Wednesday is the day that Robert Scheer's column appear in the Chronicle. However, I still prefer to read it on Truthdig, because, by the time I get to it, several interesting comments have accumulated. That was definitely the case today. Scheer's basic argument was that it was probably just as well that Al Gore lost the 2000 election, since, had he died in office, Joe Lieberman would have been a far worse President than Bush II. Scheer does not mince his rhetoric in his opening assessment of Lieberman:
His recent actions suggest that he could have descended even lower in his illogical and immoral responses to the tragedy of 9/11.
The keystone of Scheer's argument is the simple sentence, “He never learns.” Since I have a professional interest in matters of memory and cognition, I would like to use this as my own point of departure.
One comment submitted by reader “atheo,” cites an article entitled “It’s All About Israel,” which may provide the best context for reading Scheer’s column. It is not so much that Joe “never learns.” It is more that he has learned “one true thing” that will probably never be dislodged from his memory; and it is important to reflect on this learning on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War.
I worked in Israel between 1971 and 1973, which is to say between the Six Day Way and the Yom Kippur War. The 1967 victory brought a wave of optimism to the country; but it also reinforced what was almost a “national motto” that has a lot to do with the subsequent undoing of that optimism. The motto was “Never again!,” the referent, of course, being the Holocaust; and it makes for an interesting commitment to priorities. The implication is that, if the elimination of the Jews is ever at stake again, then it should be prevented “by any means necessary” (although I doubt you would find many who would invoke the language of Malcolm X to make this point). This is the “one true thing” that Joe has learned; and it will always dominate every political decision he makes.
I first grasped the significance of this motto in 1972. I had to vote by proxy that year, but I still went around wearing a George McGovern button. However, because McGovern had made a speech recommending that Jerusalem be placed under independent international jurisdiction, I had a lot of angry fingers pointed at me (fortunately nothing worse) by Israelis who took this speech to mean that McGovern was “against the Jews.” I quickly realized that there was no arguing with these people. As far as they were concerned, letting anyone other than the Israelis control Jerusalem was the first step down the road to another Holocaust.
Have we progressed at all since 1972? At least now there are occasional conversations between Israel and the Arab world; but, for the most part, ceremony continues to trump (if not undermine) substance. Meanwhile, as a comment by “w mast” reminded us, AIPAC continues to charge ahead full steam, deriving much of its energy from that Holocaust mentality that keeps the never-again motto as alive as ever. It may be extreme to hypothesize that this little motto is the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, but it is folly to ignore the impact the motto has had over the history of Israel and continues to have in both Israel and the United States. The consequence, of course, is that any candidate in either the United States or Israel who tries to get beyond that motto basically eliminates any chance of getting elected.