The British writer Ian McEwan recently received the Jerusalem Prize from the State of Israel. He flew to Israel and chose to express his appreciation by using his one-day bully pulpit to condemn Israeli settlements and the Gaza blockade that attempts to keep Hamas barbarians from amassing sufficient arms to destroy Israel.
McEwan’s act of appalling bad manners was his no doubt self-congratulatory way of responding to demands from his progressive arty pals back in the UK, who’ve adopted hostility to the Jewish state as their newest pet cause and urged him to boycott the ceremony. Israel, one presumes, is expected to feel grateful to Mr. McEwan for deigning to show up.
Europeans beset by growing Muslim populations intent upon substituting Sharia for extant democratic systems have responded by identifying with the aggressor and have developed an obsession with the so-called settler issue. In one notable instance, the musician Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, traveled to the West Bank and attempted to conflate that band’s dirge “The Wall” with antipathy toward Israel’s security barrier. Missing from Waters’s analysis was the fact that construction of that wall has altered the rate of Jewish deaths from suicide bombings from more than 1,000 a year to zero.
Like most neurotic obsessions, preoccupation with “settlers” would benefit from some stepping back and aiming for context. What we’re really talking about is the right of Jews to live wherever they please. The concept of Judenfrei — moving Jews out of specific areas of Europe — was a bulwark of Nazi policy that rapidly devolved to the even more viciously racist notion of Judenrein, cleansing Jews from all of Europe. We all know where that led. One would think that Europeans whose overall record of saving Jews in the Holocaust is, to be charitable, less than heroic would shudder at reintroducing such a repellent principle into contemporary political thought. One would be wrong. Six decades after the Holocaust, here we go again.
A so-called progressive individual, when asked if Jews have a right to live in London, Paris, or Madrid, would most likely answer, “Of course.” (Even if in his so-called progressive but fundamentally anti-Semitic heart he wished those people would congregate in Brooklyn or simply disappear.) Ditto New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. Yeah, even Berkeley.
But when it comes to Jerusalem, a city that only the Jews have regarded as a capital and whose sacred Jewish sites Jordanian occupiers turned into a monumental latrine before their liberation in 1967, the rules somehow change. If self-determination is the alleged motive for all those voices raised shrilly, where are the demands that Jews be allowed to own property and reside in Kuwait, Dubai, Amman, and Damascus?
Ian McEwan makes his living telling stories. The story he chose to narrate in Jerusalem was ill-conceived, shallow, and predictably facile. Bit of a potboiler, that.