When I arrived in America over 30 years ago as a refugee from the Soviet Union, I was relatively well informed about this country. Well enough, for instance, to be not impressed by the cornucopias of the grocery stores. I had expected that abundance and thus took it pretty well even after the 1990 Moscow scene I just left. Resulting from all the years of building communism, the food stores there differed from the clothing stores only by that in the former the shelves were empty of food while in the latter they were empty of clothes. That’s not to say that there was nothing in America to be surprised by.
It took my joining the University of Pittsburgh, however, to get really shocked. That happened when I got into a discussion of politics with a soft-mannered colleague, and she kindly informed me that Reagan was somebody to despise. Moreover, I learned, that was a common view where we were, on campus. Myself, I had known Reagan as a consistent anti-communist whose lifelong goal had been defeating the evil empire. Which he would achieve without a single shot. In fact, he had been admired by Soviet dissidents ever since he defined the Soviet Union as evil empire, stopping its appeasement.
While Reagan is now almost universally revered — even Democrats sometimes recognize his stature, — I have just been similarly shocked, which is not good at my advanced age. It’s not about Reagan now, but about another statesman of a colossal stature. Binyamin Netanyahu. This time, the source of my surprise is also academic, an article by an eminent “scholar of North American history” and an author of books on Zionism, Gil Troy, republished in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Jerusalem Post.
It announces from the start, in its title, that “Moderates Know How to Unify Israel.” There is so much in the title already that the rest of the article could be viewed unnecessary. First, of course, it is that the new Israeli government is composed of “moderates”— while the previous one must have been right-wing extremist, whose message should be “exorcized.” Borrowed from either a Catholic ritual or a horror movie, that word evokes evil spirits that “Bibi,” as the author keeps affectionately calling Netanyahu, is either possessed of or himself is one. Meanwhile, one has to figure out how a government of a much-maligned former “right-wing” leader of the “settler” movement Bennett and the leader of a jihadi Arab party Abbas can be called “moderate” by anybody sane. Or is it that the two “extremes” cancel each other, leaving just Lapid, a TV announcer-turned-politician, to think about? That’s apparently why Troy wants to award him a “Noble” [sic] Peace Prize — albeit just an Israeli one. The kind that requires nothing at all to be done — like that Nobel prize awarded to Obama just for being Obama.
Don’t worry, it’s not like Troy is unaware of Netanyahu’s “substantive achievements, from freeing the economy to signing the Abraham Accords” (really, meh!, compared to “dazzling” Lapid). He is aware — just enough to mention those achievements once, only as “frittered away.” You wonder if the economy and the Accords have disappeared? They must have, as Troy proffers, due to Netanyahu’s politics that is one of “coarse, demeaning and now violent, deluded and despicable gestures.” What are those horrible gestures from a leader who kept Israel safe and sound for 12 years? Well, it’s all explained in parentheses right next to that stream of profanities, and that should be enough to every progressive properly exorcized soul: “(See also Trump, Donald).” Don’t be surprised by this sudden hoof-kick, as vacuous as the rest of this gesture-based article, filled with obsequious accolades for the “moderates.”
Interestingly, one of Troy’s books was about Reagan. As noted there, “[i]ncreasingly, even those who had detested him began to respect him.” That should have been a lesson: don’t be so hasty to malign leaders who have just left the scene, especially if it may not be even for good yet, as with Netanyahu. And when you are an historian, especially, don’t be so hasty and effusive to praise those who have not yet done much beyond being in opposition, lest you sound like the front page of Pravda or The New York Times. Contrary to the Russian saying that Reagan liked so much, that cannot be trusted and is far from being verified.