The president of the United States arrives. He poses with the leaders of the Israeli government. Pictures are taken with the Minister of Defense and IDF Chief of Staff. He’s whisked to Yad Vashem where he emotes sincerely about the unspeakable historical suffering of Jews in the previous century, and the sacred cause of protecting Jewish life. He kneels down for an unscheduled (within a strictly scheduled visit) compassionate encounter with survivors. Announcements are made about security and intelligence coordination, cooperation, and material support. Iron Dome installations are toured, and cutting-edge defense tech is admired. At every step, Biden reinforces his personal commitment, the commitment of the Democratic Party he leads, and the commitment of the republic over which he presides, to friendship with the Jewish state and with the Jewish people.
It’s all good.
Anxieties about Iran’s nuclear program and anti-Zionism in the US, about how Israel is becoming a wedge issue between American’s two parties, with Biden’s positioned as a threat to it, have been addressed.
But in the same geographical region, administered by the same regime, are between 5 and 6 million people whom that regime doesn’t represent. A people whose per capita income is a fraction of Israel’s. A people whose civil liberties and human rights (and no, the concept of human rights isn’t antisemitic, in fact, it was largely framed by Jewish theorists and humanitarian activists, as James Loeffler shows us) are violated daily. These people receive almost no mention. They get no hearing. They are at best an afterthought. Beyond some mumbled repetition of enduring commitment to a two-state solution that was never really about two fully independent co-equal states. The “state and a half” solution? The “state and client state” solution? The “state and quasi-state” solution? That’s it. There will, of course, be meetings later on. Closed-door discussions of some sort. Discussions with a lame duck interim government most of whose constituent parties are committed, at best, to pursuing a more benevolent Jewish supremacy.
This neglect of millions of people isn’t benign.
Imagine watching the series of events yesterday, and listening to the affirmations of Israeli military power, as a young Palestinian whose grandparents lost their homes when they fled armed men in 1948, men whom we know now occasionally murdered unarmed Palestinian Arabs. Who can’t get a permit to find work. Whose teenage brother is in administrative detention for being in the vicinity of someone who threw rocks. Whose father’s arm was broken so badly in an Israeli jail that it doesn’t fully straighten. Who has a cousin who was killed by Israeli troops. Who grew up going to school with a playground that often smelled of tear gas. Who can’t visit relatives who live in “Israel proper”. Who can’t go abroad to study and feel secure he can come home. Whose best friend’s family home was demolished because of what a brother or cousin did without his knowledge. Who feels like every moment of his life is surveilled and one wrong move, no matter how accidental or unintentional, could lead to his life and that of his family being turned upside down. Who has never seen the sea, though it’s less than an hour’s drive from where he lives.
And the US president, putative leader of the free world, only has time for Yad Vashem and the IDF and the already privileged people whose privileges come at his expense.
And then he sees the portrait of Biden sitting with all the Israeli dignitaries at the airport, the same airport that serves so many Palestinian Arabs, citizens and non-citizens. Where are his representatives? Where is he? Where are his interests and the interests of his family, his community, his people?
No. Our problem. Our problem as Israeli Jews.
Jewish life in the Land of Israel ultimately, in all senses, depends on changing this reality. Materially, culturally, and economically. We may not agree on how to get there, or what that alternative reality should look like. And too many of us, maybe most of us, don’t even want a different one. We’re just waiting for them to dissipate and disappear. Same as many of them are. A stand-off based on the wish of the other’s demise. The eternal people fears not the long road.
But taking the long, historical view, one that Jews should supposedly be particularly capable of, we see that peoples and cultures that bet on material might and political sovereignty to safeguard them have melted away. It is not because of the IDF or the Israeli flag or Israel’s sovereign institutions that Jews continued to live and evolve and now live once again in the land that has been the center of our collective identity in many ways for so long.
Egyptian civilizations rose and fell, leaving behind monuments. My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Rome bet on its legions and the eternal city still stands, but does Rome as a civilization? More recently and closer to home, the Mamelukes bet on their well-honed mercenary culture. Who speaks ancient Egyptian or practices the rites of Hathor and Isis? Who writes Roman or Mameluke (not Arabic) poetry?
Biden does the Jews of the Land of Israel no favors by coming here and reinforcing our predicament, secure in the near-term, precarious and perhaps doomed in the long-term. He does us no favors by contributing, even if passively, to the humiliation of Palestinians dominated by a foreign people, by an enemy. Dominated by a people that demonstrates no effective desire to relinquish its domination and see them as equal in dignity and rights. He does us no favors by reinforcing the ideology that sees the long-term interests of the Jewish people as identical with the interests of the contemporary Israeli regime. Because states and their armies rise and fall. Our culture has survived and even flourished through this. Shouldn’t we learn from that?
President Biden isn’t helping.
Quite the opposite.