Israel attracts and repels. While some see it as the incarnation of their greatest aspirations, some of those are frustrated and even angered by its failures. Others begin with the most severe accusations. They include anti-Semites who see the Jewish state the Protocols live.
Many come with high hopes and either remain or leave with their feelings intact. Others come with suspicion, and leave with admiration.
Concepts of Jerusalem above and Jerusalem below are useful in looking at the entire country. Modern Israel combines the aura of the Biblical land along with the drudgeries of a country, It has political and environmental pollution, not enough housing, transportation, or medical care, all the other problems of a democratic society with limited resources, plus a chronic threat of violence that is abnormal.
Israel appears on the agendas of international organizations out of proportion to its size and population. Much of the attention is critical. It doesn''t measure up to what others demand, and is more often the subject of condemnation than places infinitely worse in their miseries and cruelty.
The Internet has added to my encounters acquired during almost 40 years. There are digital correspondents who love and hate, with animosity and aspirations, who involve themselves daily from a distance. They offer proposals for issues big and small, and see the future like the most dire and hopeful passages of Jeremiah and Isaiah.
Individuals came as immigrants or tourists, and left disappointed. Some have arrived as immigrants then departed several times. Several have come, left, but remain engaged as hopeful and disappointed outsiders. Their knowledge of the country may have come years ago in Jewish schools or youth movements. An obsessive bitterness appears among those who reject comparison with other countries, and denounce Israel for failing to be outstanding and morally pure by standards not achieved in any other country. A former Hebrew School teacher now compares Israelis to the Nazis.
Individuals are stuck at points long gone. Some live with ideals acquired before 1948, when the Jews of Palestine were not yet sullied by the politics of an independent state. Others wish for the first moments after the 1967 war, before the heroism of great victory with soldiers at the Western Wall were spoiled by annexations and settlement.
Jews are among the most bitter, perhaps out of a feeling of being disappointed in their own heritage. Religious Christians see the unfolding of God''s promise, and expect apocalyptic punishment for misguided Americans, Jews, and Muslims.
Israelis express pride in being Spartan while insisting on the ideals of Athens.
The realities are that Israel is a difficult country, forced by history and current realities to be aggressive. Its politics can be as nasty as any, reflecting extremities of external and internal pressures, conflicts between secular and religious populations, each with their idealized aspirations, with all hampered by insufficient resources for domestic goals and limited room to maneuver in international politics.
Probing the realities of Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin--both who acquired latter day sainthood--exposes nastiness and double dealing as well as what deserves praise. Any who deny faults in the persona of Shimon Peres should Google התרגיל המסריח, the smelly exercise, or dirty trick.
This week''s name calling within the government coalition is concentrated on the second round of prisoner releases and continued construction of settlements. Both came about as the result of political dealing not taught in Sunday school. Ministers who accepted the deals are accusing one another of doing the unconscionable.
Also in the air is an unpleasant recognition of inevitable dependence on the United States, and an administration that is less than ideally sensitive to Israel''s needs.
Amos Yadlin, a former head of military intelligence, described Israel''s options with respect to the possibility of nuclear Iran.
"As long as there is a realistic chance to achieve the "no-bomb" by negotiations, by agreements, Israel doesn’t have legitimacy to (attack). I think this is now the main obstacle because Rouhani has given some backwind to the idea that maybe the Iranians will reach an acceptable agreement. . . . , do (we) have sufficient understanding with the United States that (an attack would be) a legitimate and necessary self-defense measure? America and Israel are allies. . . . Israel doesn’t need America on D-Day. It can do it alone. It even can cope with the day after, but it does need the United States for the decade after."
What other place, about the size and population of New Jersey, gets as much attention, and provokes as much anxiety?