Sunday, June 17, 2018

Put This Place on Your Bucket List

So, what is your favorite place in America?   Yellowstone?  Yosemite?  Bourbon Street?  The Met? 

For me, it’s Monticello.  To begin, I love the drive there from my home – 2 ½ hours of rolling hills through the Virginia Piedmont.   The perfect length for a wonderful drive.  Then, when I get to my destination, I can celebrate the lives of one of my heroes.   This was the tribute I gave to him in The Creed Room, my first novel:

“Jefferson may not have been the most ethical or courageous of our Founding Fathers ... but he remains the quintessential American genius.  Put aside that he wrote our defining political document.  That’s just the beginning of his accomplishments.  Whether you’re a lover of art, music, philosophy, science, anthropology, religion, nature, language, architecture or literature, you’re mining ore that Jefferson explored at a deep level.  I’ve always loved that line from President Kennedy when he brought in a number of Nobel laureates for a formal dinner and announced that this was the greatest assemblage of intelligence at the White House since Jefferson dined alone....   More than the other southern aristocrats, Jefferson created a day-in day-out routine that was remarkable for how it enabled him to cultivate so many scholarly and aesthetic interests and still have time to attend to the affairs of the state.  Jefferson strived to create a nation whose citizens could live in freedom, think for themselves, worship whomever they wanted, and develop their talents as much as possible.   For the vision of a statesman ... what could be greater than that?”

I went on to say (speaking through a character) that “when I was a kid, I especially loved Monticello’s inventions, like the two doors that open when you only pull one handle.  Today, I marvel mostly at the books.  He once owned 6,000.  Jefferson was like the lead character in ‘Good Will Hunting’ – pick any subject, he’d learn it quickly and never forget what he’d learned.  At Monticello, you can see how he learned it.  He surrounded himself with beauty, and he treated every hour as a divine gift.   Sometimes, when I go there, I turn to face D.C.  And I try to keep this in mind: Jefferson wasn’t content just to lift himself up.  He felt a duty to help the rest of us too.  He and his friends forged a vast wealthy republic unlike any this world had seen. Jefferson was truly a great man.”

If someone had penned that tribute during my childhood, most Americans could easily ignore what was missing.  But that was before Annette Gordon-Reed, one of my law school classmates, enlightened the world about Jefferson’s love life.  We all already knew about his deep affection for his wife, Martha.  But Martha passed away in 1782, when Jefferson was still in his 30s.  He was destined to live for another 44 years, and thanks to Gordon-Reed, the world is well aware of the woman with whom he spent many of those years, fathering children. 

This weekend, for the first time, visitors to Monticello can attend an exhibit dedicated to Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s slave ... and the mother of several of his children.  The fact that Jefferson owned slaves has never been a secret, but his willingness to sleep with one of those slaves was brushed under the rug for centuries.  Instinctively, everyone knows what’s wrong with that relationship. Whenever any man has power over a woman, he can abuse that power by bringing sex into the equation.  But nowhere is a power relationship less equal or palatable than when the man is a slave owner and the woman is slave.  How can that woman ever be seen as meaningfully “consenting” to sex under those circumstances?  Even to ask that question is to answer it.

Jefferson understood the evils of slavery; he even wrote about them.  Yet Jefferson was too full of himself and his special mission in life to free his slaves.  Their labor power helped turn him into the icon that people like me have been admiring ever since.  If you have the chance to be truly “great,” why would you give that up to do something that is merely “good”?  That must have been the way Jefferson reasoned, or should I say rationalized, in keeping his slaves. He also rationalized his conduct by writing that African-Americans were intellectually inferior to white people, even attempting to prove his point by contending that the orangutan male is more attracted to black women than to other orangutans.   Now in the 21st century, it’s difficult to fathom how a man could be as brilliant as he was in so many ways and yet so unabashedly racist.

To this day, I display a bust of Jefferson in my dining room.  That bust is also the image that appears on my cellphone.  I recognize his hypocrisy, but it doesn’t destroy my ability to appreciate him, or even to view him in some respects as a role model.  (My African-American friends have more difficulty doing that for obvious and damned good reasons.)  The term “Jeffersonian Democracy” remains among the most hallowed in political philosophy.  That won’t change any time soon.  

Yet this weekend, I celebrate the inclusion of an exhibit on Sally Hemmings in Monticello. And I tip my hat to the work of Annette Gordon-Wood.  Her unmasking of Jefferson, while appropriate, is far less important than her revealing of the slavery experience – and the fact that the “field” slaves must never be forgotten, even as we focus on the personalities of the “house” slaves like Sally Hemmings.  Thanks to Gordon-Wood, Monticello is no longer simply a tribute to the wonders of science, political philosophy and the capacity for individual excellence.  It is now also a tribute to the study of history, and the principle that historians must never again ignore uncomfortable facts.

Jefferson was indeed a “great” man. And yet great men are flawed, because all human beings are significantly flawed.  Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, all of them.  At least that’s my opinion.  I have never claimed that Thomas Jefferson is among the greatest of men.  I will simply say that he is a personal role model of mine, despite his obvious flaws, and that his house, which he called “Monticello” (little mountain), is my favorite spot in America.  This weekend, it just got even better.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Toast to Spectator Sports in the Name of Empathic Rationalism

Negative stereotypes can give people sustenance.  By trivializing others who aren’t like us, we come to feel better about ourselves.  That’s why people from cities like New York or Los Angeles may enjoy looking at rural southerners as rednecks, or why the latter may view New Yorkers as uptight jerks or as Los Angelinos as crazy hedonists. 

Of all our unflattering stereotypes, easily one of the most recognizable is the dumb jock.  This creature is almost invariably a “he.”  He is also white, insipid, and prone to binge drink and drool at the thought of “hot girls,” which is his term of choice for impressive women.   He is obsessed with team sports -- preferably both as a participant and as a spectator.   Above all else, he is incapable of showing true sympathy for other people because he is supremely shallow and sympathy requires at least some degree of depth.   If you want an example of this stereotype, consider the character of Steve Stifler from American Pie.  His love of sports did absolutely nothing to build his character.

I can see why the dumb jock stereotype is so enduring.  Much like people who don’t enjoy art, dance or religion, there are plenty of us who don’t care for team sports.  Yet because ballgames are such an important part of our culture, even those of us who don’t like them will be frequently besieged by animated conversations about which team is going to win the next game or whether a referee screwed up the previous one.  I can relate all too well to the person who doesn’t appreciate team sports.  
Whenever I encounter people talking passionate about technology, not only does it bore me silly but it makes me feel like I’m missing a basic human gene.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a negative stereotype to draw from when I see people talk about smart phones or cameras.  But the sports haters? They have the luxury of remembering dumb jocks in the movies, which will reinforce the notion that spectator sports are a colossal waste of time.  Stifler might understand what it means to hit into a “6-4-3” double play or to bring in a “dime” back, but that knowledge will never help him avoid being a bore and a bully.  From this perspective, we cultivate nothing of substance from rooting for ball clubs – unlike, say, the virtue we’d gain from watching a dramatic play or attending a new art exhibit. 

Far be it from me to criticize the theater or the art museum.  I crave “high” culture as much as the next guy.  The thing is, though, sports culture can elevate us as well.  That lesson was on vivid display this past Thursday night.

Steve Stifler, at this point, would recognize my reference to last Thursday.  He was obsessed about one sport with a stick (lacrosse). I’m talking about another (ice hockey).  Thursday was the night when my hometown Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup.  This franchise has been in existence for 44 years, but Thursday night was the Capitals’ first world championship.  Watching the emotional reactions to their victory reminded me of why following team sports can be a deeply uplifting activity, the kind that helps people AVOID acting like Stifler, despite what Hollywood stereotypers might want us to think. 

After the horn sounded to end the game, a celebration erupted on the ice.  The players rushed to embrace each other with unbridled joy and affection.   This was a lifelong dream realized, the dream of reaching the pinnacle of one’s craft and entering the history books as winning the greatest award that your profession has to offer.  But the beauty of this award was that it wasn’t primarily about individual achievement. It’s a celebration of an entire team, not just the team's top players.  And what you saw on the ice that night wasn’t the look of narcissism but rather the look of love – men realizing that they would never have achieved this honor unless they had come together as a group and believed in each other.  Indeed, that feeling had been on display throughout the evening leading up to the final buzzer, because whenever one player scored a goal, his teammates celebrated that goal as much as if they had scored it themselves.  That is the nature of a championship team – one that puts aside egos and revels in the collective – as opposed to all the other squads that got caught up in selfish play and never could work particularly well as a group.

Thursday’s game was played in Las Vegas, whose hometown Golden Knights had a storybook season of their own, even though it didn’t result in the Cup.  But while the celebration on the ice was surely the most intense, there were plenty of other parties going on across the country in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.  It would surely have been a crazy scene to go to the Capitals’ stadium, where thousands had lined up for hours to watch the game on a big TV screen in the hope that they could experience unbridled joy with their fellow fans.  A similarly crazy scene was on display on the streets of D.C. a block away from the stadium – thousands more had collected there to watch the game on another big screen.  Tens of thousands of Caps fans in the stadium and in the streets joined hundreds of thousands of others in bars or in living rooms all over the DC area who were hugging each other and smiling from ear to ear.  You won’t see that kind of group affection when you go to a theater or an art museum.  I’m not sure you’d see that kind of joy either.  Doctors, lawyers, teachers, janitors, housekeepers, real estate agents, hotel clerks, you name it – this celebration brought together as wide a swath of people as you can imagine.  They were feeling pride in their city and intense appreciation for a small group of guys who worked hard to hone their craft, put their egos aside, and immortalize themselves in the annals of their sport.  We all witnessed a similar scene four months earlier in Philadelphia, whose Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time.  When you consider that the fans have rarely had an opportunity to meet the players they celebrate so intensely, you realize how remarkable these events truly are.    

Watching the Washington Capitals’ players blissfully skate around the ice hoisting the 35-pound Stanley Cup above their heads, I was reminded of the words of Goethe’s Faust:  “Now I could almost say to the passing moment: Stay, oh stay a while, you are so beautiful.  The mark of my endeavors will not fade.  No, not in ages, not in any time.  Dreaming of this incomparable happiness, I now taste and enjoy the supreme moment.” 

Sports haters could point out a crucial difference between the emotional fulfillment enjoyed by Faust and what was on display when the Capitals won the Cup.  Faust’s happiness, a cynic might say, had a worthy cause – not the outcome of a meaningless ball game, but rather an accomplishment of epic proportions.  Faust, you see, had envisioned a “foul and filthy” swamp and suggested that “if we could drain and cleanse this pestilence, it would crown everything we had achieved, opening up living space for many millions.  Not safe from every hazard, but safe enough....    Oh, how I’d love to see that lusty throng and stand on a free oil with a free people.”  It was that idea – the idea of enabling millions to earn their freedom every day – that gave Faust such unbridled joy that this momentary feeling would truly be worthy of eternity.   

Neither the Washington Capitals nor the Philadelphia Eagles enabled millions of people to live in freedom.  Surely, during the weeks and months that follow the winning of a championship, the memories of a city’s sports fans will fade a bit.  Rather than thinking about the heroes who brought them Stanley Cups or Super Bowls, many will return to focusing on their own inadequacies.  Perhaps their anguish will grow to the point that they will take their own lives, or that of someone else.  God knows we hear about plenty of suicides and homicides these days, and nobody should fool themselves into thinking of team sports as an antidote to all of our society’s scourges.  The kind of universal freedom that Faust was talking about has always been confined to fiction, sad to say.

But here in the real world, there is still something to be said for moments of unbridled joy that are enjoyed by thousands or millions of people who are celebrating human achievement.  The love we saw on display Thursday evening was neither phony nor completely ephemeral.  That championship and that trophy will help all interested parties appreciate what it means to be human.  It will remind players and fans alike that sometimes we can establish a goal, work hard to satisfy that goal, and then take our time to revel in our accomplishment. What’s more, even if we personally weren’t the ones most responsible for that accomplishment, we at least can revel in the fact that we have the ability to open our hearts and honor those who were.  We can, in fact, remind ourselves of how beautiful it to love other people.    

Last Thursday night, I was reminded of what it was like for me 50 years ago, when as a child I watched athletes celebrate a championship.  Even if they didn’t play for “my team,” I felt good for them.   Sometimes I even felt great for them.  In other words, I felt sympathy in the truest sense of the word, which includes not only compassion for others’ suffering but also gratitude for their joy.  Sympathy is precisely the opposite of what the stereotypers would have us associate with sports lovers like Stifler.  And yet there are few things better than spectator sports to cultivate this quality of sympathy for others.  Indeed, just as sports fans revel in a championship team’s successes, they have spent many more evenings feeling pain when their beloved players end their seasons on a losing note.    

We now live in a dark time when the evening news is more depressing than ever and people flock to dark, and often dystopian, television programs that present human beings as violent, treacherous monsters.  Contrast that with the spectacle on display this past Thursday -- one of skill, grit, pride, and yes, sympathy.  Then tell me that following team sports is inherently worthless and stupid, and that the biggest sports fans are soulless meatheads. 

Please, let’s give up this attitude once and for all, lest we become as vapid and ignorant as the fictional Steve Stifler. 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

My Fellow Democrats: Don’t Forget that Hypocrisy is Bi-Partisan

This week, a story came out on page 13 of the Washington Post that I found to be intriguing – both for what it said and for the fact that it has received so little national coverage.  The story involves the Democratically-controlled state legislature of New Jersey.  When Chris Christie, a Republican Governor, was in power, the legislature sent him a bill on five separate occasions that would increase taxes paid by millionaires.  But now that Christie has been replaced by Democratic Governor, the legislators are no longer sending up that bill.  In fact, thanks to the recent tax cuts, the millionaires are paying even lower total taxes than before – and still the Democratically-controlled legislators are balking at the opportunity to do what they did five times when Christie was Governor and when their actions were purely symbolic... and political. 

Here’s the article:   To me, what it shows is a microcosm of the Democratic party in action.  During campaign season, the party’s candidates have no trouble embracing the mantle of “strong progressives.”  But when it’s time to govern, they are tinkerers at best.  We saw this when the Democrats controlled the United States Congress in Obama’s first two years and they gave us zero gun-control legislation.  We saw this when Obama himself threw federally employees under the bus when he had the opportunity to propose budgets of his own.  We saw this in the number of Democratic legislators who supported that crazy and catastrophic war in Iraq, or who failed to speak out in favor of gay marriage until well after the rank-and-file of their party indicated their support.  And we invariably see this whenever tax-reform legislation is proposed.  The Democrats always propose modest changes; the Republican bills are much more dramatic. 

How do we explain the Democrats failure to step up to the plate and fight for their supposed principles?   Should we doubt the sincerity of their progressivism?   Should we think of them as sincere, but cowardly?  And does it really matter what the explanation is?   Isn’t the point that America has no trustworthy progressive party, but merely a party whose leaders can generally be trusted to enunciate progressive principles only when campaigning or casting meaningless votes?
I watch a fair amount of CNN and MSNBC.  They never report on stories like this one from New Jersey.  Instead, they focus almost all their attention on the misconduct of the GOP.    Believe me, I appreciate that the GOP is not only the more dysfunctional of the two parties but also has become the opposite of progressive, or for that matter even conservative.   But that doesn’t mean that reporters and commentators can afford to allow the Democrats to become feckless and hypocritical, simply because they’re the lesser of two evils.

Bernie Sanders is one Democratic politician who, if he were a New Jersey legislator, would NOT fail to send up a millionaire’s tax bill to the Governor after doing so five times when the Governor was a Republican.  He knows all too well that this approach to governing makes a mockery of these politicians and the principles they stand for.   It makes them look like total phonies, and when the Democrats look like phonies, the Republicans tend to win.  This week on Bill Maher’s show, Bernie stated explicitly that the Republicans didn’t win the2016 elections, the Democrats lost it.  I wholeheartedly agree.  As long as liberals in the media fail to hold the Democrats accountable and as long as Democrats continue to hold their leaders to low standards, they’ll continue to lose elections. 

It should be obvious by now that this country can ill afford for that to happen.  It’s time to demand that the Democrats serve not as talkers but as fighters -- in the state houses, on Capitol Hill, and in the White House  -- and to take them to task whenever they fail.  Ultimately, that’s the best thing that could happen to their party and to our country.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Shut Up and Concuss Yourselves

So, how did you like the National Football League owners’ “compromise” on a national anthem policy?  They have decided that next year, players who don’t want to stand on the sideline for the national anthem don’t have to.  They can avoid having their teams penalized by simply choosing to stay in their locker rooms and then, when the song is over, they can join their teammates.  This way, everybody wins.  The patriots can show respect for the flag.  And the malcontents don’t have to bear the indignity of doing the same.  What a swell solution!

The President of the United States sure liked it.  “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem and the NFL owners did the right thing if that's what they've done," our President told his friends on Fox.  “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing. You shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country," he continued.   “I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms. But still I think it's good."

The President’s statement reveals why this is being touted as a compromise.  The Fox News watchers would have wanted to compel everyone to stand for the anthem, but the ever-compassionate owners care about all their players, even the ones who hate the flag and what it stands for.  So they came up with a way to let the protesters evade the responsibility of saluting Old Glory.  How considerate, right?

Wrong. The owners know damned well that the new policy isn’t a compromise, it’s a gut punch.  The protesters aren’t trying to insult their country, their flag, or their national anthem.  They have chosen this particular protest vehicle because it gives them a chance to make a powerful statement in the one and only forum where America is watching them without a helmet on.  The statement they want to make is a noble one: to call to our attention the seemingly never-ending scourge of racial injustice.  They have supplied us with an indelible image, the same image they frequently take when an injured comrade is seriously injured and carted off the field.  They drop to the ground and "take a knee."  

The NFL owners, in all their kindness, have chosen to let these players remain in the locker room during the anthem.   But what good is that?  The players can hardly speak out against injustice if they’re inside that facility, with cameras nowhere to be found, staring at benches and walls.  The entire power of their protest -- the indelible image of the gladiator who compassionately drops to his knee -- would be gone.  It would be as if, during the Vietnam War, protesters were given a choice –to go to their local VFW or American Legion and celebrate the war, or to sit inside some building and protest in obscurity – but were prevented from demonstrating outside where other people might see them.  If that had been our government's policy, I might well have been drafted to go to ‘Nam in 1978. 

My suspicion is that more than anything else, these owners are simply worshiping the “bottom line.”  You see, a fair number of football fans have, to different degrees, boycotted the league because it has been tolerating these take-a-knee protests.  The owners obviously didn’t want to countenance losing any more money to support the players’ right to express themselves.  So they came up with this gesture to give their right-wing base what it wants (no more strident visuals), while couching this gift in the form of a “compromise.”  

In the book of Luke (16:8), Jesus is said to have claimed that “No servant can be slave of two masters; he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect, and the second with scorn.  You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.”  Indeed.   I suspect the owners have made their choice.

But let’s be fair.  The owners may be fixated on money, but for those rank and file fans who have fueled the boycott, this is all about patriotism and love of country.  Many would find solace in the words of Mike Zimmer, Head Coach of my beloved Minnesota Vikings: "I was proud of my team last year. They stood for the anthem. I think it's important that we stand for the anthem. I think it's important that we represent our country the right way, the flag the right way. I probably shouldn't get on a tangent, right? But a lot of people have died for that flag, and that flag represents our country and what we stand for. I think that's important. I'll stop there."

Please, Coach, continue.  In this country, you not only have the right to your opinion, you have the right to express it publicly.  But explain this to me first.  Have people really died for that flag?  Or have they died for what it represents?  And doesn’t it represent a love of liberty?  Freedom of choice?  Freedom of expression?  Freedom to dissent?  Freedom to create images that are jarring to those of us who are defined by complacency? 

After all, when we’re glowing about Old Glory, aren’t we really focusing on the wisdom of Jeffersonian democracy?  And by that, we wouldn’t be referencing Jefferson the slave owner, but rather Jefferson the philosopher, whose better angels led him to make statements like: “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then.”

In my workplace, I occasionally go to official ceremonies in which the national anthem is always played, and not a soul sits or kneels when s/he hears it.  But that’s my workplace: a federal facility.  The NFL workplace is a privately owned field where grown men blast the living hell out of each other’s bodies and a substantial fraction of these gladiators end up permanently disabled – mentally, physically or both.  If ever there were a group of Americans who’ve earned the right to engage in a peaceful and non-disruptive protest to send a message to their fellow citizens about racial justice, this is the group.  

Football owners, if you want my opinion, you’ve just fumbled the ball at your own goal line.  You’re the ones who have shamed our flag, not the protesters.  Here’s hoping those players figure out another way to speak out against injustice and that we fans have the grace to listen when they do.  It’s the least we can offer them, given the time we spend watching these young men thoroughly damage their minds and bodies for our own escapist entertainment.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Death, Despair, Delight and Denial in the Holy Land

Last week in this blog, I launched a broadside against the leadership of Iran and their terrorist beneficiaries, including Hamas.  Now, this week, I joined the rest of the world in witnessing the latest example of Hamas in action.  That organization encouraged civilian residents of the Gaza Strip to head toward the Israeli border and threaten to enter the Jewish State.  Not surprisingly, dozens were killed.  Also not surprisingly, Israel’s swift and lethal response was met with international outrage and cries that the response was “disproportionate,” since so many Palestinians died whereas not a single Israeli was even injured.

The leader of Turkey referred to Israel’s conduct as “genocidal.”  And all over the world, calls have been made for an investigation as to whether Israel used excessive force.   Clearly, Hamas has won the international PR battle hands down.

In the United States, however, the reaction has been decidedly mixed.  You have the “left,” which is disgusted with anything remotely associated with Donald Trump, including Benjamin Netanyahu, and is falling all over itself to join in the chorus against the IDF’s brutality.  Then you have the “right,” which is accurately reminding people that if we, the US of A, were threatened at our borders, we’d have killed at least as many foreigners as Israel did.   Perhaps one of the more articulate statements of outrage on the pro-Israel side came from New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens, who offered the following jeremiad against the international community and the way it enables the Palestinians to refuse to evolve into a force for peace:

“The mystery of Middle East politics is why Palestinians have so long been exempted from ... ordinary moral judgments.  How do so many so-called progressives now find themselves in objective sympathy with the murderers, misogynists and homophobes of Hamas?  Why don’t they note that, by Hamas’s own admission, some 50 of the 62 protesters killed on Monday were members of Hamas? Why do they begrudge Israel the right to defend itself behind the very borders they’ve been clamoring for years for Israelis to get behind?  Why is nothing expected of Palestinians, and everything forgiven, while everything is expected of Israelis, and nothing forgiven?   That’s a question to which one can easily guess the answer. In the meantime, it’s worth considering the harm Western indulgence has done to Palestinian aspirations.”

So how do we explain that double standard?   I don’t find it nearly as simple as Stephens does to come up with the answer.   Anti-Semitism is surely one of the explanations.  So is the willingness to patronize people of color – treating them as if expecting universalist values and rational thought is too much to ask of their little brains. 

But those are hardly the only reasons why so many people are so tough on Israel.  And here’s a newsflash – Israel bears some of the blame herself.  In fact, she bears no small amount of blame.  You could see that point illustrated all too well on the other side of that country at the same time that her army was so efficiently dispatching with its enemies on the Gazan border.

I’m referring to the Israeli analogue of George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” ceremony.  This time, it came courtesy of another American president, Donald Trump, who honored his campaign promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, despite the fact that American presidents for decades had decided to wait on that action until we have a final, binding peace agreement.  With the encouragement of the Netanyahu Administration, Trump not only moved the embassy without a peace agreement but did so without demanding one damned concession from Israel.  It was a gift.  A gift to Trump’s Christian conservative base and to the Israeli right.  And it was purely symbolic, for it did nothing to add to the prosperity or peace of Israel.  Quite the contrary.

Most people who watched television this past Monday were treated to split screens.  On the one side, they could see the IDF mowing down Palestinians near the Israeli border.  On the other side, they could see Ivanka, Jared, Bibi and others celebrate the movement of the Embassy as if it were a Bar Mitzvah.  Despite everybody’s knowledge that the Palestinians would be protesting and deaths were inevitable, the Israeli leadership wanted to turn the Jerusalem event into a festive occasion.  Pictures speak 1000 words, and this one could not have pointed to a sharper contrast.  Poor and desperate on the one side.  Rich and happy on the other.  It was as if we were seeing a Hieronymus Bosch painting entitled “The Have-Nots and the Haves in the Holy Land.”

Clearly, this celebration was premature.  The final status of Jerusalem has not been established through a peace treaty.  Israel has simply come together with its one large ally – the country that used to be seen as a potential honest broker for peace – and asserted its claim over Jerusalem.  And I mean ALL of Jerusalem.  Why do I say that?  Because for years, the leaders of Israel have been grabbing prized real estate throughout the eastern part of pre-48 Palestine.  They have turned the West Bank, the heart of any Palestinian state under the so-called “Two State Solution,” into a giant chunk of Swiss cheese.  They’ve acted, as my Yiddish ancestors would say, as “chazers” (pigs).  In fact, more and more often, you’ll hear Netanyahu’s supporters say that the Two-State Solution is dead, thanks to the Palestinians who never really wanted it anyway, so Israel might as well claim the Settlements.

My friends, I agree with one part of that last sentence.  The Palestinians haven’t shown much of a desire to have a stable Two-State Solution with one of those nations being a Jewish State.    I have been happy to honor Bret Stephens’ call and criticize the Palestinians and their allies for their failure to fight harder for such a solution.  But that doesn’t mean we should ignore Israel’s role in the status quo.  Those Settlements are, purely and simply, obstructions to peace.  The more they proliferate, the harder it will be to create a Palestinian state.  And without a Palestinian state, we will all witness increasingly devastating violence, suffering and despair, just like we saw on television this past week.

Perhaps the Palestinians are in denial for thinking that by storming the Israeli borders and constantly demanding a return to Haifa and the other cities of post-67 Israel, the international community will eventually boot out the Jewish colonialists and return the region to Arab control.  But the Israelis are similarly in denial for thinking that by keeping the Palestinians in the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip and in ever-decreasing regions of the West Bank, they will be able to enjoy a peaceful, prosperous and –wait for it – JEWISH state. 

Truly Jewish states require a climate of universalism, not just particularism.  Jewish states practice love to the stranger, not xenophobia.  Jewish states thrive in perpetual peace, not perpetual war.  Jewish states never allow their leaders to come across looking like Marie Antoinette.  And Jewish states never forget that “justice, justice, you shall pursue,” and that while justice and charity may begin at home, they cannot end there.