Notions of justice will not go away. In response to my comment about having an equivalent lack of patience with the Palestinians'' claims about a right of return and the Jews'' claims about a God-given title to the Land of Israel, one of my friends responded, "without the ''claims that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jews'', Jews in Israel are nothing but a mixed multitude of interlopers." Another has written, "Why don''t the Palestinians have the same right to self-determination Israelis claim for themselves?"
My lack of patience for such talk does not mean that it does not swirl around me. Competing assertions about what is right may account for the largest part of the discussions about Israel. The explanation of this talk is more intriguing than any possibility of resolving the assertions with anything more convincing than "I believe."
The "mixed multitude of interlopers" does not only describe the population of Israel. I cannot identify any country where it does not apply. Migration and conflict are in the background everywhere. The history I learned in the schools of Fall River dealt with the heroism of the Pilgrims who landed 50 miles to the east, the hospitality that marked the first Thanksgiving, then King Philip''s War, some of whose battles occurred not far from where I played baseball, and onward to the conflicts that provided the material for the double features I paid 25 cents to watch at the downtown movie houses on Saturday afternoons. I did not apply the term "interloper" to me and my friends, but I learned before finishing the Highland School that we came from different places across Europe.
Claims of being given by the Almighty make me itch, but moved numerous Jews to make Israel their home and lead their descendants to volunteer for the most demanding squads of the IDF. Theodore Herzl toyed with the idea of solving the problem of European Jews in Africa or Latin America until he realized that the mass he was trying to lead would only consider the Land of Israel.
Rene Descartes'' claim to fame provides a parallel that is the only moral justification Israel requires. "I think therefore I am," when applied to a state, becomes, "It functions, therefore it is."
Israel functions at a high level of quality when compared to other countries. It has a firm place among those entitled to call themselves democracies, with a high standard of living, rule of law, opportunities for women, decent services for education and health, lots of foreign exchange in the bank, and opportunities for ethnic and religious minorities that do not fall below those of minorities in North America or Western Europe.
Being Jewish contributes to Israel''s place in the focus of attention. There is no shortage of Jews who consider themselves God''s chosen, and see Jerusalem as the center of the universe. Not a small percentage of those Jews express the hyperbolic criticism of self and others that has been part of Judaic culture since the time of the prophets. For them, nothing that Israelis do is good enough.
Not all of Israel''s non-Jewish critics are anti-Semites, but some of them are. The Protocols are quoted throughout the Muslim world as if they were factual. Ranking politicians and activists who have Jewish friends and relatives elevate discussions of Israel to the top of their agendas where they examine it and conclude with praise or condemnation.
The Hebrew Bible that provides the title that some claim for the Land of Israel, and endorses the Jews as God''s chosen, also provides an explanation for the attention given to Israel by Gentiles. The centrality of the Bible in the culture shared by much of the world insures that Jews will be a topic of fascination. Often it seems that those who are not curious about us, or admire us, despise us with equal intensity. A Jew can aspire to normality, and achieve traits for self and country that fall within the normal range, but be frustrated in failing to achieve a quiet sense of having arrived to a situation of being ignored to the same extent of everyone else.
The implications are not all bad. Balancing the perpetual threat that antagonism will spill over to violence are encounters with those who want to help. The public facilities of Israel are plastered with notices of who contributed what. The numerous times that American Senators and Congressmen stood to applaud Prime Minister Netanyahu count for something. Reality being what it is, we''ll have to accept the heat of the spotlight while being alert to the possibilities of something worse.
Palestinians may obtain recognition for what they call a state, but that will not elevate them above the level of an international basket case. Better that they absorb the wisdom my grandmother acquired in Bialystok or Fall River: God helps those who help themselves.