This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
This morning the New York Times chimes in on Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday celebration. With A-list celebs like Barbara Streisand, Sharon Stone and Robert DeNiro, and a net worth of the attending guests estimated at $24 billion, you can have quite a party.
The Times is gushing and that’s before they get to the celeb of celebs, former President Bill Clinton. He loves Israel and Shimon Peres, too. Clinton’s fee: $500,000.
Reading the Times there’s hardly a care in Israel’s world, which is also seemingly void of Palestinians, except one – a Palestinian from Hebron who thanked Peres for facilitating his lifesaving surgery in an Israeli hospital.
On Peres’s accomplishments the Times is circumspect. At best, he hasn’t done much. The reason the Times gives for those attending isn’t much better – avoidance. Think of the Times summing up as Peres’s and the peace camp’s obituary:
They came from across the globe — or sent in glowing video tributes — for a grandfatherly figure whose post is largely ceremonial, with little ability to forge peace with the Palestinians. Long derided across Israel’s political spectrum as a schemer and serial election loser, Mr. Peres has grown in popularity as he has become a symbol of a distant peace. So Tuesday’s two-hour tribute was a hot ticket for the local crowd, and a way for mostly left-leaning international figures to gain the benefits of supporting Israel without wading deeply into its divisive politics.
Haaretz is also on the scene with a focus on Clinton’s talk. Summing up Clinton’s talk isn’t difficult. Just to cut the suspense, he gave another in the increasingly endless series of, Watch out, the Two State solution is almost over and think who you might be living with cheek to jowl if don’t go for it now- speeches.
If the Times article offers faint praise for Peres and his guests, Haaretz is a text book case of coded language – by the speaker – and coded writing – by the reporter. Neither actually spells out what’s going on, yet everyone seems to understand.
The only way I can handle the Haaretz article and Clinton’s presentation is by posing as a guest interlocutor chatting with our former President. If you’re startled by how glib I am, see it as a survival technique. The entire scene is humiliating. To maintain my sanity I have to join in.
Israel shares its fate with its neighbors and therefore should consider what kind of future it wants, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Monday during a visit to Israel, adding that the two-state solution remained the only viable option for the region.
ME: Is that so? You mean Israel’s neighborhood is actually the Middle East and not the United States and Europe? OK, now I’m following you.
Speaking at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot, the former U.S. president said he always felt at home in Israel and that he loves the country more than words can express.
ME: Really? Most American Jews don’t feel at home in Israel. There are more than a few Jews who no longer feel at home in Israel either. That’s why they’re leaving. But it’s good you feel at home in Israel, Mr. President. I wonder if that’s because you travel like a king when you’re in Israel. You never have to experience either Israeli or, God forbid, Palestinian life.
Clinton also called President Shimon Peres, who is celebrating his 90th birthday, one of the world’s greatest visionaries. “He is always thinking about tomorrow. He promised that he would attend my 90th birthday, that he would speak at my funeral. The rest of you are here celebrating his wisdom – I came to get his diet.”
ME: Your friend Shimon, a visionary? I suppose in his dealings with the French for advanced armaments after Israel was born, and then there is Dimona and Israel’s still not so secret nuclear arsenal that he was instrumental in developing. Compared to you, Mr. President, Shimon might indeed be visionary but, sorry, I’m afraid that isn’t much. Not much at all.
Clinton also said that the worst day in his own presidency was when then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
ME: Yes, a bad day indeed. But worse than when you finally figured out what was happening in Rwanda? I know you don’t want to talk about the “ethnic cleansing” side of your assassinated friend. Since it’s a birthday party I’ll leave it for another day. I won’t mention his role in crushing Palestinian Uprising either. So much of Yitzhak’s life to talk about!
The former U.S. president said that while it would make sense for Israel and Arab states to prepare for the worst, focusing on the negative would hinder any chance of creating something good.
ME: At least you included the Arab states in preparing for the worst. I assume you mean preparing for uprisings by their own people. Everybody has to be on guard today, I guess. Anyway, they’re containing the Palestinians just like Israel, Europe and the Unites States. Did I leave out Russia, China and Japan? So, yes, Israel and the Arab nations are in the same neighborhood and, lo and behold, in the same boat. Shall we say that whatever floats Israel’s boat floats almost everyone else’s boat, too?
“Your neighbors are still your neighbors,” he said. “One way or the other you are going to share the future with them.”
ME: How disappointing for Israel to be stuck in the Middle East. A real bummer. If only Israel was a suburb of, say, Boston or New York City, then Israelis could commute into an American city when they wanted to. Instead they’re left with commuting from their settlement cities to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It’s not everything they could hope for but better than being stuck with Palestinians without having their own exclusive transport system to make sure they don’t go native. It just goes to show that in some neighborhoods you can’t have everything.
Praising Peres’ role in establishing Israel’s security, Clinton said that had Israel not built “a credible defense” it would not have survived, but added that leaders should sometimes take risks. “Some people, including president Peres and I, believe that risk is a part of life… sometimes we are right, sometimes they are right.”
ME: True enough on the risk element. If only any Israeli government – and your friend Shimon spent his life in almost every one of them – had actually risked the concession Israel needs to make, then the risk of reparations and equality could have fallen in place, don’t you think? Having your cake and eating it too isn’t a risk. Sometimes I think Shimon’s a gladhander – just like you, Mr. President!
Clinton also said that no credible alternative had yet been presented to the two-state solution to preserve Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state.
ME: Unless you can enlighten me, I don’t think Israel has ever offered a real Two State solution, so we don’t know about its rejection or an alternative. I know Noam Chomsky has called Israel – and the United States – rejectionist for decades. He even said that about you, Mr. President! I wonder if Noam was invited to the birthday bash. Seeing Noam and Barbara together would be a hoot and photos of the perfectly groomed Shimon and permanently unkempt Noam– well it would have been something to remember.
Describing the issue of voting rights in the occupied territories as an “existential question” that must be answered by Israelis, Clinton expressed concern over the prospects faced by Israel in the face of its presence in the West Bank.
“Democracy is not only majority rule, but also minority rights,” he said. “The question [the Israeli public has to] confront is, is it really ok with you if Israel has people in its territory that will never be allowed to vote? If so, can you say with a straight face that this is a democracy? If you let them vote, can you live with not being a Jewish state?
ME: Your Gentile concern for preserving a Jewish state is touching, Mr. President, and so appreciated by Jewish leaders. Your concern for Israel being a democracy touches every Jewish heart. Know that Jews everywhere appreciate your advice and counsel. It’s overwhelming really and so important for Jews to hear your pearls of wisdom. It’s fantastic that you’re with us, lest we have to live with them.
“The longer this goes on, the tougher [the implementation of a two-state solution] is going to get,” he added.
ME: Are you sure Mr. President? If you don’t want a Two State solution in the first place, getting “tougher” really doesn’t matter. Wouldn’t it be better to pretend you want a solution, never offer Palestinians anything and then blame the situation on them? And do that until there’s nothing left for a Palestinian state? When you were President that was your way of presenting the “hard” choices to Palestinians. You and your friend, Yitzhak were both “hard” choices kind of guys.
Well, I could go on and on. What else can I do? The pandering by the guests worth billions, the stars who lighten up our movie screens and the writers whose books fill our library shelves and best seller lists – are they a repeat of The Treason of the Intellectuals, that 1920s expose, where intellectuals and artists, ostensibly guardians of the mind and soul, sold out for material gain, crass nationalism and racism?
Of course, nothing of that was stated at the birthday bash or even in the reporting that filled the pages of our great newspapers. It was all in code and obfuscation. A decade’s worth more to come.