Keep Dreaming: Malice in Wonderland

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things’.

Tayyip Erdogan 521 (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
Tayyip Erdogan 521
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
We’ve all seen the movie in which the friends of our perfectly sane hero are led to believe that she has gone completely mad through the sinister manipulations of some menacing character preoccupied with discrediting her.
Or the one in which the vicious murderer has succeeded in convincing the unsuspecting jury that his crimes were actually committed by a law-abiding model citizen.
Welcome to Malice in Wonderland, where things aren’t always what they seem to be, and are always more complicated than that even when they are, of which, of course, one can never be quite sure, only making things “‘curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice… ‘Oh dear, what nonsense I’m talking!’” As September unfolds, I have the uneasy feeling that we’ve much to learn from Lewis Carroll’s Middle East commentary, unwittingly penned but nonetheless as insightful as the preposterous observations of the Cheshire Cat.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Alice didn’t think that proved it at all… What might prove it, though, is if we apologized to Turkey, which doesn’t mean we don’t regret what happened, or that we didn’t make huge mistakes, or that our lack of intelligence – particularly with all of our intelligence – isn’t terribly embarrassing, or that we haven’t mishandled the courtship throughout this on-again-offagain relationship, or that we couldn’t have found the right words to avoid the current crisis – had we only been schooled on the other side of the looking glass.
“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’” So what difference does it make what we say? Maybe none – if this diplomatic predicament is not predicated on semantics, but rather a carefully calculated campaign of Turkish ascendancy. Which is what I suspect, in which case, saying we’re sorry without meaning it, or meaning it as Dumpty suggests, would have no practical results. Maybe yes. Maybe no. But dismissing such a possibility altogether can only be the result of having fallen down the rabbit hole.
“So you think you’re changed, do you?” “I’m afraid I am, sir,” said Alice; “I can’t remember things as I used to…” “Can’t remember what things?” said the Caterpillar.
Oh, all sorts of things: Like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reprimand of President Shimon Peres at the 2009 World Economic Forum. “I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. You killed people,” he scolded, continuing to condemn Israel for “state-sponsored terrorism.”
Like the fact that Turkey still occupies the northern third of Cyprus, to Europe’s chagrin.
Like the fact that days after the Mavi Marmara fiasco, Erdogan authorized an operation killing 107 Kurds in reprisal for a rebel attack that took the lives of 12 Turkish soldiers, followed by no condemnation of “disproportionate” force, no UN resolutions, no calls for a commission of inquiry and no demands for an apology – even as Turkish tyranny over its Kurdish minority continues unabated, having already claimed over 40,000 lives.
Like recent episodes on Turkish television featuring fictionalized scenes of Israeli soldiers shooting Palestinian children and abusing elderly Arabs and depicting Mossad agents kidnapping Turkish babies and attacking the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv.
Like the mass murder of more than one million Armenians, for which Turkey continues to refuse to take responsibility or issue an apology.
Like all these things happening long before the flotilla; like Israeli tourism to Turkey completely drying up long before the Mavi Marmara set sail; like Turkey having sponsored this run on Israel’s lawful blockade; like the premeditated use of force by “pacifists” on board the ship against those wanting to re-route it to safe harbor with every intention of delivering its humanitarian aid – exactly as happened with other boats.
“Off with her head,” screeches the Queen of Hearts. “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.” Frustrated by the illogic of it all, Alice blurts out, “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.” It is hard to be constantly put on trial by a jury that refuses to be confused by the facts.
Still, finding the current situation lamentable, I, like Alice, turn to the Cheshire Cat for advice.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“– so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, ”if you only walk long enough.”
One would like to think our government has a somewhat better idea of where it wants to get to than Alice, and a better sense of direction than the Cat. We’ve already walked “long enough” and don’t seem to have gotten anywhere; I’ve only been battered by one stormy foreign relations episode after the next. And another is looming on the horizon, destined to hit hard within the next couple of weeks unless someone succeeds in jumpstarting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – highly unlikely in that the conversation is currently going something like this: “Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least – at least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter.
“You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!’” “You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like!’” “You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe!’” You might just as well say that accommodating natural growth is the same thing as freezing settlements. You might just as well say that demanding the Palestinians’ right of return is the same thing as recognizing Israel as the Jewish state. You might just as well say that investing millions in infrastructure is the same thing as preparing for withdrawal. You might just as well say that launching 150 rockets into Israel during the month of August is the same thing as pursuing a peaceful solution.
You might just as well say nothing at all. Yes, you.
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I – I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” “What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself!” “I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
Was the question ever any simpler to answer? At the first Zionist Congress? During the War of Independence? After the Six Day War? Maybe, but it doesn’t matter.
September is now and so is Elul, a time for each of us to become “myself” again. Individually.
Collectively. To keep dreaming.
To believe in the impossible.
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.
Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
So the Queen was a Zionist after all. And a little mad as well.

The writer is deputy chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of The Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed here are his own.