Long before I met David Azrieli, who died Wednesday at the age of 92, I cursed him — OK, just his name. It was 1990. I had moved to Montreal and was living west of downtown. When I walked to McGill, as I passed his Sherbrooke Street office building, half a kilometre from my office, I would see the plaque “réalisation et conception David Azrieli,” look at my watch, realize I was running late, swear, and rush toward the Leacock Building.
David Azrieli, Israel’s master-builder, has died at the age of 92, surrounded by his loving family. A giant of a man, whose spirit was as grand and dazzling as those three eponymous towers which now dominate the Tel Aviv skyline, David was a passionate Zionist, whose business – and love for the land — grew with the State. His story is Israel’s story, a redemptive tale of building an altneuland, an old new land, as sleek and modern as many but uniquely soulful and traditional. The hard-charging, ever-modernizing, entrepreneurial developer who brought the indoor mall to Israel – and coined the term for it, kanyon – was also an old-fashioned softie and family man who enjoyed quoting Jewish texts as an old melamed, collected Jewish ritual objects along with Israeli art, and melted with the rest of us whenever someone started singing those old-fashioned, perpetually-innocent chalutzic songs from the forties and fifties.
Last fall, I arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport and saw a massive line at border control. It seemed that Israel was being invaded by an army of foreign cyclists who were going to make me very late. Suddenly, like the biblical character Balaam, my curses turned to blessings. I realized that these people came for the ALYN Hospital bicycle ride, an annual fundraising event each fall since 2000.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer recently asked if Israel was “overreacting” in Gaza. Rebuffing this new, trendy, disproportionality argument, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocked those who say “yes, you have the right of self-defense, as long as you don’t exercise it.” Simplistic, voyeuristic media coverage spreads Palestinian Porn – obsessed with exhibitionist victimization not sex. Exploiting their dead, Palestinians seek to arouse the world’s guilt – while deflecting responsibility for triggering the conflict. This proportionality indictment is not only absurd but amoral. When a democracy launches a just war, its moral obligation to its citizens and soldiers is to apply overwhelming force against the enemy, to secure peace quickly and authoritatively.
Amid Hamas’s rocket barrage from totalitarian Gaza, the land Israel left nine years ago, American Jewry’s tiny but loud far left launched its own fusillade. “End the bombing, end the occupation,” Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) cried. “Peace not vengeance,” J Street insisted. J Street at least “condemn[ed] Hamas” and “recognize[d] Israel’s right to respond to the rocket fire.” Still, while respecting their right to criticize – simply questioning their judgment — I wish to rebut the JVP Peter Pettigrews and the J Street Pettifoggers. Peter Pettigrew is the rodent-wizard who betrayed Harry Potter and his parents to Lord Voldemort. Pettifoggers are intellectual tricksters who, by exaggerating the trivial, distorting the big picture, obscuring the truth, act like Rowling’s Cornelius Fudge, a weak character who unintentionally helps the evil Voldemort.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014 was yet another oxymoronic pushme-pullyou day that seems as anomalous yet ubiquitous in modern Israel as the brutal summer sun and the year-round high-tech and pharma miracles. Israelis were in double-mourning: still reeling from the evil outsiders who murdered three innocent Israeli teenagers; now horrified that some fellow Israelis responded with an equally evil revenge killing. Both events transcended the usual political battle-lines. Just as Israelis, left to right, embraced the Israeli kids as their own, Israelis, left to right, repudiated the barbaric revenge-murderers. Israelis were worried, watching Hamas’s escalating rocket barrage. But Israelis were also determined, to continue living life fully and contributing to the world creatively, profoundly.
I am consistently astounded by the simplistic slogans, the false polarities, the epidemic of idiocy that distorts discussions about Israel. In the 1970s, the Soviets and the Palestinians improvised what Daniel Patrick Moynihan called “the Big Red Lie,” framing the national conflict between Jews and Palestinians as a racial one, claiming that Zionism is racism and that democratic, colour-blind Israel is somehow similar to racist, colour-obsessed South African apartheid.
The latest evidence suggests that six Jewish hoodlums burned alive a 16-year-old Palestinian named Muhammad Abu Khdeir – a sickening crime. Most reactions have been predictable – and tedious. The Left is using this murder to equate Israeli democracy with Palestinian totalitarianism. Critics either claim relativistically that each side has its own extremists or that these Israelis fanatics – who, if they are ultra-Orthodox are usually repudiated by the Left – now represent Israeli society. Meanwhile, the Right, contrasting Israel’s rapid and mass repudiation of the murderers with Palestinian joy when terrorists strike, is trying to turn this mark of shame into a badge of honor.
Haim Avraham died early Sunday morning. He was sixty-five years old. In a world filled with people who are forever seeking fame, Haim was one of the many Israelis who became famous for the worst possible reason – his 20-year-old son Benny was killed in 2000 on the Lebanese border by Hezbullah terrorists. Haim’s death from cancer at the end of this traumatic week, reminds us of the high price Israelis keep on paying simply for trying to live their lives – and the world’s insensitivity to their plight.
The sickening news started filling my inbox during a family dinner. The three boys had become three bodies. “Not for publication yet,” my first source warned; I chose not to announce the news because I still wasn’t ready to bury my hopes for those kids. Half an hour later, my teenage son glanced at his ever-pinging cellphone and shared the bad news. My slightly prolonged denial didn’t ease the pain. I still had that constricted feeling in the chest so many of us have felt for 18 days, the recurring pit in the stomach that members of the three families now will never lose.