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July 28, 1989 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-07-28

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when describing Israel. Labor and Likud,
he writes, point "to their written platforms
and [say], 'Look how different we are from
them, but in daily life they [are] each sell-
ing the same Puppy Chow." Israel's politi-
cal insecurity has made it "a country with
a one-year warranty that no one is sure will
be honored?' The 1987 strike by Israel's
state-owned radio and TV which gave
Israelis a respite from news suggested that
"Israeli politics had become like a daytime
soap opera — the Jewish equivalent of As
The World Turns. You could go away for
two months and tune back in and find that
you hadn't missed a thing."
But more than materialism fuels Israel.
The nation, to Friedman, is steeped in a
fearful, paralyzing fatalism that emerged
from the realities of Arab hostility and was
psychologically and historically reinforced
by the Holocaust. This has eroded the
idealism of Israel's early pioneering days
and replaced it with an intransigence born
of Auschwitz, not of kibbutzniks.
As Friedman writes, no Israelis visit
Kibbutz Degania, the first kibbutz.
Degania is not considered "the gateway to
Israel:' Rather, the new gateway is Yad
Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial. And
Israel, asserts Friedman, "is becoming Yad
Vashem with an air force?'
This is a remarkable transformation for
someone who had championed Israel in
high school and college, who had gone to
Zionist summer camps and a five-day-a-
week Hebrew school, for someone who still
considers himself to be a "Zionist," not in
the sense that a Jew must move to Israel,
but in the sense, he said, that "it is the
right of the Jewish people to have a home-
land in Palestine:'
Friedman is convinced that it is this
background that makes From Beirut to
Jerusalem hard to dismiss. He is not, he
said, either "a 'self-hating Jew' or 'a lunatic
Zionist': People will have to wrestle with
what I say?'
Israel has lost its luster for many
American Jews, not just for Thomas L.
Friedman of the New York Times. The oc-
cupation, the Lebanese invasion, the
response to the intifada, two "national
coalition governments" in a row that have
danced to Likud's tune. All these have not
only taken the blush off the Zionist rose,
but also made many American Jews wary
of the thorns on that rose bush.
Friedman holds that events of the last
decade have forced most American Jews to
go to either of two extremes. They may
"hold on to a vision of Israel that no longer
holds to reality today, to a post-1967 vision
of Israel that can do no wrong. The other
extreme says, 'I can't live with an Israel
that isn't a perfect statue. Hence, I'm go-
ing to the coast. I'm going to check out
emotionally. I'm going to drift away from
my identification with Israel and, in some
cases, with Judaism, because for many
people, Israel was their Judaism?'

"The middle ground," said Friedman,
"which is where I'm located, is composed
of people who say, 'Yeah, y'know, she's kind
of fat and she's kind of dumb sometimes,
and she does some stupid things, but she's
my family and I love her, and I hope she
gets better and I'm going to work to make
her better."
Friedman fears that this middle ground
is shrinking and that, in time, the vast
majority of American Jews will either be
emotionally estranged from Israel or will
worship "the image of a perfect Michel-
angelo statue which doesn't correspond to
reality. And that can only lead to problems
in the long run:'

The Real Game
Friedman is now far from the Middle
East. As the Times' chief political cor-
respondent, he covers diplomacy and
foreign affairs. He occasionally writes
about the region where he spent ten years,
but he may just as frequently write about
South Africa or about a trip by Secretary
of State Baker to Europe. The excitement
quotient isn't as high as when he was duck-
ing bullets, but Friedman knew his time
had come to leave the Mideast.
"I had to get away from it," he says. "It's
addictive, and, like any addiction, it's not
good for your health:'
In the year and a half that he's been back
in the U.S., Friedman "worked like a
maniac" and wrote From Beirut to
Jerusalem in 12 months, then assumed his
new post just as the Bush administration
was being installed. But he hasn't kicked
his addiction to the Middle East. He ad-
mits that "roaming around the pale halls

For 10 years, Friedman
watched an Israel he
had deeply believed in
recede from gilded,
heroic mythology to the
shadows of bleak reality.

of the State Department looking for Office
#632B" is no match for a hit of Mideast
As the fellow at the Times who covers
Secretary of State Baker, Friedman
wouldn't comment on the secretary's re-
cent speech to the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee in which he advised
Israel against continuing settling the West
Bank. But he did say that such speeches
are tangential to the real theater of the
Middle East: "The 'game' is the game on
the land. Any speech by a Secretary of
State of by anyone else is important and
interesting at the margins. But the future
of the conflict in the Middle East is going
to be shaped by the players on the land, not

by one speech given in a hotel in Washing-
ton, D.C."
The "game on the land" that may most
determine the future of the region is the
intifada — and Israel's response to it.
Friedman, who covered the Palestinian
uprising for its first six months, is worried
that the recent "escalating violence" be-
tween Israelis and Palestinians and Pales-
tinians and Palestinians is steering the in-
tifada off-course. lb succeed, he said, it
must adhere to "relatively non-violent,
non-lethal civil disobedience" and "make
life miserable, not dangerous, for the
Israelis. The Palestinians want to make
themselves so indigestible to the Israelis
that the Israelis disgorge them into their
own state, while at the same time reassur-
ing the Israelis that they can disgorge
them without committing suicide?'
If the intifada turns explicitly and ir-
redeemably violent, if its message, as
Friedman sees it, becomes distorted and
unquestionably threatening to the Israelis,
then Israel may abandon the restraint that
it has used against the West Bankers and
the Gazans. And then, said Friedman, his
very laconic Rule No. 5 of Middle Eastern
Reporting comes into play, a rule which
may well sum up the cul-de-sac of all the
wars and battles and day-to-day skirmishes
between Israelis and Palestinians, all the
cycles of combat and strife and talk of
peace that never quite amounts to
Militarily, the Israelis will always win.
And the Palestinians will always make
sure they never, never enjoy it.
lb turn this lose-lose situation into a win-
win scenario, Friedman advised that Pales-
tinians assume the initiative. "No nation
in history," he said, "ever gave up land that
it wanted to hold, thought it needed to hold
and thought it could hold. This isn't a
charity here. And the Israelis will be no
Perhaps, what is restraining the Pales-
tinians from making such an initiative (and
what might restrain the Israelis from ac-
cepting it if it was made) is the historical
and psychological baggage that has been
dragged into the present by everyone in the
Middle East. This is not a region that
forgets the past easily. Or that is ready to
forgive it.
As Friedman writes, "Whether you are
an Arab or Jew, you can't heal your grand-
father's name. The dead can never be
redeemed — only the living can. He who
is fixated on redeeming his father's
memory will never see the opportunities of
his own world:'
"Everybody in the Middle East," said
Friedman, "has his eye on the past, either
overcoming past traumas or avenging his
past humiliations or fulfilling his past
"You've got to have your eye on the
future, otherwise there's no way out of this
maze?' ❑



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