Israel, The Happiest Country Or Hell-Bent?


Back in the Middle Ages, cartographers would draw maps of the world with the Holy Land in dead center, and if you never saw those maps you could pick up the Week in Review section of The New York Times and get the idea.

On one page of the section, Thomas Friedman’s column, “Obama and the Jews” was really about Israel and Friedman’s realization that those who care about Israel will be wiser to vote for the candidate “who will make America strongest … Nothing would imperil Israel more than an enfeebled, isolated America.”

On the facing page, Ruth Gruber tells us about displaced persons coming to Israel and “The Birth of a Nation, 1948,” and Jeffrey Goldberg covers “Israel’s ‘American Problem,’” and
at the bottom of the page, Elias Khoury reminds us, “For Israelis, an Anniversary. For Palestinians, a Nakba.”

Sophisticated readers of the Times are by now so familiar with the idea that Israel’s birth is someone else’s “catastrophe” (nakba in Arabic) that nakba needn’t be translated anymore when it appears in a headline.

The Times considers the use of Obama’s middle name, or the mention of his father’s religion, to be an unacceptable “smear,” but somehow it is not toxic or an unacceptable smear to allow nakba, with all its implications, to be used in a headline about the Jewish state. Racism is as real as Khoury’s anti-Zionism but on Martin Luther King Day the Times wouldn’t give a segregationist a column to explain why civil rights was a “catastrophe,” with that other n-word in the headline.

Of course, nakba is used casually in the Arab world and academia, just as that other n-word was once used casually in Alabama, and now nakba is normalized; Israel can reasonably be seen as catastrophic. If you’re charting Israel’s delegitimization, chart this: The Times, from 1948-1970, never used nakba once; it’s been used 40 times since 1998.
Goldberg hones in on what no one less than Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sees as Israel’s imminent death by demographics, if Israel won’t die first from settlements and apartheid. Olmert is scared. He tells Goldberg, “We now have the Palestinians running an Algeria-style campaign against Israel,” but if they go to a “South Africa-type campaign,” with international sanctions, then “the State of Israel is finished.”

In the Times package there was no sense of outrage about the vise closing in on Israel — the only outrage was the outrage expressed by Khoury on behalf of Palestinians. There was more outrage even in the Village Voice, where playwright David Mamet, who describes himself as decades-long liberal, recently wrote that when listening to National Public Radio, “I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the f— up.” Mamet now calls NPR “National Palestinian Radio.”

Isn’t anyone happy around here? Go to Hong Kong. The Asia Times, in a column called “Spengler,” declares Israel “the happiest nation on earth. … It is one of the wealthiest, freest and best-educated; and it enjoys a higher life expectancy than Germany or the Netherlands. But most remarkable is that Israelis appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation.” Demographics? Charting the fertility versus suicide rate of 35 industrial countries, “that is, the proportion of people who choose to create new life against the proportion who choose to destroy their own,” Israel comes out on top.
Goldberg writes that Obama “may be the first presidential candidate to confess that his sensibility was shaped in part by the novels of Philip Roth.” But the Asia Times points out, “Those who know Jewish life through the eccentric lens of Jewish-American novelists such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth … imagine the Jews to be an angst-ridden race of neurotics. Secular Jews in America are no more fertile than their gentile peers, and by all indications quite as miserable.”

The happy ones, says the Asia Times, are the Israelis, who “are far more religious than American Jews.” Let the doomsday demographers know this: religious Israelis make the most babies, “nine children on average.” [Other sources say it is 7.7.] Israeli fertility, religious and secular, is “by far the highest in the modern world.”

If Israelis are so happy, so cherishing life, “it seems possible that they will do what is required to keep their country, despite the odds against them.”

A recent Yediot Achronot piece on demographics by Yoram Ettinger found that “since 1948, Central Bureau of Statistics has been in the business of issuing alarming projections regarding Israel’s evolving demographic makeup. More often than not, they’ve been dead wrong.”
In 1948, experts said Israeli Jews would be a minority by 1967. It didn’t happen. In 1967, and again in 1973, demographers predicted Jews would be a minority between the Jordan River and Mediterranean by now, and it didn’t happen either.

In 1968, Ettinger writes, the [Palestinian] Arab fertility rate was nine children for each woman but by 1985 it dropped to 4.7. Since 2000, it fell even more, to 3.5, while the Israeli Jewish fertility rate is rising, to 2.8 children. In the last 25 years, Iranians have gone “from an average of 10 children per woman to 1.8.” Demographic predictions are speculation, not science.

Goldberg writes that Obama and Sen. John McCain “should be able to talk, in blunt terms, about the full range of dangers faced by Israel, including the danger Israel has brought upon itself,” but the problem is AIPAC and Jewish leaders who live “behind the gates of Boca Raton country clubs” and who “loathe the idea” that Israel might one day leave the settlements and parts of Jerusalem.

Goldberg sees Florida as the epicenter of all Jewish resistance to the enlightenment of the left. In his Atlantic blog, after the Hamas foreign minister endorsed Obama for president, Goldberg writes that this “won’t help Obama’s attempts to win over Jewish voters, particularly those in such places as — to pull an example from the air — Palm Beach County, Florida,” as if the endorsement of Obama by an anti-American terrorist group, let alone an anti-Israeli one, means nothing to anyone in America except Jews looking over the early-bird menu.

The New Republic (May 28) doesn’t share the view that the Jewish community is disconnected from its hawkish leaders. James Kirchick, writing of the new J-Street advocacy group that is positioning itself as a leftist alternative to AIPAC, writes that the real gap “is between the miniscule group of writers and activists involved with J Street and the majority of American Jews.”

According to the same 2007 American Jewish Committee survey cited by J Street supporters, Kirchik finds that most American Jews don’t believe that Israel can achieve peace with Hamas, don’t believe that Olmert and the Palestinians can achieve peace in the foreseeable future, and 82 percent of American Jews agree with the following statement: “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.”

That destruction, dear reader, will be a nakba all our own.