Sunday, March 2, 2008

Connect the Dots #4: Forget Cunning

One. Virtually every morning these days, I have been waking to a gentle commercial on Israel’s main radio station, Reshet Bet. First, an ingenuous voice speaks the most famous fragment of Psalm 137, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” Then another, more cheerful voice—the kind that sells stoves—comes on, assuring us that, at the most intimate moments of our lives, Jews have always invoked the yearning for Jerusalem—at which point we realize that the first voice was a groom taking wedding vows.

The second voice then introduces itself as that of Nir Barkat, who explains that we need to protect Jerusalem, keep it “thriving and united”—which we will no doubt do if we go to the website of a new cross-party political organization, One Jerusalem. The larger point Barkat is making—hardly challenged these days—is that the legitimacy of the Zionist project rests with the Jews’ two thousand year old yearning for Jerusalem; that this yearning confers on Jews an “historical right” to the city, and so any move to negotiate shared sovereignty should be defeated. (Among the site’s sponsors: Benjamin Netanyahu, Natan Sharansky, former Chief of Staff “Boogie” Yaalon, and others.)

By the way, Barkat is also a well-known technology entrepreneur and VC who ran for mayor of Jerusalem a few years back, and now serves as, in effect, leader of the opposition in the city council. He helped launch Israel’s legendary firewall company, Check Point. He is one of the founding members of the Israel Venture Network (IVN), established in 2001 by a group of American and Israeli high tech businesspeople, committed to creating “a pluralistic business environment” in Israel, by “encouraging innovative and venture-based strategies.”

Two. My wife, Hebrew University literary critic Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, points out that the final verses of Psalm 137 are usually forgotten. The entire King James translation reads as follows (notice particularly the last line):

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; [1] and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange [2] land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief [3] joy. Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; [4] happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Three. In 1998, the CEO of Check Point, Gil Shweid, told me (when I interviewed him for Fortune Magazine), “Seventy years ago the people who created the socialist-Zionist economy, the kibbutzim, the planned cities—they built the State of Israel. I hope that high tech today can do similar things; it is important for this country that businesses like these emerge.Is peace essential, I asked? He replied:

In the short-run, nobody is going to cancel a distribution agreement with Check Point because of a terrorist attack; our customers and stock-holders assume a peace process is evolving. But in the long run, if the peace momentum will go away, we will lose our edge in attracting customers and top-flight management to Israel…[T]he economy will go downhill and the impact will be measurable.

Four. Israel’s great poet, Yehuda Amichai, wrote a poem entitled, “If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem.” The opening stanzas go like this.

If I forget thee, Jerusalem,
Then let my right be forgotten.
Let my right be forgotten, and my left remember.
Let my left remember, and your right close
And your mouth open near the gate.

I shall remember Jerusalem
And forget the forest—my love will remember,
Will open her gate, will close my window,
will forget my right,
Will forget my left.

***

Question One. If Israelis’ political rights in Jerusalem derive, not from the consent of the governed, but from the Jews’ historic longing to enact the dreams of an iron age psalmist, can our happiness be complete if we have not yet smashed our enemies’ babes against Jerusalem stone? (Is this ode to memory and vengeance really what we need to make sense of missiles from Gaza?)

Question Two. How many companies like Check Point could get launched today if people outside of Israel, or young Israeli entrepreneurs, for that matter, believed that partnerships in globalization must be sacrificed to the violence that Barkat’s bizarre dogmatism must inevitably sustain?

Question Three. What was the real purpose of our coming here, to realize the vision of Psalm 137 or to engender poets who could riff on Psalm 137—as Sidra puts it, to love Jerusalem or love in Jerusalem?

Extra credit: If I’ve really, really wanted Barkat’s Check Point stock since 1998, does this give me an “historical right” to it?