Time bomb

Time bomb

Remembers those “reading comprehension” tests that asked you to read an article and come up with an appropriate title?

Let’s try it. What would you title an article that touted Israel as an economic powerhouse, brimming with high-tech “brainiacs” and immigrant “whiz kids”? That depicted Ashdod as a place of “freeways and beaches, universities and start-ups,” a high-culture oasis that brings to mind “California, not Cairo”?

An article that describes Israelis as surprisingly happy and their quality of life as “high and getting better”?

Granted, this same article suggests that Israelis, disillusioned by years of broken Palestinian promises, put little stock in the current peace negotiations. And that with the erection of the security barrier, their thoughts have turned inward, away from the constant attacks that made the daily bus ride or cafe visit a terrifying gamble.

How about, “Skeptical and prosperous, the Jewish state is flourishing”?

Or maybe, “Peace Later: Even without a treaty, Israelis are enjoying the fruits of security.”

One thing I wouldn’t call the article is, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care about Peace.”

That’s the title Time gave to the article, the cover story of the magazine’s Sept. 13 issue. Pro-Israel commentators, with reason, found the title obnoxious and even anti-Semitic. Set against an ironic illustration of a star of David fashioned from daisies, the headline suggests that Israel will be to blame should the current round of talks fail. After all, if you don’t care about peace, you only care about war or oppression, right?

It would be like titling a Lincoln biography, The Man Who Declared War on Americans. Technically accurate, I suppose, but a bit misleading, don’t you think?

Critics of the title, however, read more into Karl Vick’s article than I think he or Time intended. (Inside the magazine, by the way, the article is titled, “The Good Life and its Dangers: Israelis feel prosperous, secure — and disengaged from the peace process. Is that wise?” Much better.)

The Anti-Defamation League, for instance, oddly claimed that the article implied that Israelis “care more about money than a future of peace and security.” The ADL demanded that Time apologize for “calling up age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money.”

But if it is anti-Semitic to celebrate the prosperity of Israel and its “restless culture of innovation” — as Vick does — then this pro-Israel newspaper and dozens like it are anti-Semitic. Parts of the Time article focusing on Israel’s economic prosperity could have been written by the Israeli Chamber of Commerce. “Israel avoided the debt traps that dragged the U.S. and Europe into recession,” writes Vick. “Its renown as a start-up nation — second only to the U.S. in companies listed on the Nasdaq — is deserved.”

With anti-Semites like these, we don’t need friends.

The ADL also charges that the article “ignores the very real sacrifices made by Israel and its people.” Not the article I read. Vick describes how Yasser Arafat “turned down a striking package of Israeli concessions at Camp David,” leading to a “watershed of terror for an Israeli majority who, watching and suffering waves of suicide bombings, saw no reason to keep hope alive.”

Rabbi Daniel Gordis, writing for Commentary, also picks up the money theme. The article, he writes, leaves the impression that “the Jews are more interested in money than in peace.” Gordis condemns Vick’s “pre-occupation with real estate, startups, and high rises on the Ashkelon beaches.”

But the rabbi forgets that prosperity and economic ambition are signs of a healthy society. I say forgets, because Gordis says as much in his 2009 book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Not End.

In a section on, yes, Israeli disillusionment with the peace process, Gordis writes about the despair Israelis felt when Hamas rose to power and kidnapped Gilad Shalit. “Ever increasing numbers of Israelis found themselves believing what they had previously assumed was nothing more than a right-wing canard,” Gordis writes. “Now they understood: the Palestinians had no interest in building their homeland. The Palestinians were only interested in destroying Israel. The classic notion that all human beings really want the same things — a solid economy, opportunity for their children, improved education — and that they would give up war the minute they had those possibilities, had sadly proved irrelevant to the Middle East.” (Emphasis added.)

Like Time, Gordis suggests Israelis have lost enthusiasm for a peace process that has too often brought them blood and tears. That’s not a radical thesis: Right-wingers have asserted it for years. So have left-wingers, adding that such complacency is a ticking time bomb.

What both sides and Time don’t acknowledge is the quiet hunger of Israelis not just for economic prosperity and relative security, but legitimacy and recognition. History has shown that even jaded Israelis will embrace dramatic gestures from the Arab world — Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, even the handshake on the White House lawn — if they signal a revolution in the way those countries and leaders regard the Jewish state.

Israelis care about peace — when the other side shows it genuinely cares as well.

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