So Bleak the Vision

A friend heard the news report on the radio, which must have sounded to his ears like a revelation. To me, it rang like background noise. He turned up the volume and putting a finger to his lips indicated that our conversation can wait, as whatever we were talking about was of far less consequence than the broadcasted item: More speculation from “informed sources” about Yitzhak Herzog joining the government.

When the report was over I asked my right-minded friend: “So, that’s what you guys are waiting for, for Herzog to save Bibi’s ass?”

“It’s not about saving Bibi, it’s about preserving the coalition.”

“Same thing.”

“Look, Herzog already said he’s against the Iran deal. What’s stopping him?”

“Why should he join the government when Bibi and his coalition partners have absolutely no intentions of negotiating seriously with the Palestinians?”

“Because we have to show the world that we’re united.”

“You’re kidding me, right? United to do what, exactly? United to do nothing? United to rule out all chances for a way out of this stalemate, this constant state of emergency? Unified to sit around and wait for the next round of lopsided asymmetric warfare with our crazy neighbors?

With good intentions, my friend gave it his best shot to convince me that I was looking at it all wrong.

“Look, as far as I’m concerned Bibi can keep his narrow coalition intact and just maintain the status quo. I’m fine with that. But the world doesn’t see it that way. They see Bennett as a right-wing fanatic and they can’t understand how that ex-con Deri became a government minister. Bringing Herzog in gives us legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s good for Israel,” he added, ending his tailored speech on a happy note.

I was about to suggest the world might treat us with more respect and Israel might even be better off if we finally shed our cumbersome “occupier” stigma and actually drew permanent borders. But not wanting to hear the same old political aphorism, “there’s no one to talk to,” I let him have the last word in this extract of our national dialogue which always turns into a dead end conversation.

In the background, the radio stopped leaking dribs and drabs of non-news and played an honest tune. For some reason, an old story title popped into my head: “So Bright the Vision.” The catchy phrase sharply contrasted the conversation that had just ended. It was coined by a venerated science fiction writer named Clifford Simak who, back in his heyday in the Fifties and Sixties, presented his wildly imaginative and optimistic view of the universe. It was all terra incognita then, before the first Gemini orbits and Apollo expeditions, long before PCs became so much a part of our lives. Simak, who actually called computers “computators” in one of his early stories, drew more from inspiration than from knowledge, and understood the need of his readers to perceive life beyond the bounds of our world.

With the loose associations that the mind makes, I thought then about an Austrian Jew named Herzl who once leaned over a balcony railing and envisioned a Judenstaat, a state for the Jewish people. So strong the inspiration, so bright the vision, Herzl didn’t even know that nineteenth-century Palestine was full of Arabs. And when he found out, he moved onward, understanding the need of his followers to break the confines of the Diaspora.

This country was founded by dreamers and fashioned by doers. It was developed by those who had the guts to take chances, and it achieved success in leaps and bounds. It reached a milestone when an Egyptian plane landed on Israeli soil and Anwar Sadat walked down that passenger ladder with the El Al insignia. It was given new hope when Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein shared a friendly smoke against the backdrop of the Kinneret. And now it is being smothered by small-minded politicians who care more about the lifespan of their shaky coalition than a chance to gain the long-coveted and much needed official recognition of the Arab world. So narrow the foresight; so bleak the vision.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.