Columns about Israel and the geopolitics of the Middle East are a sure way to get passions to flare and, sometimes, attract hate mail. The conflicting positions of Zionism and antisemitism are typically used as the default for all commentary on the subject; the middle ground has no appeal in a win at all costs culture. Hatred, however, has far less power than the alternative (as the picture shows). These are the challenges that cross my mind as I reflect on President Obama’s calculated decision to include the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations in his speech on the Arab Spring.
The question of Israel isn’t a simple one, even for Jews. Philip Roth, in his interesting historical fiction, The Plot Against America, expressed a sentiment I have heard in some quarters: “…the poor old man who…seemed unable to get it through his head that we’d already had a homeland for three generations. I pledged allegiance to the flag of our homeland every morning at school. I sang of its marvels with my classmates at assembly programs. I eagerly observed its national holidays…Our homeland was America.” But it isn’t that simple either; driven out of Palestine by the Romans 19 centuries ago, the idea and reality of a Jewish Israel is powerful. And it needs to be noted that synagogues are really just an acceptable, temporary, replacement for the Temple to an observant Jew.