There’s an interesting item by my cousin Stuart Schoffman, published last week in New York’s Jewish Week newspaper (“We’ve Been in This Movie Before“). I try to visit with Stuart every time I’m in Jerusalem. He’s a brilliant writer — a journalist, screenwriter and translator. This piece exemplifies his discursive style, his liberal political perspective and his appreciation for irony:
The week after Independence Day, I took the Number 18 bus to the Mahane Yehuda market, to run a few Friday errands. I got off at Davidka Square, where the Street of the Prophets meets Jaffa Road. In the midst of the square is a monument of the 1948 War, displaying a homemade mortar nicknamed “Davidka,” one of six deployed by Jewish fighters; the mortars were notoriously inaccurate but incredibly loud, so much so, the story goes, that Arab forces thought the Jews might have the atomic bomb. It’s been quite a while since we were David and they were Goliath, but we still cherish the myth.
In June 2003, a Number 14 bus was blown up in Davidka Square by a Hamas suicide bomber dressed as a charedi Jew: 17 Israelis died. The Israeli Air Force promptly retaliated in Gaza. That was at the height of the second intifada, during which more than 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians were killed. In recent years, Arab terrorists in our midst haven’t blown up buses or cafés. (In Jerusalem, we get the occasional stabbing, and lethal attacks on pedestrians by local Palestinians driving tractors and other vehicles.) But we as a nation do experience traumatic eruptions such as last summer’s devastating Gaza war, also known as “Operation Protective Edge.” On this year’s Memorial Day, Israelis grieved for the 67 IDF soldiers killed in that war; and the very next day, we celebrated Israel’s 67th birthday.
So it goes here, the welding of mourning and merriment, existential paranoia and picnics at the beach, hard-wired fears and world-beating feats of innovation in medicine, technology, modern dance. For an inveterate ironist like me, Israel is endlessly inspiring. For human-rights activists and pro-Israel activists, it’s a perennial battleground. Of course, the definition of “pro-Israel” is forever up for grabs in today’s anxious, fractious Jewish milieu. . . .
So here I am on that Friday morning in Davidka Square, crossing Jaffa Road, and what do I see in front of the Clal Building, … but a couple of dozen young Israelis in red shirts, preparing to march down Jaffa Road, a few of them waving red hammer-and-sickle flags. What’s this? It’s May Day! As they march off in quaint solidarity with the workers of the world, I am seized by nostalgia. Not so much for Israel’s formative socialism, … though I frankly do yearn for a Jewish state dedicated to the prophetic vision of justice and equality enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, read out by Ben-Gurion in the Tel Aviv Museum on May 14, 1948. I need not quote from the Declaration: you know what I mean.
It was the rhythmic chanting that got to me: “Ha’am! Doresh! Tzedek hevrati!” over and over, “The People demand social justice!” This is what hundreds of thousands were chanting all over Israel in the exhilarating summer of 2011, four long years ago, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, in Haifa and in Beersheva, with some 50,000 of us, it was estimated, marching in Jerusalem alone. For a guy my age, it felt like the exhilarating Washington rallies against the Vietnam War.
But the young organizers of 2011, a few of whom are now in the Knesset, were careful not to extend the demand for social justice beyond the Green Line, not to emphasize the shared humanity of Israelis and Palestinians and thus “politicize” the agenda. It was important to appeal to the great center, and the politico who rode this wave into the Knesset in the election of 2013 was Yair Lapid, the muscular, telegenic leader of the Yesh Atid Party. Lapid joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition but was pushed out last fall by Bibi, who then called new elections designed to tighten his grip on the country.
… Bibi went to Washington to orate on Capitol Hill, insulting President Obama and delighting Republicans. … Netanyahu may or may not be right about Iran, who can know for sure? (I think he’s not, but both prophecy and plutonium are beyond my pay grade.) The beauty of Bibi’s game is that apocalyptic demagoguery cannot be proven wrong. Then, on Election Day, came his big xenophobic finish: the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish and democratic state warning the public that Arab citizens were coming out to vote in droves, and the only way to stop them was Likud. Even when the polls closed that night, many voters still believed the surveys that predicted that Labor (rebranded as the Zionist Union), led by the principled, moderate Isaac Herzog, would oust Netanyahu at last, and set the country on a new and hopeful course. How wrong we were. …