Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Thinking the Unthinkable

As Tobias Buck reported for the Financial Times from Jerusalem this morning, the United States may be facing its most confrontational stance with Israel since the latter was declared an independent state. At the very least we have Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu staring each other down over two divisive issues, waiting to see which leader will blink first. The issue that is currently receiving more attention is Obama's insistence on "a total settlement freeze" (as Buck put it); but this issue is actually secondary to its companion, describe by Buck as "Mr Netanyahu’s continuing refusal to endorse the two-state solution."

As I have previously suggested, this staring contest is nothing more than the failure of an Israeli mother to communicate with her Palestinian counterpart escalated to the level of world leaders. Having examined the nature of that failure in the documentary film To Die in Jerusalem, I then made an abrupt shift of argument by turning my attention to You Don't Mess with the Zohan. On the surface this may have seemed like a frivolous gesture; but I would like to remind readers that, for as long as there has been comedy, comedians have always assumed the luxury (along with the attendant risks) of thinking the unthinkable. In this case the "unthinkable thought" was that, in the fictional world of You Don't Mess with the Zohan, friction between Israelis and Palestinians could be resolved by a one-state solution.

What makes this thought "unthinkable," of course, is that the solution in the film is a secular one, a shopping mall shared by Israelis and Palestinians in which everyone is doing good business. It would mean giving up the idea of a "Jewish state;" and this idea would clearly meet with considerable intransigence (which is probably putting the case mildly). However, I would suggest that such intransigence is a product of that faith-based position that, as Max Weber put it, regards any government as meaningless in the face of religious priorities. It is the irreconcilable difference over abortion that I discussed yesterday scaled up to the level of questions of nationality.

Granted, there is more than a little absurdity in suggesting that Jewish and Muslim comedians could put their heads together to resolve the current crisis in the Middle East; but is it any more absurd than current diplomacy coming down to a staring match between the American President and the Israeli Prime Minister (in which no representative of the Palestinian Authority is even present)? A South American friend of mine once told me that the genre of Magical Realism emerged because the absurdity of magic was the only way to cope with the absurd logics of reality. Comedy at least has more logic to it than magic does; and the best comedians are always aware of those "attendant risks" behind what they say and do. If Adam Sandler has written a script with even moderately sound logic that suggests the viability of a one-state solution, should we dismiss it just because it was written for laughs?

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