My Israeli seatmate on the flight to Israel turns to me and says "Obama." My heart sinks. "What the hell he does now?" he demands to know. "Why he hates us and he doesn't care about us? And what he is doing with Iran? He is crazy?" If he's expecting a defense, or even a coherent explanation, he's picked the wrong interlocutor. Unlike most of my comrades in the Zionist-neocon plot to take over the world, I did not think the Obamic statement on Iran was good. I didn't even think it was good enough. Not good enough for our "international community" president to invoke the international community, again, speaking of "tired strategies"--or is that a tactic?--and wave its outrage like a white handkerchief at the Iranian regime; not good enough to deplore the "threats, the beatings and imprisonments," as though they've been taking place in the vacuum "of the last few days" rather than playing out over the last few decades; not good enough to look at scenes of mayhem and murder and say, "The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future."
This is not a debate: "the timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence . . . people of all ages risk[ing] everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard . . . courageous women stand[ing] up to the brutality and threats . . ." could be a description of the struggle for civil rights that began before Obama was born and raged on while he toddled around Hawaii and Indonesia. Was that a debate, in his opinion? Were Jim Crow laws, enforced not infrequently through violence by cracker governors and their baton-wielding minions, a matter of "sovereignty," not to be "interfered with," in his view? Unlike that one, the one in Iran is a fight whose outcome looks grim. Where's that "soaring rhetoric" on whose angels' wings this actually rather inarticulate man floated into office? This ain't it.
(We're seven hours later here, so I'm a little behind on the news, but I gather we won't be celebrating our independence with representatives of "the Islamic Republic of Iran" this year. Bravo, Obami--or are you now going to start pretending that you never invited them in the first place?)
So I answer my seatmate, rashly: "I actually have no idea who this man is or what he believes." This elicits a very Israeli tirade, full of assurance about Obama's secret ties to Islamism, his secret education at madrassas, and so forth. Conspiracy-theorizing is not exclusive to the far left and right fringes of the American polity. It abounds in Israel as well. And while I don't believe a word of this Barack Hussein Obama stuff, and my seat-mate's certainty makes me bristle, I have to say I wouldn't mind knowing the answers to my own questions.
But it's that very certainty--of the absolute rightness of their cause (and opinions); of their military prowess; of the importance of their refusal to keep giving more in exchange for less; of their brilliance at saving and absorbing the lives of Jews from every corner of a mostly Jew-intolerant globe; of their genius for invention; of their mastery over swamps and deserts--that has always made Israelis so impressive and attractive. This morning I watch as a group of Americans gathers in the lobby of our hotel to meet their tour guide. He will be taking them on a walk through the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and he begins with a little history lesson, telling his wards how Jordan took control of it and destroyed much of it in the 1948 war against the Jews, and afterward refused to allow Jews to enter it, and how Israeli soldiers liberated it in the Six-Day-War, and wept when they realized they had reached the Western Wall. He's got some miles on him, but he also still has some of that Israeli dash and swagger, and I know--and he will be sure to let them know, as they get underway--that there's a gun strapped to his belt. It doesn't show, unlike the three cell phones sticking out of various pockets, but it's there, and it's a good thing, alas.
Tomorrow we visit friends who live in a West Bank settlement. Take that, Obami!