In marmur

By Rabbi Dow Marmur.

Is US Secretary of State stirring up trouble for Israel by speaking about – and perhaps thereby encouraging – the potentially crippling boycott of Israel because of the settlements, or is he warning us in good faith of what might happen if Israel doesn’t make peace with the Palestinians?

Opinions are divided, not necessarily because all who express them know Kerry’s mind but on the basis of what they’d like to happen. It seems that peaceniks take his warnings seriously and already see signs of the troubles to come, whereas settlement supporters see him as the maker of the troubles, even as an enemy of Israel.

Listening to both sides adds to the confusion and prompts speculation. It may also make it easier for Netanyahu and his disparate team of ministers to pull in all directions at the same time in order to make sure that we remain in the same place. I for one find it quite impossible to draw conclusions, neither from formal government statements nor from the mixture of overtures and warnings that are reaching us from the Palestinian side.

One of the possibly wholesome side effects – unless the timing is coincidental – is the promise of reconciliation with Turkey. Israel will pay a lot of money in compensation for the casualties on the Mavi Marmara, the ship that her armed forces stopped rather violently from entering Gaza in 2011. Rumour has it that wordsmiths in Israel’s foreign ministry are trying to draft a statement that Israel can say isn’t an apology and Turkey can say that it is – just like the recent exchange between Netanyahu and Bennett.

Another potentially good side effect – or coincidence – is the conciliatory speech about Jews and the Holocaust by Iran’s foreign minister at the Munich Security Conference – which Israel’s defense minister heard sitting in the front row! But both men tend to speak from both sides of the mouths – or be in different places at the same time – depending on what’s expedient. Therefore, we shouldn’t raise our hopes too high.

Yet hope we must. I heard Daniel Gordis, of the Shalem Centre and the author of celebrated books on Israel (the latest is a biography of Begin), speak the other day. Though I normally don’t mix in his circles, I was impressed by the combination of his deep commitment to Israel and his equally deep fears about its future.

Readers will recognize this confusing combination. Perhaps that’s also why I like Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land so much. He, too, is in the grip of confusing sentiments – and he has lived and studied the subject in depth.

The way to live with this mixture of boundless enthusiasm and blinding fear is to have hope. Hope isn’t just optimism. Hope is, I believe, rooted in the past, in this case in Jewish history: we’ve always had reasons to despair but we’ve come through, not without casualties and scars, but as the famous Yiddish song has it, Mir zenen do, we’re here!

Even if we’re skeptical about Kerry’s success, and even if we know that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are in a position to make the needed concessions that will compromise their respective “narratives,” we may still take comfort in the fact that things are better today – for both Palestinians and Israelis – than they were only a few decades ago. This is a sufficient evidence not to abandon hope.

However, that shouldn’t stop us from worrying a lot. I do it, and I find myself urging others who care also to worry a lot – but never to despair.

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