter-Israel bash and a hit show wherever it’s staged. The plotline uncannily resembles that of Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s now-classic 1956 tragicomedy The Visit.

The allegorical setting is the hard-luck town of Guellen (guelle in German means soggy excrement) to which much-married native-daughter Claire Zachanassian returns, now an elderly bizarre multibillionaire. Guellen sorely needs a cash transfusion, but Claire quickly clarifies that her generosity has strings attached. She’ll bestow great affluence on Guellen’s denizens if they only put to death the lover she claims jilted her in her youth. At first the townsfolk refuse to kill Alfred Ill, now the respected general-store proprietor. But Claire knows – precisely as do the real world’s cynical oil-rich Arab/Muslim master manipulators – that everything is for sale, supposed virtue foremost.

Claire’s predictions are soon borne out. One by one Ill’s neighbors abandon him in a grotesque display of hypocrisy. Despite their alacrity to appease and profit, they continue to posture as morally upright – like members of the international community vis-a-vis Israel – and blame the victim for a monstrously magnified set of “unforgivable” sins.

In no time Ill becomes the object of intense revulsion, regarded as the source of all that ails Guellen. The townspeople refuse to forgive Ill for the collective suffering he “caused” them. There are no bounds to the lengths they’ll go to rationalize and justify their greed.

Sounds familiar to us defamed and demonized Israelis?

GUELLEN’S INITIALLY principled mayor is the very one who swings public opinion against Ill and in the end offers him a gun so that he may spare everyone angst and end it all “peacefully.” When Ill seeks succor from the priest he discovers that the “man of God” too has sold his soul.

The policeman – akin perhaps to international peacekeepers in our own mind-blowing saga – refuses to protect Ill, denying that he is in any jeopardy at all. He hurls invective at him and traps Ill in the auditorium, there to be slaughtered.

The town’s doctor, one of Guellen’s better sorts, eventually collaborates in the murder and, in his professional capacity, determines that Ill died of a “heart attack.”

Perhaps the most stinging betrayal is that of the “humanitarian” schoolmaster, the archetypal well-intentioned intellectual, who holds on to his values longer than the others – a bit like America in our case. He had attempted to intercede with Claire and then to expose her villainy. Eventually he tells Ill that his neighbors all turned into predators, who cannot be opposed personally by one educator.

Presumably poor hounded Ill could at least rely on his own family, like we Israelis assume we can rely on our Jewish brethren out there in the world’s big real-life Guellens. But both Israelis and Alfred discover otherwise.

Among the ranks of our brethren abroad are indifferent, well-off Jews who don’t want to be bothered with our niggling, never-ending travails. Worse yet are trendy sophisticated ultraliberals for whom Israel has become an embarrassing burden. Apathy and/or antipathy toward Israel can accrue assorted potential rewards for estranged Jewish types overseas. So it was for Ill’s kin. His son Karl and daughter Ottilie, both originally unemployed, attain inexplicable prosperity.

Bottom line: Israel is indeed isolated but that’s only because it’s cast as the Alfred Ill of the worldwide farcical extravaganza. We’re alone only because Arab/Muslim clout and wealth successfully bribe, corrupt and brainwash bona fide democracies and apparently free-thinking journalists into voluntary, even avid complicity in the attempted delegitimization of Israel. Longer-term genocidal plots needn’t be explicitly admitted and proclaimed, but the groundwork for mass murder is being methodically prepared.

THAT SAID, we needn’t consider ourselves as heading deterministically for Ill’s bitter end. Nothing is preordained. Our self-preservation hinges on not obscuring the realization that our detractors are the duplicitous self-serving equivalents of Guellen’s avaricious inhabitants. It’s crucial that we understand that we are vilified and targeted as part of a scheme as sinister as that which led to Ill’s premeditated slaying.

We can prevent our own tragic demise by deviating consciously from Ill’s path. Although his nice-guy demeanor went unappreciated by the voracious chorus that bayed for his blood, Ill accepted his fate. He forgave his family and submitted meekly to the death sentence maliciously meted out to him.

We mustn’t submit to slander by outright enemies like Ahmadinejad or Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but neither must we respectfully bow down to the judgments of the Barack Obamas, Nicolas Sarkozys or Putins who undercut our survival prospects. It’s up to us not to be Ill. The antidote to the Ill-effect is remaining convinced of our inner truth.

In our case a dose of Dürrenmatt ought to be followed up by a morsel from our own poet Natan Alterman. A founder of the Land of Israel Movement, Alterman was acutely pained by the fact that (already in his day) doubts began to be cast on the legitimacy of Israel’s existential struggle, portraying it as the aggressor and dismissing Jewish claims to the Jewish homeland. To him these were dark omens portending a Jewish mental aberration that could precipitate Israel’s downfall.

After his death in 1970 several unpublished works were discovered in his literary estate. The most evocative of these poems, “Then Satan Said” (which I translated), became his heavy-hearted, somber last legacy.

There Alterman conjured an allegorical evil stratagem in which:

...Satan then said:
How do I overcome
This besieged one?
He has courage
And talent,
And implements of war
And resourcefulness.
...only this shall I do,
I’ll dull his mind
And cause him to forget
The justice of his cause.

This is the first of a two-part series.
www.sarahhonig.com


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