Petulant Suicide

Although Israel must compromise for peace, Jews have suffered for centuries in an attempt for survival

Benjamin Netanyahu (do not publish again) (photo credit: Avi Katz)
Benjamin Netanyahu (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
I have heard repeatedly in the last few weeks anguished complaints by many American Jews of the Left: “Bibi was so rude. He was rude to our president.” It’s not the main point, of course, but this criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the grounds of simple bad manners and lack of respect for the president’s office has drifted into our general despair.
I am also of the Left. I am a J Street supporter and have long believed in that now endangered two-state solution. But I have no problem with Bibi’s rudeness.
There is the famous tale of Freud’s father Jacob walking along the streets of his hometown in Galicia and a Christian man knocked his hat off his head into the muddy gutter and ordered him to go fetch it, which he did promptly. This tale caused the young Freud great shame, to think of his father so humiliated.
Now that Christian was rude. Rude is the way the Jews were treated all through the Diaspora, exiled and fenced in, marked off with strange hats, prohibited this or that profession, unable to own land. That was really rude. Then we did not have the power, no IDF, no Mossad, no possible atomic capability buried in our ghetto cellars or carried about in our peddlers’ carts. We could so often only be rude at great risk to ourselves or those we loved.
So when I see Bibi, whose words were as frightening as any I’ve heard in my lifetime, talk his truth to power, I also cheer. Be rude, my friend. We as a nation have earned the right to shout in public places, to forget to bow to royalty, to step on toes placed in our way. We don’t have to stand in the gutter to let the gentile pass. Rudeness is just fine.
I don’t even mind ruthlessness. Our history earns us several millennia of ruthlessness towards others. I hope we don’t cash in that chip, but it wouldn’t make me cringe if sometimes we forgot our manners. After all, the very polite gentlemen of the British Empire tortured, imprisoned, starved and stole from the peoples of several continents. The Dutch and the Belgians and the Slavs and the Russians and, of course, the Germans do not deserve prizes for good behavior on the world stage.
So the thing I like best about Bibi is his bad manners, even to an American president, even one I admire for all the usual reasons. But the thing about Bibi that makes me think dark and woeful thoughts is his commitment to the view, which I have heard over the years again and again: Don’t worry about the demographics. Don’t worry about democracy, that is just a word. Our nation will rise triumphant on ancient land beyond the ’67 borders. History will take care of the problem.
This is the view from the tyrant’s perch. This is the view from behind political cataracts. History may very well throw us out again. History cannot be counted on to be anyone’s friend in dire times. Imperialism is as old as the bow and arrow and while the Belgians could rule with impunity over acres of African fields, Jews will be once again on the lam if a peaceful solution is not found. The eyes of the world are upon us and they are different eyes from those that stared down the decades of the 19th century.
We will not be able to steal the villages, to oppress the owners of the olive groves, to shrug off moral criticism until we have driven the last Palestinian across some distant border. We will be vulnerable internationally. We will be vulnerable in the neighborhood. We will be hated and rightfully so. Some of us, me included, will begin to doubt our contribution to the human story, and our pride in our contributions to the world will be tainted.
Creating fear and hate, spreading the story that there is no one to talk to, that there can be no solution that involves compromise is a way to ward off peace and a way to inflate the ambition to seize the whole place for one’s own. This won’t work forever. Compromise is necessary for peace and peace is necessary for survival.
Other nations have no morals and so I would not insist out of sentimental hope that Israel maintain a goodliness that is next to martyrdom.
But what a terrible irony: The people of the book, the people who suffered under the hands of authorities with cruel and beastly agendas will, if Bibi has his way, bring down the state because they can’t imagine sharing the land that must be shared.
Rudeness is all right but suicide, with a nationalistic tantrum, is still suicide. •
Contributing editor Anne Roiphe is a novelist and journalist living in New York.