Susie and I arrived home late last night, after a long and exhausting trip from Paris. In the old days, when I was twenty years younger, I could drive from Western Massachusetts to New York, fly non-stop from JFK to Johannesburg, and get off the plane ready to go to work after an eighteen hour flight. Now, the much shorter trip from Paris to Atlanta leaves me catatonic. One of the many changes that come with age.
It will be a few days before I resume the Hume tutorial. There is a good deal to catch up with, including enough mail to fill two large white Post Office baskets. I told the postal clerk who gave me my mail that I was very distressed about reports that the Post Office is about to go belly up, but he said they had been cautioned not to talk about it, and offered to refer me to a "supervisor." I mean, really!!
We returned to the United States just about when the State of Georgia was executing a man almost certainly not guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. No, it is not irrelevant that he was Black. This is, in many ways, a hateful country.
This got me thinking about the effort of the Palestinians to win acceptance by the UN, and the fact that Obama, who clearly supports that effort, could do so publicly only by declaring himself a one-term President. The Republicans have taken the position that Israel can do no wrong, and Rick Perry is encouraging the vilest Fundamentalist Christian fantasies about the re-establishment of Greater Israel as the necessary prelude to the End Times.
Israel has become a pariah state in the world, and seems not really to understand that fact. This is a difficult subject to discuss these days in America, much more difficult than abortion, same sex marriage, or single payer health systems. As I think I have made clear, I do not much like the abusive, hysterical tone of anonymous diatribes on the internet. I think it is cowardly and the enemy of reason. I am well aware that be writing about Israel, I invite that sort of response. So be it.
Since I am no sort of expert at all on Middle Eastern matters, as I have observed before, perhaps what I can bring to this discussion is some personal experiences that may shed light on one of the puzzling aspects of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Those who know Israel well, and whose judgment I trust, tell me that Israel is a lively, open, vibrant democratic state, in which opinions harsher than any I might express regularly are voiced in the public media and in academic and other circles. Israelis, they tell me, have a much higher regard than Americans, by and large, for the life of the mind and for the fine arts. They are cultivated, sophisticated, and charming. I do not doubt their descriptions of Israel and its people. And yet, Israel is, if I am not mistaken, the only remaining Colonial occupier and oppressor in the world [leaving to one side the United States, which is currently occupying Afghanistan and is winding down its occupation of Iraq.]. How is this possible?
Well, when I first visited South Africa, the Nationalist Party was still in power and apartheid was the law of the land. And yet, South Africa was then an open, lively, intellectually exciting place with at least one newspaper [The Mail and Guardian] that was better written and expressed more progressive views than any in the United States. The academics I met were quite open in their opposition to apartheid. They were also, many of them, serious students of Marx and of movements in the communist world. All of this was completely compatible with the rigors, the brutalities, the massive injustices of the apartheid system. Contrary to the simplistic view we tend to have about the relationship between state oppression and personal freedom, it is perfectly possible for a country engaged in unconscionable acts of opppression and aggression to give every appearance of being open, free, and democratic. The United States is a good example.
There is a long history in the United States of politicians playing to the sentimental attachments of their constituents to the lands from which their families came. People tend to forget about Joe McCarthy, if they even recall who he was, that he got his start representing German-Americans who were deeply ambivalent about America's involvement in the Second World War. Irish-Americans, Polish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Cuban-Americans all have at one time or another exhibited divided loyalties and have sought to influence American foreign policy in ways supportive of their native countries. The behavior of American Jews with regard to Israel follows a long established political tradition.
Still and all, the death grip in which supporters of Greater Israel fantasies hold American foreign policy is unusual, to say the least. The only comparable example is the veto power that Cuban-Americans exercise over any sort of rational American Caribbean foreign policy.
And I have not even mentioned Joe McGinnis' new book on Palin. A lot happened while I was away.