Column for Jewish News December 16 2016
As we shake off the almost unmitigated awfulness of the year 2016 — with the departures of, at the least, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Victoria Wood, Shimon Peres, and even Fidel Castro from the world stage — I shudder slightly at what lies in store for us in 2017.
My grandmother was fond of saying “Man proposes, God disposes”, which sounds even better in Yiddish — “Mann tracht und Gott lacht”. I daresay the Almighty has rarely heard a better celestial thigh-slapper than the orange phenomenon which is Donald Trump, but the world can’t say it wasn’t warned.
But if there were anything to make the communal hairs stand up on the back of the communal neck, it is the smug pronouncements of Israelis in power as the secular new year approaches.
In no particular order, but just because he’s there, is the centrist party leader, Yair Lapid, now presenting himself as the alternative to the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Aware that Netanyahu is involved in a bitter scrap to secure the heartland of the rightwing, Lapid has waded in and pronounced: “We need to get the Palestinians out of our lives. What we have to do is build a high wall and get them out of our sight.There will be no peace. We do not want two nations packed into a single state.”
Walls seem terrifying popular these days, as President-elect Trump would no doubt testify, given his predilection during his election campaign for building a socking great wall in the south of the US in order to keep out the Mexicans. Both such ideas are — there is no other word — stupid, and I had mistakenly thought better of Lapid. But then, as the UK’s own Andy Burnham showed, some politicians will say anything to woo and retain power.
Burnham, it may be recalled, took part in Labour hustings at JW3 and pledged that if he were elected he would have the story of the Balfour Declaration taught, compulsorily, in every school.
While we wipe tears of relief from our eyes that Burnhamgate did not succeed — and contemplate what we got instead — the fact is that 2017 is anniversary year incarnate, with every few weeks an opportunity for marking a historic milestone.
Besides the Balfour centenary, 2017 will be the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, the 40th anniversary of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, and 120 years since the First Zionist Congress in Basel. There will be intelligent ways to commemorate these dates, and then there will probably be some idiotic, jingoistic, set-people’s-backs-up kind of events.
Already, I believe, 2017 has been declared “the Year of Jerusalem”, as together with the anniversary of the Six Day War, the reunification of the capital city is being marked.
What would be wonderful would be if such anniversaries offered the opportunities for hands reaching out across the literal and metaphorical borders. Let us banish talk of walls and instead try to think what Israel has to show its neighbours, not just the Palestinians but other Arabs in the region.
Let’s make 2017 a time of hope and reconciliation. It can still be done, if we will it. Let’s amuse the Almighty and his angels.