Where is the Israeli Barack Obama?
A couple of weeks ago I was visiting Cleveland for the first time, and I didn’t go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Instead, I spent Sunday afternoon downtown at a far more exciting hall of fame – Barack Obama was appearing in the run-up to the elections. He had even brought a warm-up act – some guy with a guitar playing Woody Guthrie songs. They tell me his name was Bruce Springfield, or something. The guy’s not bad…
Of course as I heard Obama speak, I couldn’t help thinking about Israel. I’m no great expert on US politics, but simply as an example of inspirational leadership and intelligent rhetoric, this President-elect is astonishing. I found myself asking, do we in Israel have a Barack Obama around the corner? To be more honest, I was just thinking – boy oh boy do we need a Barack Obama!
Whether Obama is a great politician, or will be a great President, only time will tell. But I’m already convinced that he is a great educator. Throughout his campaign he’s managed to re-forge a narrative of unity and hope for his nation. His speeches and his writing (I admit it, I’m now reading The Audacity of Hope – I mean with a title like that…) all work at presenting a fresher grander context in which Americans might imagine their lives. And I ask myself with tears in my heart: what is the grand fresh context for Israelis to imagine their lives? Around which palatable persuasive myth might our nation unite?
Bradley Burston writes here that in order for Israelis to ‘get’ the magnitude of Obama’s election, one would need to imagine the election of the first Arab Prime Minister of Israel. My difficulty is, that I can’t imagine this. Not because I can’t imagine our ever overcoming fear or prejudice about Arabs in Israel. But because I can’t imagine an Arab politician becoming as intelligent and enthusiastic proponent of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, as Barack Obama is for the US Constitution. Why should they? Why would they?
And beyond the Arab population of Israel – what about the Jews of all stripes and colors in this divided country? While Obama calls the US Constitution a framework for a “deliberative democracy”, an organization of the way in which Americans “argue about our future” – I’m left unconvinced that the old chestnut of a “Jewish Democratic” State is a framework for anything other than a fight.
Still, standing there in Cleveland, in a massive crowd of people of all colors and creeds, none of whom ever imagined they might find themselves together in the same place for this same purpose, one got the feeling that the heavens are open to new ideas these days. You never know…
Will the Israeli Barack (meaning ‘blessing’, and not ‘lightning’) please make him or herself known as soon as possible?