Love, rancor, Sullivan, Wieseltier


I’ve dispensed plenty of rancor in recent days, and probably have miles to go before I sleep. It’s one of those years.

I calmed myself a little by posting a lyric from the Ethnix classic, Tutim, on my Facebook page, and among the comments, Ori Nir directed me to this video of a full orchestral/choral rendering of the song outside Jerusalem’s walls. I’m not sure of the date. It looks like an Independence Day celebration.

Here’s a translation of the song’s chorus:

A light is rising from the east, a new day has arrived, together, we will overcome fear

Strawberries, strawberries, let’s buy nothing but strawberries, instead of more machines of war

I know songs longing for peace can be self-serving, a conscience salve — "Look, see what we’re singing. We really want peace. Ignore everything we do."

But that’s not my point. My point is, this video is cheesy, off key, off kilter (here’s the more tuneful studio recording).

It is also thrilling. Look at the soldiers hopping up and down.  I have no idea why they’re hopping up and down: Longing for peace. Gratitude for time off. A need to hop.

My point is Israel is a country like any other. My God, I hope I cover it like any other country, with critical distance.

Journalists have a dirty little secret, a romantic notion of ourselves as Sam Spade dispatching Bridget O’Shaughnessy to prison, and promising to love her for the decades she’s behind bars. Think of the best baseball writers, and the plays they’ve mythologized and the scandals they’ve exposed. The triple play and the steroids, cupped in the same typewriter basin. That’s what we aim for. It’s what our subjects deserve, it’s what you deserve.

I love Israel, and for reasons as irrational as a day at the ballpark, but that’s fine. No one loves anything for rational reasons. I’ve endured a thousand awful on-location romantic comedies because my wife loves New York, for irrational reasons. I slid strapped to a plank of wood, terrified, down steep inclines deep in British Columbia, to better understand the irrational love my sister and her family have for those vistas.

Belief, the absence of sense, it is true, at time closes your mind; at other times it opens it. There’s nothing that calms me better than grilled offal’s thick perfume pervading the dark wet nights of Aggripas Street in winter. And years ago, after a day of fraught coverage in Hebron, when a Palestinian colleague seeking the same refuge pulled me into a roasted chicken joint, I understood.

Israel deserves the same twin considerations of any other country, including Palestine: The notion that it is normal, and subject to the scrutiny and reproach that every other nation deserves, and the notion that there are reasons to love it, irrationally, just as every other nation is loved, irrationally.

What it does not need is to be objectified, eroticized into some pornographic fantasy of evil, or for that matter, of good. Leon Wieseltier, waxing a little rancorous, dismantles Andrew Sullivan’s tendency to objectify, here, and, maybe slipping back a little into rancor, I’ll finish by quoting him:

And then Sullivan returns to his condescension toward the Jews. Contemporary Israel is “a betrayal of many Jewish virtues.” I thought that human rights, if this is what Sullivan sees Israel abusing, is not a Jewish virtue, or a Christian virtue, or a Muslim virtue, but a human virtue. Israel is a secular state. The primary offense of Israeli brutality in Gaza was not against Maimonides. But Sullivan desperately wants the Jews to be good Jews, to be the best Jews they can be. He wants edifying Jews. Don’t they realize that if they fail to edify, they may lose his friendship? The fools! Jews ought to determine their beliefs and their actions apologetically, so as not to disappoint “goyim like me.” This is a common phenomenon in the experience of minorities. They may awaken to their autonomy, but they must not go too far.

Recommended from JTA