Saturday, October 1, 2016

RIP Shimon Peres

No interest in litigating the case of whether Shimon Peres was a bad guy or a good guy, or a bad guy who became a good guy, but I can't liking this no-more-fcks alter kaker, very much.

Also, he totally deserved the Nobel Peace Prize he shared with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, though he didn't necessarily always honor it as a politician in the years immediately following—it's complicated.

And things would have been a lot better for Palestinians and Israelis if he had won the 1996 election instead of Netanyahu, or had some other better chance later on at leading a Labor coalition for a full term. That's something nobody's saying either because they're rightists or because they're too nice to be partisan on this sad occasion or because they're purists who can't accept any progress unless it's everything, but it's true.

That time around 1996 and in the horror after Rabin's murder was when I was starting to get interested in the twists and turns of Israeli politics in a way I hadn't been before, because of the way the differences between the parties had gotten so stark all of a sudden and seemed so much more directly connected to the possibility of peace (was this about the huge influx of immigrants from Russia reshaping the character of the Israeli right wing?).

The newspapers always made a huge point of how nobody liked Peres—Israelis wouldn't vote for him because he was regarded as slippery and untrustworthy, or because he favored peace, or because he was that old kind of decidedly European Zionist, with his Polish accent and his exquisite manners, and the favored model was becoming the Sabra bully, supermuscular (but tending to get really obese as they aged) and brusque. Of course that's exactly what I liked about him, his Yiddish gentility and cultivation, his lack of interest in being that other, fascist kind of Israeli (of which Rabin, for one, blessings on him, was not free).

What's that all about, anyway? I'm like the Dale Carnegie of voters myself, I've never met a politician I didn't like, if I wanted to vote for them in the first place—or I've always been able to find some way of liking the ones I wanted to vote for, on the whole, especially on the presidential level: I had little trouble developing enough affection to work with for Dukakis or Gore.

Here's a new idea. We don't necessarily vote for politicians because we like them: we like them because we want to vote for them, possibly for perfectly good or at least rational reasons, possibly not. Did anybody ever literally "like" Nixon? I couldn't stand Anthony Weiner—I met him in the usual place at the subway entrance at Broadway and 79th when he was running for mayor in 2005, and he struck me as way too tightly wound, resentful, and short on commitments—but if I'd had him as the Democrat to vote for against Bloomberg I would have figured out a way to feel good about it. And—the corollary—we dislike them in the same way, because we don't want to vote for them.

The majority of Israelis in 1996 and most of the following decade didn't in fact dislike Peres because of any personal qualities that turned them off; they disliked him because they didn't want to vote for him. And they didn't want to vote for him because they were afraid of the peace process, and they knew that fearing the peace process was cowardly and wrong, so instead of saying they were against the Labor Party and the peace process they just made up this story about how Peres wasn't the right sort, wasn't likable, was too aloof or too clever or too cunning or whatever. The thing being that what they really didn't like was his insistence that they should do the right thing.

There is "no choice but to divide this home into two apartments and turn it into a two-family house," said Amos Oz in his eulogy for Peres the other day (he was invited at the last moment after criticism of the organizers for failing to procure a single leftist speaker):
“In their heart of hearts, all sides know this simple truth,” he said. “But where are the leaders with the courage to come forward to make it come to pass? Where are the heirs to Shimon Peres?”
They decided they'd rather do the wrong thing, and blame it on his failure to make them do right, because oh, he just isn't a likable person; in the pattern Jews have of course been following for the past 2500 years (as we know thanks to the unflinching honesty of the Jews who wrote it all down—other nations are just as bad with their prophets but lie about it). When he ran for the powerless presidency for the second time, on the other hand, in 2007, nothing more inhibited them from liking him. (In his first run, when Ehud Barak was prime minister, they feared Peres might have the capacity to do something.)

And they liked him, as anybody naturally would if they hadn't personally been oppressed by him. They adored him, in fact, as they're still adoring him now. Binyamin Netanyahu, who has done more than any human to prevent Peres's vision from being realized, is delighted to have been his friend, Even more now that he's not merely powerless but dead. Never again will they have to face the possibility that Shimon Peres will force them to treat their Arab neighbors as fellow human beings. Other than that, wasn't he the cutest thing ever?

Photo by Reuers via Daily Mail.
Yes, we're in long-term campaign mode here at Rectification Headquarters, and there's a Hillary connection; in the way her "likability" comes out as an issue, since 2008, and in the Brooksian complaint that her rhetoric fails to soar. As did the rhetoric of  Harry Truman, by the way, or Dwight David Eisenhower, or say 90% of our white male presidents, but let that pass. How Clinton upsets rightwingers, of course, is clear; she's against them. But among the people who ought to be supporting her, I think, there's some real sense that she's making unpleasant demands, not that you have to do some awkward thing that you don't want to do, but that you have to prepare yourself for years and decades in which the process is not complete—the failure to call for a revolution which will fix everything up instantly, and the boredom of working through the swamp of policy that we must traverse to get from here to a social-democratic semi-paradise. It's not as deep as the Peres story, and hopefully has a cheerier ending.

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