Danny Gordis Takes on Time Magazine

I hate to be the bee in the honey, but I fear Israel’s supporters are winding themselves up into an umbrage so high, they might actually fall down and hurt themselves.

The cause: Time magazine.

Yes, only in the Jewish world do people still get worked up over the cover a weekly magazine.  Most of the rest of America forgot they exist. Yet another reason to love Jews.

The cover in question is of a Jewish star composed of daisies, and the words: Why Israelis Don’t Care About Peace.

The article, as Danny Gordis points out accurately, is full of sloppy perceptions, generalizations and cheap shots.  For one, it describes Jerusalem on Shabbat as a “mausoleum.” Gordis, a former LA rabbi, takes exception at the death imagery to describe such a holy day.  I just think it’s lazy journalism by someone who doesn’t see how vibrant the Friday night life is in so many parts of the city.

But what has Gordis so upset, and a phalanx of Jews ready to march behind him, is the impression the cover gives that Israel doesn’t care about peace.

How dare the writer say such a thing?

Well, maybe he spoke to Israelis.  Yossi Klein Halevi has been saying and writing the same thing for a while now.  Most Israelis I speak with are at least jaded, at most completely turned off to, the peace process.  They want peace, they just don’t care about the peace process—because caring doesn’t pay off, caring gets their hopes up, caring leaves them, like Charlie Brown and the football, flat on their backs. The Guardian newspaper reported the same story the week before.

By the way, many Palestinians feel just as jaded and defeated.

Here’s Yossi in The Los Angeles Times a few weeks back:

“The peace process is back,” my friend said with bitter sarcasm, after four Israelis were killed in a terror attack just before Palestinian-Israeli negotiations got underway this week. The irony may have been lost on outsiders but not on Israelis. The Oslo peace process of the 1990s was accompanied by waves of attacks by Hamas jihadists, which Israelis believe were tacitly orchestrated by their negotiating partner at the time, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Then, in September 2000, just as Israel accepted a Palestinian state and the re-division of Jerusalem, Arafat responded by launching a four-year terror war.

But there is one crucial difference between this week’s deadly terrorism and the terror assaults of those years. Today, when leaders of the Palestinian Authority condemn violence against Israeli civilians, they mean it. Where Arafat used Hamas terrorism as psychological pressure against the Israeli public, his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is himself a target of Hamas.

For Israel, facing a negotiating partner who isn’t instigating terrorism while feigning moderation is already significant progress.

Still, the mood among Israelis is anything but hopeful….

That essay was called, “Israelis Don’ have High Hopes for the Peace Process.”  Okay, a more felicitous choice of words.  But Time is (desperately) trying to sell magazines.  And with only a slight, if sloppy, semantic adjustment, “aren’t concerned” can translate into “don’t care.”  The more accurate diagnosis—maybe the most—came from our own David Suissa, who just returned from a month in Israel.

Time could easily have said on its cover: Why Israel Has Forgotten About Peace, or Why Israel Has Stopped Believing in Peace, or even, Why Israel Has Chosen Life Over Peace, or even still, Why Israel Cares About Peace (But Not the Peace Process). Any of those would have done justice to a new reality of Israeli society that the story was trying to tap into.

This is the reality: Most Israelis have been so burned by previous attempts at peace—from a terror war that killed 1,000 Israelis after Israel’s peace offer at Camp David in 2000; to the terror wars that followed the evacuations of Lebanon and Gaza; to the PA’s refusal to even make a counter offer to Ehud Olmert’s generous offer two years ago—that they’ve tuned out to the “peace process” and have decided, instead, to live their lives.

And yes, I can tell you, after spending a month there this summer, Israelis know how to live their lives. They fill the cafes and restaurants late into the night. On a hot summer night in Tel Aviv, I saw hundreds of people having barbeques on the beach. Everywhere I went, I saw people living life with a vengeance.

Does this mean these people “don’t care about peace”? Of course not. What it means is that Israelis would rather worry about real life than fake peace. After 20 years of seeing their hopes for peace lead to one disappointment after another, why waste their time worrying about something they don’t think they can get?

David focuses on the incendiary cover, which really just should have added the word process to peace.  But David’s reaction is not ohmyGodthey’regonnakillustheyhateusHELP!!! hysterical.  It slaps Time on the wrist for a cheap shot.

But Danny Gordis goes a bit postal, which only helps Time go viral. 

But does anybody know what the effect will be? Is Time really helping to delegitimize Israel?  Can anyone prove it?

Here’s what I find so interesting.  Peter Beinert wrote a now famous essay saying young Jewish Americans were losing their affection for Israel, but a recent poll proved him wrong.  As Gal Beckerman wrote in the Forward:

Researchers at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies released a study in late August that claims to find nothing unusually depressing or alarming about the current younger generation’s level of attachment to Israel. “The findings of the present study challenge the view of a widening schism between American Jews and Israel,” it concludes. “A majority of American Jews feel attached to Israel and the overall level of attachment has remained stable for nearly a quarter of a century.”

To my mind, the same poll proves Gordis wrong.  The war of images and words in the American press, whether aimed at Israel’s heart or aimed to sell dead trees, doesn’t seem to have moved the needle in a way that confirms Israel’s critics hopes or proves Israel’s supporters fears.  We worry without proof. I think that has to be a definition of neuroses.

So take a breath, people. The Time cover image itself—a Jewish star made of daisies— presents an image of Israel that is so unthreatening, non-belligerent and peaceful, at the very least you have to admit the cover sends a mixed message.  In fact, the same cover with a just the word “Israel” could grace a tourist brochure.

So let’s react but not over-react. Time is not the enemy. Israelis aren’t painted as some monsters—quite the opposite.  Anybody whose opinion of Israel is shaped by passing a magazine cover in an airport is likely someone whose mind was already made up.