It's not an auspicious beginning.
Or maybe it is.
The year is 5776, according to the Hebrew calendar, תשע"ו as you'll find it on Israeli documents.
By tradition, the calendar began with the creation of the world, but we needn't let doubts about that bother us.
As it is beginning, the deal with Iran appears to be final, and Europe is moving toward labeling goods made by Israeli firms over the 1967 borders as "Made in the West Bank."
Israeli officials are going ballistic, and pulling all the stops. They are comparing this to the labeling imposed on Jews by an earlier generation of Europeans (remember the yellow star, with the word, "Jude"), describing it as one-sided by giving the rejectionist Palestinians a free pass, setting back the peace process, being a step toward a more complete boycott of Israeli goods, and overlooking actions against humanity far worse than anything Israel has done, including those done by Palestinians.
There are many who think that Israel deserves both of these actions (i.e., the Iran deal and the labeling). It's common to blame settlements for Israel's plight, along with what is perceived to be a radical right wing government, and the particular arrogance of Prime Minister Netanyahu. The line is something like, How dare he insert himself into American politics by speaking to the Republican dominated Congress against the clear wishes of the White House?
In a Jewish conversation there is always another hand .
In this case, an extreme expression of the other hand sees the two actions reflecting the continued tendency of the self-styled civilized to look askance on Jews, along with their Jewish allies who are embarrassed by their Israeli cousins or simply doing what they can to assure their own status in the eyes of Gentiles. The Holocaust and Christian animosity to Muslims provided a few decades of relief from the usual animosity, but it's come back. Some see it helped along by a Black American President who identifies with the disadvantaged of the Third World, and with the Islam of a father he never knew.
A Jewish conversation is always pluralistic, and most often includes more than two sides.
In this case there are a lot of expressions, some of them from non-Jews who are not antagonistic, or even actively supportive.
Among what we hear and read:
- Barack Obama has won a poorly conceived agreement with Iran, in which he invested a great deal, but it's more likely to haunt him than add to his standing
- The Europeans pushing for the labeling, and hoping for much more (boycott, ban on sale of arms, constraints on banking) may yet be overwhelmed by Europe's struggle with mass migration. Some of those seeking to constrain Israel may have to admit that the greater danger to their sense of what is tolerable comes from Muslims.
- Israel's arsenal of possible actions against the Palestinians ought to be considered by those acting against Israel. It may begin with a closing of West Bank plants and a worsening of Palestinian unemployment, extend to more active steps against the Palestinian economy, and against the movement of individual Palestinians, including those claiming national leadership.
While there are signs that Europeans are working to isolate Israel, there are other indications that prominent Arabs are joining Israelis in looking askance at what stands as the Western leadership.
Take a look at the video linked here, coming from prominent personalities on Egyptian television, most likely speaking with the tolerance if not the active support of the Egyptian government. What it conveys is a more shrill ridicule and condemnation of Barack Obama than anything heard from mainline Israeli media.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has responded to the unpleasantness at the beginning of the New Year with a challenge to begin negotiations immediately with the Palestinians "without preconditions."
Bibi's opponents may see duplicity here, as they see it in everything he says and does. Insofar as the Palestinians have a bundle of preconditions (borders of 1967, refugees, recognizing a state, ending a blockade on Gaza, a capital in Jerusalem) Palestine's friends are likely to see Bibi's demand for no preconditions as a precondition.
There is no final and objective arbiter about who is winning this struggle.
Those who are not directly involved, and they are the vast majority of the world, and most likely a majority of Jews and Muslims, may judge between Bibi's offer of negotiations without preconditions, and Mahmoud Abbas' latest threats to resign, end security agreements with Israel, disband the Palestinian Authority, and cancel the Oslo Accords. The subtext of his threats is that he must escalate because Israel and the rest of the world haven't given him what he wants.
It's likely that the Jews began their calendar with the return of exiles from Babylon, and somehow calculated that it was necessary to add some 3,000 years to get back to the beginning of time.
For the better part of 2,500 years, or maybe 3,000 years, the Jews have struggled with adversaries, and for the most part lived alongside of them with some degrees of accommodation. Currently it's a lot better than it has been.
With only a bit of optimism it is possible to assert that we are nowhere near the end. These latest threats, too, are likely to pass.
It is not beyond what is conceivable to expect that when political fashions go on to other things, Israelis will be in better shape than most Iranians, nearly all Palestinians, and the reputation of Barack Obama.
Whatever the future of those bigger than us, to all my readers, שנה טובה