Monday, 15 June 2009

Optimism in Israel

Binyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, is an extraordinary statesman. He brings together within his own frame the qualities of so many other great politicians that he emerges somehow larger than human scale. Bibi, as his friends call him (is that not an honour to which we all aspire?) brings together the compassion and the broad-mindedness of a Margaret Thatcher, the clarity of vision of a George W Bush, the commitment to transparency and fair play of a Richard Nixon.

Some have claimed down the years that if the United States started putting the pressure on Israel that their financial aid warranted, they would soon have the Israeli government ready to compromise with the Palestinians. Well, recent events have certainly shown them up.

It’s true that Barack Obama has been making some pretty tough statements about Israel’s intransigent opposition to a two-state solution with Palestine. At times, there has even been a threatening undertone to his comments. Where a lesser man might have been offended by such discourtesy from the US President, Bibi rose above all that and, entirely independently and of his own volition, abandoned his long-standing opposition to any kind of Palestinian state and agreed to the need for negotiation.

You see? It didn’t take pressure. Just a man of Bibi’s stature.

Even in Israel, not everyone showed Bibi’s generosity of spirit. Some have been protesting in Jerusalem with placards denouncing Barack Obama as an ‘anti-Semitic Jew hater’. The sensitive might regard that as offensive, but at least its logic can’t be faulted: the statement is internally coherent. I mean, what would it have meant to have called him a ‘philo-Semitic Jew-hater’ or an ‘anti-Semitic Jew-lover’? That would have suggested a split personality and, as well as criticising his ethical and political stance, would have called his very sanity into question.

At least we were spared such calumny. A small mercy, maybe, but in that part of the world we need to be grateful even for them.

Not entirely unrelated postscript

A group of Israelis meets regularly in a café in Tel Aviv. They discuss the political situation, not a subject calculated to raise many smiles.

One day a particularly worn-out looking man announces, ‘you know, I’m an optimist.’

The others look at him in astonishment. ‘What do you mean, an optimist?’ one of them asks. ‘How come you look so down?’

‘In Israel today? You think it’s easy being an optimist?’

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