By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
If you believe that the Messiah has to be Jewish and if you accept patrilineal descent as a valid criterion for Jewish status, John Kerry may be your man. His paternal grandmother was Ida Lowe and her husband Frederick Kohn. Both were born Jewish but converted to Christianity. Kohn became Kerry. As Jewish law, unlike Israeli law, may not recognize conversion to another religion as the irretrievable loss of Jewish status, John Kerry could qualify.
Though he has been less than a year in office as US Secretary of State, he’s due in the region for his tenth visit during in time; his commuting is reminiscent of the travels of Henry Kissinger to the region, and his Jewish status was beyond dispute.
This visit by Kerry is expected to be crucial, perhaps decisive. Even Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, not known as a friend on the United States and not one to have shown signs of wanting to compromise for the sake of peace, seems to be at least somewhat optimistic.
Today’s Ha’aretz alludes to the same optimism giving it greater prominence than the news of the deterioration in Ariel Sharon’s situation. (Though, by all accounts, Sharon hasn’t really been alive for eight years, reports suggest that this may be the end.)
As indications of a possible change of mood – to return to the lead story – Israel’s government seems to have shelved, at least temporarily, the proposed legislation to annex the Jordan Valley and the municipality of Jerusalem has put off the decision to build a multi-storey yeshiva in the eastern – Arab – part of the city.
In addition to the usual stance by the Palestinian Authority – reflected for example in the jubilant and defiant ways its leaders greeted as war heroes the latest batch of Palestinian prisoners, most whom had murdered Jews – it also seems to know something we don’t.
Roger Cohen of The New York Times doesn’t share the optimism. Almost at the beginning of his New Year’s Day’s prognostications for the coming twelve months, he writes that “for all John Kerry’s efforts, this will be another year in which peace is not reached in the Middle East.” He points to the obvious and well known obstacles.
In view of the mood of hopeful anticipation of Kerry’s visit, some of the stumbling blocks may have been removed, but it’s difficult to imagine which and how. Messianic expectations may, therefore, be more realistic than down-to-earth analyses.
But that shouldn’t deter any of us from speculating about the importance that Kerry attaches to the agreement between the Palestinians and Israel in the wider context of the agreement with Iran, which in turn may affect not only the outcome of the proposed conference about Syria but also Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, both being fundamentally opposed to making peace with Israel. I hope some reliable experts will help us to unravel the connection, if there is one.
Kerry is due to spend three days here and we’re told that he’ll meet both Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas more than once. The fact that we’ve been told as much suggests that we’re expected to hope (or worry, if you’re against peace) to be in the right mood to receive the information. Roger Cohen wrote: “And if I am wrong, I vow Sisyphean penance in eternity.” As far as I’m concerned, I’ll only happily apologize.