I awoke Thursday morning to find that the most troublesome items in my inbox were an article pondering whether the editorials of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, or Washington Post were the more or less anti-Israel; and an interchange between internet friends about the latest dribble from Roger Cohen, saying once again that if Israel did not give to the Palestinians everything they wanted we would end up with a dual national state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, and gone would be the ideal of an Jewish state.
The details are less important than what all this indicates about the prominence of Israel in the thoughts of so many people who feel they must express themselves, with or without a great deal of experience in Israel and the rest of the Middle East.
Cohen''s mantra is simplistic in the extreme.
"Israel has fallen since 1967 into a terrible temptation. No democracy can be immune to running an undemocratic system of oppression in territory under its control. To have citizens on one side of an invisible line, and disenfranchised subjects without rights on the other, does not work. A democratic state needs borders. It cannot morph into repressive military rule for Palestinians in occupied areas while allowing state-subsidized settler Jews there to vote."
Cohen and the people who accept similar slogans overlook Israel''s resistance to Palestinians. Prominent in the process is the construction of the wall. There is not an invisible line separating Israel from Palestinians, but a three meter high barrier along most of the route and other separations elsewhere. Isolated settlements may have been a mistake, but they also have their protections. To be sure, the wall can be breached. It may even come down in the style of Berlin, which is one of the images promoted by the left. For the time being, however, the various borders are patrolled by the IDF. The last time I looked, there were more troops concerned to maintain the Israeli-Palestinian separation than those mobilizing behind the leadership of Roger Cohen.
The larger point, that "disenfranchised subjects without rights . . . does not work" falls into the garbage with a bit of comparison. Cohen and his chorus can put a finger anywhere in Africa and find more misery reflecting a lack of political influence than they would find in either Israel or the West Bank. Yet African countries continue to function. A poke at a map of Latin America or Asia, and certainly the rest of the Middle East, would also be likely to land on a place of greater social problems derived from imperfect politics. And a random stab at a map of New York City might well touch a neighborhood where political and economic opportunities are far from ideal.
Something is wrong in the society and politics of Cohen''s own country where great national wealth co-exists with health problems that result in his country ranking somewhere in the low 30s among countries in terms of life expectancy.
If all the grungier places have continued for years, decades, or centuries, Israel''s chances of survival also seem pretty good.
Why the obsession with Israel?
It shows up not only in the fascination of Roger Cohen and those who analyze American newspapers to determine which is more anti-Israel, but in the efforts of the Obama administration. If John Kerry was primarily concerned with dealing with the great problems of the world, he could surely find many more pressing than the lack of a Palestinian state.
The answer that the Israel-Palestine conflict holds the key to the peace of the Middle East is mind boggling. The claim is convenient propaganda for Muslims who want to distract attention from their own national problems. It is more convincing that current instability and bloodshed come not from popular bitterness over the claimed misery of Palestinians, but from conflicts between different sects of Islam whose 1200 year old disputes have once again erupted, or the rising up of impoverished and repressed masses lacking political or economic opportunities.
If Arab Spring and its developments to date suggest anything, it is that we should distrust the naivete of the American President who demanded democracy and equality of Egyptians in 2009, and publicists like Thomas Friedman who saw the initial uprising as the onset of democracy, and still haven''t lost hope even if they have extended their time table.
If democracy ever does come to the Muslim Middle East, it is unlikely to happen while Barack Obama or Thomas Friedman are still around to celebrate it. There may be more hope of the fruits of democracy getting to the less desirable places of Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Minnesota, but even those events would be a considerable stretch beyond present realities.
I''m still looking for answers to the question of why the obsession with Israel.
It is tempting to conclude that it has something to do with the world''s fascination with Jews. Some of that is anti-Semitism, but some is a heightened expectation about Jews, shared by Jews and non-Jews who may see only the glories, miracles, ideal social norms, and hope in the Holy Texts written in and about this place, and overlook the hatreds and gore in the same texts.
There is no certainty in such a conclusion, but it gains weight from a comment made by an Arab student and a bit of Jewish humor.
The Arab--a bright and congenial man who is also an intense Palestinian nationalist--expressed his appreciation of the world''s concern, along with the view that if his people had not been associated with the Jews, they would have been forgotten before their nationalism had a chance to develop.
The well used line of Jewish humor is to thank God for choosing us as His People, saying that we''ve had enough, and asking Him to choose someone else.