If,as someone once told me, the intent of Zionism was to make Jews no different from other peoples, then that goal has been met. In the last month alone, the Israeli government has shown that Jews can be as stupid as anyone.
Exhibit 1 is also the most trivial: The attempt of the Israeli government to get an American court to block publication of the memoirs of an ex-Mossad agent. In doing so, Jerusalem took an obscure book, "By Way of Deception," and made it a best-seller. The entire episode was what is sometimes called a "no-brainer."
Exhibit 2: The killings of at least 20 Palestinians in Jerusalem's Old City. By now, Israeli and American journalists have pretty much figured out what happened. Islamic leaders, fearing their mosque was about to be desecrated, called on their followers for help. Things quickly got out of hand. Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall were stoned. An overwhelmed police force opened fire. A tragedy resulted.
Who's responsible? Just about everyone, it seems. Moslem leaders irresponsibly called the faithful to repulse a threat that didn't exist. The Jewish group that intended to march on the Temple Mount had already been restrained by the courts. No matter what, Jewish worshipers should not have been stoned. As for Israeli authorities, knowing trouble was brewing they had too few police in the area and, to make matters worse, a force known for brutality.
But instead of saying, "Oh, My God, this should never have happened," Yitzhak Shamir blamed everything on Palestinians. He called the killings "a satanic scheme" designed "to distract world attention from events in the Gulf." He blamed the PLO. He blamed Iraq. But what he did not say in all this blaming is why, after three years of the intifada, Israel still seems to have learned little about crowd control. For too long now, its response to rocks has been bullets.
The Shamir government then overreacted to a U.N. resolution blaming Israel for the killings. The United Nations ordered an investigation, but Shamir told the investigators to stay in New York. Some of his petulance was understandable. The resolution made no mention of the Palestinian stoning and treated Jerusalem as occupied territory, not as the rightful capital of Israel. (Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.) But Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, who loves Jerusalem no less than does Shamir, had the better response. He welcomed the U.N. Israel, he said, has nothing to hide.
Truth be told, though, Shamir has some competition when it comes to inappropriate indignation. Secretary of State James A. Baker III treats Shamir like a tailor who made the pants too long. Apparently oblivious to Israel's sensitivity to invidious comparisons, Baker implied one. By rejecting the U.N. resolution, he said, Israel might "unjustly" be compared to Iraq. Baker has been accused of being knee-jerk anti-Israel -- unjustly, of course.
But if Shamir did not have Baker he would have had to invent him. The secretary's letter to Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy was a tour de force of terrible timing. Just as some American-Jewish leaders (and pro-Israel members of Congress) were uttering mild criticisms of Israel, Baker practically asked them to choose sides: the hostile State Department or Shamir. The mood of some in Congress was probably best expressed by a blistering letter to Baker from Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.). "I was genuinely incensed," it begins and then goes on to prove it. Berman called Baker's "unjustly" a "disingenuous disclaimer." In the old days, that would call for a duel.
Friends of Israel would be wise, though, to counsel Shamir to ignore Baker and concentrate instead on American public opinion. By all indices, poll after redundant poll, support for Israel is eroding. The feisty Jewish state of yesterday is now being seen as a pain in the neck, not to mention a drain on the Treasury. What will happen if there's war in the Gulf, God only knows, but from here it looks like an antisemite's dream: a purported war on behalf of Zionism and Big Oil.
Shamir is a terribly proud man, shaped by the Holocaust, Israel's many wars and what he sees as the world's unrelenting hostility to his country. He is entitled to his views, but they do his country no good when they ultimately serve to weaken the relationship with the United States. America is an ally to which Israel owes much, maybe its very existence. All America asks -- and it really isn't much -- is that the Palestinians be treated humanely. Shamir seems to bristle at the very notion and, in the process, look the American gift horse in the mouth. That may be many things, but smart isn't one of them.