God’s plans realised
TH E R E C O M E S a mo me n t w h e n , if attempting an analysis of Israel’s political and military dilemmas, you just have to get on with it hoping that, between pen and publication, nothing will happen — an intifada, a war, an assassination — that will make your assessment little more than footnotes to a volume of history.
Hirsh Goodman, journalist, author and now senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, is too experienced a hand to fall into the traps awaiting the unwary.
His insights and judgments on the issues confronting Israel are sharp, original and, in many instances, disturbing and challenging.
He is harsh about Israeli leaders, past and present. He believes Golda Meir, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, was blinded by Moshe Dayan’s strategy, supported and expanded by Yigal Allon, of seeking to occupy the West Bank without settling it, while economically integrating its inhabitants. Golda Meir’s government, says Goodman, “had all the arrogance of the old colonialists.”
Menachem Begin’s attitude was even worse, seeking total annexation of all the territories and the extension of Israeli citizenship to all inhabitants of “liberated Judea, Samara and Gaza” and ignoring the demographic bombshell lying at the heart of his policy. Goodman estimates numerical parity will soon be reached between Israelis and the Arabs of the territories, “after which the Palestinians will surpass the Jews.”
He quotes Yasser Arafat, shortly after shaking the reluctant hand of Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, saying that the womb of the Palestinian woman was the Palestinians’ best weapon.
It took 30 years after Begin for his Likud successor, Ariel Sharon, “realising that demography was Israel’s biggest enemy,” to pull out of Gaza “and shed 1.5 million Palestinians from the scales.” That is about the only good thing Goodman has to say for Sharon.
He certainly has little faith in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s peace-making (or any other) ability and even less in that of his coalition Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the former Labour leader. Looking back to their previous terms in office, he comments that “Barak was as disastrous a leader for Labour as Netanyahu had been for Likud.” His assessment of Barak’s character — egomaniac, manipulative, secretive and worse — borders on the libellous.
Goodmanofferslittleconfidencethat these or any other leaders now in the public eye will take Israel through the threats from Iran, frustrate the delegitimisation campaign and find the path to a workable peace. But he does recognise in the Knesset wings capable young men and women who have visions and dreams of an Israel at peace.
He does warn that, if Israel is not destroy itself from within, its search for peace will have to take account of the religious Zionist camp, from which come the leaders of the West Bank settlers. But he does not explain how that can be squared with his haunting conclusion: “Peace is possible… but the risks are tremendous and it is going to take extraordinary leadership on the Israeli side to surmount them, convince the Israeli public that the price of peace is worth the risks, and actually carry through on whatever movement of Israeli population on the West Bank needs to be done.”
Geoffrey D Paul is a former JC editor
AYEAR AGO, one of my students decided to write an essay on what architecture could learn from religion. As a practising Christian, she believed that religion had the power to invest places of worship with sacred qualities, just as, in her view, it had done in medieval times. The difficulty was that, when she looked for evidence of this in 20th-century churches, she couldn’t swear that what she was seeing necessarily had more to do with religion than with innovative approaches to space, materials and light. In the end, she wrote about something else.
In Constructing the Ineffable: Contemporary Sacred Architecture (Yale, £35) Karla Cavarra Britton has been more determined, but not more successful. In 2007, the architecture school at Yale University cohosted a symposium on sacred in architecture: “Constructing the Ineffable”. The aim was to say something about the possibility of transcendence not just in religious buildings, in this ever more mass-produced age, but in architecture itself.
Those symposium lectures, now expanded by Britton for publication, fall short of their target. While the contributors mourn what they see as modern architecture’s inability to convey anything beyond its own materiality, not one of them can speak coherently in defence of the equally popular proposition that “architecture needs the sacred if it’s not to wither,” as Yale’s professor of philosophy, Karsten Harries, puts it.
What does “sacred” even mean? Although they argue about definitions, by and large the contributors don’t deny that the sacred exists, though they may prefer less exalted terms, like “spiritual” or, below that, “aesthetic” or “affective”. That’s tricky for the Jewish reader who doesn’t take this sort of language as his starting point.
It is even trickier that buildings from Mexican ziggurats to just about anything circular are generally agreed to have a “numinous” quality.
“No they don’t,” one wants to say — because, in Judaism, we’re not familiar with the idea of the holy being immanent in the physical. Synagogues are not sacred places (God knows): they are simply settings for people at prayer. Contributors to this book tend to think otherwise.
It is odd, therefore, to read nonJewish, or un-Jewish, accounts of, say, Louis Kahn’s (unbuilt) designs for the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem and the Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia. Did Kahn wish to give Shabbat morning services the atmospherics of St Peter’s Basilica, or perhaps the pagan sense of eternity that turned him from mainstream modernism?
If so, it was a subversive aim. For us, this book is less about the sacred in architecture than about the revival, in architectural theory, of paradoxes rooted in Christian thought — and that’s in spite of the fact that a quarter of the contributors are Jewish. Stephen Games teaches in the Architecture school at the University of Kent
Blinded by a one-eyed man? Prime Minister Golda Meir with her persuasive Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan