Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Is Shmuel Rosner Serious?

Prominent Israeli columnist Shmuel Rosner has an essay up with the interesting title "Did President Rivlin just choose Obama and Roger Waters over fellow Israelis?" It's an interesting title because neither Obama nor Waters really figure into the article, nor is there any reason one should be associated with the other. Rosner's article concerns Rivlin's alleged diminishing credibility on the right due to various figures he's met here in America. The list of alleged apostasies are as follows:
In the last couple of days Rivlin is at the center of controversy because of three things he dared to do: meet President Obama and say nice things about him; refuse to dance to the Orthodox tune talking to progressive US Jews; participate in a conference (organized by Haaretz Daily) in which several controversial figures and organizations also participated.
For this, Rosner contends, Rivlin has earned the ire of "leaders and voters of Israel's right are angry, or disappointed with Rivlin for doing all these things."

The title of my post is meant in earnest: Is Rosner serious? This detailing of sins strikes me as a mockery: Look at the whiny right-wingers -- they're outraged that the President of Israel dared to be nice to the leader his country's closest ally. And he attended a conference with liberal Israeli groups! Why, he might as well join Jewish Voice for Peace! And the descriptions don't really get any better: it's a parody of highly attenuated "was in a room with someone who met with someone who's part of an organization that...." One of Rosner's sources, for example, complains that Rivlin's White House meeting was tainted by  supposed appeal to a "Reform rabbi who is a member of organizations supportive of BDS" (which Rabbi? Which organizations? How are they "supportive"? The mystery remains).

Likewise Rivlin's speech at the Haaretz conference: the speakers ranged from Samantha Power to Breaking the Silence; the latter being so horrible that Rivlin should have boycotted the event altogether.  Israeli MK Aymeh Odeh spoke as well; maybe they could have compared no platforming notes.  And if you're still wondering how Roger Waters plays into all this, well, apparently he showed up at said conference. Not as a speaker or an invitee, just a guy who attended. That sure is headline-worthy.

So in that sense, it looked like Rosner was having a bit of fun at the expense of oversensitive Israeli conservatives. But through the rest of the column, Rosner seems to be playing it straight. He says Rivlin "was too flexible in accepting the invitation to the conference", though he considers the mistake an understandable one. As a warrant, Rosner links to another of his columns where he describes Breaking the Silence as an "annoyance" and "problematic". Perhaps so, but one has to think that "other speakers are annoying" represents an alarmingly low threshold for refusing to speak at an event.

I'm really having trouble wrapping my head around the staggeringly minor set of supposed misdeeds and the seemingly genuine report that Rivlin has sacrificed his credibility. Rosner's pentultimate paragraph concludes:
The last couple of days could be the days in which he annoyed too many Israelis too much. These could be the days in which he lost his ability to explain because his explanations no longer carry much weight with certain Israelis. These could be the days in which some Israeli circles will arrive at the conclusion that the President flipped because he cares more for the cheers from abroad than for the barraging at home.
I mean, really? Really? It's hard to take that with any degree of seriousness. But maybe he's right, at least in his assessment of the tolerance levels of Israeli conservatives. But if that's so, then the Israeli right-wing needs to learn to grow a spine. Because if this is a real complaint, they have a real problem with perspective, and Israeli's position is too precarious to indulge such an abject display of pathos.

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