Saturday, June 07, 2008

A dialectical meditaion

The National Magazine Awards Foundation (NMAF) announced the winners of the 31st annual National Magazine Awards at the Carlu in Toronto on June 6, 2008.

In the category of essays, the Médaille d’or went to George Jonas, for his "Meditations on Israel" which appeared in QUEEN’S QUARTERLY.

Here it is.

Jonas is the author of "Vengeance" fame, the book that served as the basis for Steven Spielberg's "Munich" film.

Here are some excerpts from the essay:

I knew exactly what father and uncle were talking about. There was no other topic of conversation between them during that summer in Nazi-occupied Budapest. Hitler was as good as gone, my father and uncle agreed on that ("though he will likely kill us all before he goes," my uncle would say, just to help my father keep things in perspective.) But what choice was there for Jews who survived the war? "Live among the murderers, as if nothing happened," uncle would ask, rhetorically, "or build a home for themselves in Israel?"

Father would have none of it. "What happens when you wake up from a nightmare?" he would ask uncle, just as rhetorically. "You make yourself a cup of tea, and get on with it. You certainly don't move house because of a nightmare."

"Hitler's not a nightmare," my uncle would retort. "A nightmare is in your head. Is Hitler in your head? Hitler is in the street. Look out the window."


I estimate Hitler's shadow to loom about as large in 2007 as it did in 1935, the year I was born, 72 years ago. A friend, more optimistically, says no -- Hitler's shadow looms only as large as it did in 1930, when the Nazis became the second biggest political party with 107 seats in the Reichstag.


In our times the Palestinians were the first to regard the loss of their country as a justification to murder or kidnap civilians, including women and children. .... They called these acts ... a series of "advertisments" for the Palestinian cause.

...No group of French, Norwegian, or Czech partisans ever saw fit to "advertise" the plight of their homelands by shooting German or Russian civilians. Even within their own occupied homelands, the patriotic resistance always concentrated on military targets. The idea of blowing up Swiss airliners -- or attacking German or Russian travellers in neutral Switzerland -- never occurred to them.

It has certainly occurred to some Palestinians. That's what makes them terrorists -- just as a Latvian blowing up a Aeroflot jetliner in Amsterdam would be a terrorist. This, in my opinion, is the dividing line. It has nothing to do with politics. It has nothing to do with somebody's national cause being right or wrong. It has only to do with good and evil.


Toronto, 2005. I'm coming out of a screening room where I saw Munich, a film that had been mounted on the back of a book I wrote in the early 1980s, called Vengeance. I wish it were a bronco and buck off the director, Steven Spielberg. He has saddled my book with his adolescent moral confusion. His movie can't tell cops from robbers because they both carry guns. Things are complex, but not as complex as that.


Groups that kidnap and murder tourists, shoppers, envoys, journalists, athletes, or members of peacekeeping forces aren't engaged in warfare but in acts of terror. Many causes (including Israel's) have been used by terrorists at one time or another, but some causes have allowed themselves to be defined by terrorism. They have permitted terrorists to take them over. This, in my view, has been the tragedy of the Palestinian cause.


Like his son, Dr. Pearl believes in dialogue.... This may sound a bit like the credo of a bleeding-heart liberal, but only until one realizes that for Dr. Pearl "dialogue" isn't a code word for displaying the white flag. For the UCLA scholar, "dialogue" mean words of firm purpose, fighting words if necessary, not words as substitute for surrender.


"[W]hile people of conscience reject anti-Semitism, anti-Zionist rhetoric has become a mark of academic sophistication and social acceptance in Europe and in some U.S. campuses," Pearl observes. Indeed, people who would feel traumatized if accused of anti-Semitism, might shrug off a charge of anti-Zionism, or even embrace it with pride.

UCLA's professor of artificial intelligence offers his formula as anti-Zionism=racism. It seems to compute.


No regrets from the Memuneh. "The people who were taken out were deeply involved in the command chain of the suicide bomb attacks against Israel," he told The Daily Telegraph's Con Coughlin in an earlier interview. "It was a military strategy and it worked."


Conclusion.. My uncle thought Israel was an oasis for the Jewish people; my father though it was a mirage... my father thought Hitler was a bad dream, while my uncle felt that Hitler, in whatever guise, was a recurring reality in Jewish existence. It seems to me uncle isn't just ahead on points: he is close to scoring a knockout. In which case Zion isn't an option, a luxury, a tourist destination for the Diaspora, but a lifeline, a defibrillator, the only game in town.


Congratulations to Terry Glavin who won the silver award in the same category for his essay: Looking for Mr. Bing


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