A highlight of the J Street conference last weekend was the breathless speech on Saturday night by Mika Almog, the grand-daughter of the late Shimon Peres, in which she described Israel as a beautiful lover who can hurt you, bad; but called on the audience of mostly-young people to, unh, make love to Israel with their eyes open, because it’s theirs.
But I can’t even try and do it justice. Here’s what she said (go to minute 8 in the video for the full dramatic effect):
My grandfather was fond of saying that in order to make peace and in order to make love you need to close your eyes. And there’s a great deal of truth to that of course. But as I hope he knew– we never discussed the topic– it is entirely possible to make love with your eyes open. As a matter of fact, it can be very educational, to see the flaws, the bad habits, the poor choices– and love, nonetheless. Not because the object of your affection is perfect, but because it is the object of your affection.
Each and every one of you love Israel for a long and varying list of reasons, but there is one reason that you all hold in common, that we all hold in common. You love Israel because it’s yours. A mature love rooted in experience and insight– a soil that is enriched not impoverished when we insist on the values we hold dear.
That was how my grandfather loved Israel. He loved it the way you love a woman or a child or a true friend, or a granddaughter.
And more than once, Israel hurt him, in ways only ones we love the most can hurt us. But it never deterred him, and I think it was because he understood that love like that is a responsibility. It’s demanding! It calls for perseverance and resilience. It requires speaking a very specific language, in order to say: I see you who you are, not just what you are. And because I see who you are, I see what you can be! And I will settle for nothing short of you becoming your finest self! And it’ll be hard, and sometimes it’ll hurt– bad. But I will not walk away! I will not let you go! Because you are my home, I will have none other…
What Presidents Peres and Obama suggest [“a vision of the world as it ought to be”] is a great daunting task. But if at moments fears should creep into your heart to tell you it’s an impossible task, look no further than Israel. Zionism has always been against all odds. So if Israel is possible, anything is possible. And we’re so young! We’re not even 70 years old, and look– look at Israel!
Look at its roses even while its thorns prick your fingers! It’s beautiful!
In fairness to the young people in the audience, they didn’t cheer. They were bemused. And by the way, they were about to cross 17th Street in order to demonstrate at the White House against Trump’s immigration policies.
Speaking of which, Almog’s political message was also problematic:
To be Jewish is to be democratic. Israel can be Jewish and democratic because the two are the one and the same. But in a democracy, majority rules, so if Jews are no longer a majority in Israel it can continue to be a democracy, but it will cease to be Jewish. Israel is the democratic national home of the Jewish people in the land of Israel but only as long as Jews are a majority in it. It’s as simple as that.