Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bad Timing

I’m collecting overstatements.
“Israel is rapidly destroying any chance of there being anything to talk about.”
“It was an act of hostility, antagonism, and diplomatic terrorism against its single most valuable ally.”
“The Israelis really blundered this time. The whole world is against them.”
Not so fast. When, since statehood, has “the whole world” been anything but against “them,” the U.S. on most occasions the exception? The lesson was learned in Israel early: “To be or not to be is not a question of compromise. Either you be or you don't be,” according to Golda Meir.

All right then, the announcement by Israel’s Ministry of the Interior of its intention to build new settlements in East Jerusalem, coming as it did while Vice-President Biden was in Israel to herald another go at peace via “proximity peace talks,” was bad timing. That’s all it was. It shouldn’t have surprised anyone, certainly not anyone who listens to Israel. Building Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem became policy immediately following the 1967 War, a war, not so incidentally, lustily launched and resoundingly lost by Israel’s four surrounding Arab neighbor-states while “the whole Arab nation” egged them on from the sidelines. Anyone listening to Israel, including the Palestinians, recognizes its commitment to the policy and grasps the significance of the facts on the ground: the land, the neighborhoods, will remain Israel’s.

Even the timing shouldn’t be so surprising—the Israelis have made such pronouncements in the face of power often. They can’t be accused of being coy or conducting a whisper campaign; to the contrary, they want to be sure everyone knows their intentions. Say what others will—they're not guilty of tact.

The response from the media is auto-overstatement.
“Israel's Snub of Biden: More Than Just Bad Timing.”
These exact words, and the placement of the colon, resembling nothing so much as a snake’s fangs, with the words to follow hissing, “More Than Jusssst Bad Timing,” constitute at least five headlines. And that’s only in English.

So how do our diplomatic leaders, people of reason, our people of impeccable western manners, react? With snubs. With so’s your mother posturing. With mine’s bigger than yours swagger. Don’t laugh, but it starts coming down to whose snub is bigger. Is it Netanyahu’s or Biden’s? Is it Joe’s buddy, Barry, and their gal Hillary flexing hyperbole? When, oh when, do our government leaders get out of the schoolyard?

I’m on the outside looking in, witnessing the fracas and perplexed by both sides. Through the haze, I can’t help observing that for a president who doesn’t believe in not talking to your enemy to snub a time-tested good friend is bad policy, bad taste and… bad timing.

And since the subject is bad timing, let’s acknowledge, looking back on six decades of Arab-Israeli encounters, that there’s been much less fuss over much worse timing.

Leaving your house and land behind at the instruction of your Arab leadership so you and your family are out of the way while they drive all the Jews into the sea or “wipe Israel off the face of the map” is bad timing.

Premeditatedly attacking an elementary school in Ma’alot in Israel’s Western Galilee and killing 22 students in their early teens is bad timing.

Invading a nation on its people’s holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur—a day, it should not go unnoted, when those people are most likely to be reflecting on and atoning for their sins, customarily in a house of God, is bad timing.

Infiltrating Munich’s Olympic Village by night and under hoods, and using the quadrennial premier sports event as a platform to attack and terrorize, murder or take hostage, a team of young amateur athletes in their prime, is bad timing.

Hijacking an Air France airliner, directing it to Entebbe, Uganda, holding 105 Israeli’s hostage for a week and threatening to kill them unless Palestinian terrorist demands are met is bad timing. (Commander Lieutenant General Jonathan Netanyahu, the 30-year-old older brother of eventual Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was the only Israeli killed in the legendary rescue mission.)

And, possibly trumping all strictly from a political point of view, saying no to getting 96% of your demands when you represent the Palestinian people because you insist on 100%—and more, if you can pass a camel through the eye of a needle—is bad timing, and mind-numbingly self-defeating.

There you have just a few of the low points. Do you hear a rueful murmur from anywhere in “the whole world”? Neither do the Israelis.

Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Israel’s Jews learned that lesson in history from the Holocaust. It may be the only history lesson they need. Bad timing? Someone (possibly Golda Meir) said: Better a hundred bad editorials than one obituary. Who better than those responsible for the security of the people of Israel to know that?

To be continued...


  1. a propos of nothing - thought you might enjoy my 80s tale -->
    cheers Ray

  2. "I'm collecting overstatements"... I'm still reeling from that one. Unfortunately, there are many more out there. Good piece! Thank you for it.

  3. As I wrote in my initial post, I want to be wrong. I want this entire scandal to be nothing more than a case of bad timing. Furthermore, I want to reinforce that I have no wish to tie this snub, in any way, to the unfortunate and horrific acts that Israel and Jews have been subjected to throughout their long history. It should go without saying that building homes in East Jerusalem is nothing like any of these tragedies; these crimes against humanity.

    However, what I will reinforce is that iff the Israeli government deliberately planned their announcement to coincide with Joe Biden's arrival, then it is something that should not be confused with bad timing. It was the sowing of seeds of discord. Israel, like any nation, has every right to accept or decline an offer for peace talks, but to make a spectacle out of their guests and allies is not only a betrayal of hospitality, it is a stupid idea.

    When the US had U-2s flying spy missions over Soviet airspace during the Paris Peace summit, it was more than bad timing. It was a stupid idea.

    When Nixon dispatched representatives to the South Vietnamese government during the 1968 peace talks, it was more than bad timing. It was a stupid idea.

    Israel, like any nation, has every right to uphold its sovereignty and internal protocol, and the reason why Joe Biden was visiting the nation was as a sign that the US government continues to support Israel. However, Obama administration has also tasked itself with the larger mission of restarting peace and diplomatic talks throughout the Middle-East--Muslim, Jew, Christian, and Hindu--which I believe is warranted considering the blowback we received due to Cold War politics and the Bush Administration. Furthermore, the opportunity presented by President Obama to reintroduce the United States to the Muslim world is something that Israel above all our allies should appreciate the rarity of, and at the very least respect diplomatically.

    Joe Biden visited Israel as a friend and an ally, and as an ambassador to renew the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israeli government had every right to accept or deny this request, but it is simple hospitality to not insult your friend until he has at least pulled out of your driveway.

    Joe Biden has way, way more foreign policy experience than I do. If he was insulted, than the act was an insult, and as a student of Dante I personally hope it was nothing more than a masterpiece of carelessness.

  4. Jacopo,

    At roughly the same time I was writing "Bad Timing," Rahm Emanuel was making this statement:

    "He [Obama] knows that personal relationships are important, but you've got to be cold-blooded about the self-interests of your nation."

    That would apply to both and all sides. I could easily have included it in my entry (and you may see it again). I don't know if it is an answer, in part or in whole or in any way, to your discourse, but it certainly is relevant to the whole (overblown) affair.

  5. I see where you are coming from, Ray, and I will admit that this affair has been overblown thanks to commentators like myself.

    Nevertheless, I stand behind my Dante Doctrine. The man cannot possibly be overblown. (At least not in Italy.)

  6. Perhaps, mes amies, Israel releasing this statement just prior to the arrival of Monsieur Biden was a signal that it could no longer rely on U.S. support in security matters. While The Current Temporary Occupant of the White House continues to bow to and placate radical Islam, perhaps Israel sees this as behavior to be distrusted. No POTUS has been so unsupportive of Israel since James Carter. Oui, oui, I know, he brought Sadat and Begin to the table but then sat feebly by as the Iranians took 44 hostages because of his alleged pro-Israel position. Hussein of the White House sits feebly by as the same Iranians are producing weapons grade nuclear materials. Perhaps since Israel is closer to this threat than say, Les Etats Unis de Hussein Obama, the Israeli's have good reason to take matters into their own hands. Biden who allegedly understands foreign affairs matters should have rushed home to report to his boss that the Israelis are feeling the same hemmorhoids most Americans felt when the health care bill was signed. A majority of the people of THIS country question the leadership of the current administration and Congress? Is it possible that the Israelis might be just a wee tad smarter than the Americans and trust our government even less than we do? What's that big mushroomy cloud mama?