Last Wednesday before , our doorbell rang insistently. I ignored it. It rang again. Two sketchy-looking young men said they were police officers canvassing the neighborhood following a shooting. Only then did I discover that Rabbi Yehuda Glick had been shot four times outside the Begin Center, half a kilometer from our home. The next day, we heard the helicopters hovering over Abu Tor, a short walk away.
In seven years of living in Jerusalem, this negligible connection is the closest brush I or any of my family have had with the violence that defines Israel and Jerusalem to so many. I do not minimize the suffering of Rabbi Glick and others. But ours is an era of broad generalizations. The mass media universalizes experiences, frames interpretations, shapes our perceptions: perceptions of the Glick shooting vary based on whether he is labelled a “Right wing extremist”; a “bridge-builder” who dialogued with Arabs and the Left; or a “wounded rabbi.” Beware the distortions that gather as quickly as dust settles in the Old City. Resist politicized caricatures. The Right sees Israel as forever innocent and embattled; the Left sees Israel as forever guilty and imploding.
I am again experiencing the Great Israel Disconnect: do I believe what I read in the newspapers or what I witness daily? Do I live in “O Jerusalem,” an uniquely embattled city, or “My Jerusalem,” a normal hometown with ups and downs.
- O Jerusalem!: Rabbi Glick is shot, baby Chaya Zissel is killed, Mahmoud Abbas hails the terrorists, and violence grows daily. My Jerusalem is statistically an incredibly safe city where we follow our routines undisturbed, attending a concert with the master guitarist Avi Singolda that had everyone on their feet singing and dancing.
- O Jerusalem!: When the light rail includes Arab neighborhoods, Israel is accused of colonizing the Arabs; had Arab neighborhoods been excluded, they would have cried “segregation!” In My Jerusalem, I jog peacefully through the Old City daily; along Train Track Park, I see Jews and Arabs walking, jogging, cycling, peacefully side by side.
- “O Jerusalem!” national religious schools are caricatured as grounds for breeding hatred and intolerance of secular Jews as well as Arabs. In My Jerusalem, The national religious Hartman School my children attend is a values-and-good-deeds factory, with one teacher in particular, Drori Yehoshua, constantly enlisting students to feed the poor, help rehabilitate convicts, recycle textbooks and computers for the needy. The education has been so effective that my son and his friend saw an old woman fall on Emek Refaim and spent the afternoon taking this stranger to Hadassah hospital, until her daughter arrived.
This same gullibility toward media narratives only emphasizing the negative has distorted understandings of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Marking the nineteenth anniversary of his murder, in Yediot Achranot, Rabin’s friend Eitan Haber recently wrote: “The Assassin Won (for now).” The conventional wisdom claims the despicable act “murdered hope,” ultimately triggering Yasir Arafat’s war of suicide bombings.
Rabin’s assassin did not derail the peace process; Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Palestinian fundamentalism did. Palestinian terrorists unleashed five suicide bombings in 1994, four in 1995 and four in 1996 – unaffected by the Rabin horror. In her recent book Israel: A History, the master historian Anita Shapira notes that “The rejectionist organizations …. were determined to undermine the accords through terrorism.” Alas, they succeeded. Rabin’s government was fragile before his assassination, partially because Rabin “displayed neither sensitivity to nor empathy for the settlers’ heartache at seeing their world shattered.” The broad-based “The People are with the Golan” campaign “further undermined the government’s stability.”
Assassinations and assassination attempts often backfire on the assailants, producing results contrary to what the criminals intended. Rabbi Glick’s calls for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount received more positive publicity this week than ever before. John Kennedy’s reputation grew from mediocre president to icon. And Yitzhak Rabin became Israel’s Prince of Peace, boosting Oslo along the way.
“The sobering effect of the murder cooled the fervor of the public debate, reduced the level of violence, verbal and physical alike, and restored a degree of sanity and consensus to public discourse in Israel,” Shapira writes. The “Shalom Haver” group hug for Rabin, Israel, and Oslo that resulted when Bill Clinton led dozens of world leaders to Jerusalem for Rabin’s funeral reinforced the peace process. Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres followed Rabin’s way, implementing Oslo II, orchestrating more West Bank withdrawals, opening a Syrian peace front. Shapira rightly observes that “After Rabin’s murder the Israeli public leaned toward the left, and Peres’s victory seem assured” in the elections, until the “terror attacks changed the country’s mood.”
Even then, the next two Prime Ministers, from two dissimilar parties, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, pursued peace. Oslo died five years later when Yasir Arafat refused even to offer a counter-proposal at Camp David 2 in July, 2000, then supported the renewed waves of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah suicide bombings.
Rabin's assassination was evil and catastrophic even if it didn't derail the peace process. Similarly, celebrating My Jerusalem doesn’t deny the tensions of O Jerusalem, it just puts events in context. I reject the modern Western and peculiarly Jewish tendency to blame ourselves exclusively for what goes wrong, just as I reject the human tendency to obsess about the rare train wreck rather than the entire transportation system’s miraculously smooth functioning.
The Zionist revolution aimed to cultivate this more balanced perspective, learning to take some responsibility but not all the blame, learning to recognize dangers without hysteria. How striking: in its aversion to all things Zionist, modern anti-Zionism often generates much of the negative imaging – and self-flagellation – that needs correcting.
Gil Troy is a Professor of History at McGill University and a Visiting Professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The author of eight books on American history, his latest Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism was published by Oxford University Press.Watch the new Moynihan's Moment video!