Kabuki theater, with its extremely stylized dramaturgy, and the Yiddish stage, with its lachrymose realism, are rarely joined. The Democratic National Convention succeeded, however, in fusing the two. A platform insertion terming Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel was gaveled through by a visibly unhappy mayor of Los Angeles, reportedly at the insistence of the White House, which sought to silence Republican charges that the administration is disloyal to our unruly client state.
Perhaps we should think instead of the Theater of the Absurd. The administration’s policy is like that of the governments that preceded it. The final status of Jerusalem is to be decided by Israel and Palestine if they conclude a peace treaty. It is almost certain, whoever wins the election, that our embassy will remain in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, the audible anger of many of the convention delegates nullified the reassuring effect the resolution was supposed to have on those voters for whom Israel’s delusions of omnipotence are their commands. Most are Republican biblical literalists, who believe that the coming of Israel portends the Last Judgment, the conversion of some Jews and the extirpation of the rest. The leaders of the Jewish organizations are remarkably tolerant of the theology of their fundamentalist allies. They are sure, after all, of their unconditional support for Israel—something that an increasing number of American Jews refuse. The Jewish organizations and their leaders become all the louder as their constituency shrinks. A majority of American Jews will vote as Americans, and some of the most self-consciously Jewish of them will do so for the sake of biblical values of social justice—which they find increasingly challenged in Israel. Meanwhile, events in the world reduce the political theater at the convention to its true dimensions, exceedingly small.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, are beleaguered. Many in Israel’s military and political elite have questioned their judgment, indeed, their competence. In a calculated indiscretion, our senior military commander, Gen. Martin Dempsey, declared himself unwilling to be “complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran. To Netanyahu’s demand that the United States pledge to attack Iran if Tehran refuses to renounce the capability to develop nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared that there is still time for negotiations and pressure to work. Netanyahu will not get his pledge, and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, in a surprising if temporary bout of responsibility, was for a couple of days loudly silent about giving one himself.
There followed Netanyahu’s apoplectic denunciation of US restraint. The Israel prime minister’s temper cannot have been improved by a reported visit from senior British officials warning against unilateral Israeli action, and by a supposed telephoned admonition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the same effect. We do not know if these reports are true, although it is clear that at the highest levels of the Israeli national security apparatus, the weapon of choice is not a nuclear missile or an airborne strike force but a sieve. Perhaps the warnings against allowing fanatical mullahs to acquire nuclear weapons require a footnote. The bellowing Israeli prime minister did not convey reassurance that Israel’s nuclear weaponry is in entirely sober hands. The footnote, indeed, demands large print.