To be in Israel during a historic massacre, as I was on Monday, is a special experience, and one whose meaning will sink in for a while. I wonder what I will remember in five years’ time, or ten.
This is what I can tell you two days later. All that afternoon in the gathering and protests in the hot sun near the new embassy in South Jerusalem, the latest casualty figures were coming over the phones. “Did you hear, there’s a sea of blood at the border,” a friend had called to inform me at 4, and subsequent texts brought the numbers. 25. “37 dead so far. This country is irredeemable,” wrote my friend. It seemed impossible that the number would grow and yet it did. It was over 50 by the time the protests wound down.
That night he and I went to the big West Jerusalem hotels. The King David and the David Citadel. The ones where important people stay. We saw Norm Coleman the former Minnesota senator eating with a group. We saw Josh Block of the Israel Project chatting with a tall man vaguely familiar from Zionist events. We saw the Israeli insider David Weinberg talking with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; and I had a discussion with Boteach calling on him to criticize anything in Israel’s conduct that day (a conversation that he requested be off the record).
As my voice rose challenging him, I was struck how empty the lobby was. The cast of characters was paltry at best. That day had been one of Israel’s great victories, diplomatically, and you couldn’t see a Democratic politician anywhere. We said a week ago when Trump tore up the Iran deal that he had made Israel a political issue at last in the United States, and the lesson was clear in the King David and David Citadel lobbies. The Republicans love Israel and Israel loves Trump, and good for them. Two toxic brands are having a merger. As this gentleman who came to celebrate the embassy move said so eloquently:
But the Israel lobby’s oath, that Israel must remain a bipartisan issue, echoed from AIPAC to J Street, is broken. Bernie Sanders’s brave criticism of Israel in his debate with Hillary Clinton during the New York primary two years ago – “There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time” — already seems timid. The Republicans own Israel but it’s going to be a hot potato among Democrats. The massacre has done that.
The view I had of the lobby was pathetic. Not even a paper tiger, but a bunch of old right wingers. Boteach once was Samantha Power’s ambassador to the lobby; she had to reach out to him just five years ago to get her job at the U.N. Now he’s co-writing books with Pamela Anderson. Did these people ever imagine that the opening of a US Embassy in Jerusalem would be such a bust? With a massacre going first in all the headlines? Today’s news that Andrew Cuomo has postponed his trip to Israel is evidence that Democrats are afraid of the volatile political potential of the massacre. Even CNN is saying that the issue is going to be debated in the Democratic primaries.
Most of all that night I thought of the incredible courage of the young people of Gaza who died on the day that we were protesting and visiting lobbies. You can say they had nothing to live for, but don’t tell me they were controlled. They made decisions that day to place their lives at risk to demand their freedom. I felt their power lapping among the stale suits in the lobby.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz and Scott Roth.