From the minute I picked up Sam Bagg’s column of April 10 (“The only peace”), I knew something was wrong. In the pit of my stomach I knew I didn’t like the direction of Bagg’s reasoning, and yet I found each of his points apparently incontestable. He indicts the culture of victimization and is right to do so. There is nothing more disgusting to my palette then two peoples scrambling to be seen as the ultimate victim in front of the court of world opinion.
He very prudently notes that no amount of huffing and puffing in the United States will change the facts on the ground. Anyone who has spent more than a fortnight in the Levant knows that to be the case. Bagg even hops on the increasingly popular “pro-Israel through tough love” bandwagon, a school represented by Roger Cohen on The New York Times’ Op-Ed page, Jimmy Carter on bookshelves and in Georgia peanut country, and the hip young lobbyists of J Street in Washington.
Only once I read Micah Fredman’s column of April 20 (“Marijuana and memorial”) did my thoughts crystallize more completely. Fredman did not mention in his column (and may be unaware) that the combination of Holocaust and hemp is by no means a pipe dream — it is in fact a political reality. This past election, for the first time in Israeli history, the Holocaust Survivor’s Party and the Green Leaf Youth Party joined forces to form the not-so-imaginatively-titled Holocaust Survivor’s-Green Leaf Youth Party. While the party was spectacularly unsuccessful in the general election, its unlikely creation reminds one of David Rousset’s piquant aphorism: “Normal men do not know that everything is possible.” This was true of the horrors of our last century; it will be true a fortiori of the horrors of the 21st.
How does this answer Bagg? What does it mean, that anything is possible? A hard question. It is more a matter of feeling than of facts. It means that the survivors of the greatest genocide in Europe’s bloody history are so desperate to be heard as to ally themselves with the dissolute smokers of South Tel-Aviv. It means that those Green Leaf Youth (not to mention the three other legalization splinter parties) see the struggle for marijuana reform as more winnable than that for a nation living in peace with her neighbors.
It means that only here, in the cities and suburbs of the West (and to those in the East who desperately wish they lived in the cities and the suburbs of the West) do things seem so simple as to be soluble through talking (or even through fighting, for that matter). Things are not soluble. The conflict does not need to end one way or another. The conflict will not end one way or another. “Pointing accusatory fingers here will never result in peace,” Bagg writes, but neither will the dulcet tones of reasonable discourse.
I write in the shadow of Holocaust Remembrance Day. I write in the shadow of operation Cast Lead. I write to remind us that as I once heard Shaul Mishal say to an audience at Yale, “peace may be the poetry of Israeli society, but the prose is something else entirely.” That is what bothered me so much about Bagg’s piece. It seemed too full of sensible American poetry, full of a hope for discourse and assumptions about good will and reasonability. What it lacked were the harsh meters of a world where anything is possible, and the air-raid sirens of Holocaust Remembrance Day are tempered by reggae rhythms and clouds of cannabis smoke.
I will be accused of being a pessimist, a defeatist, perhaps even of displaying callousness toward the human suffering that will inevitably continue as long as this conflict does. Fine. All I ask is that we recognize that the Holocaust came after the Enlightenment. That perpetual progress in technology does not mean that the whole world will one day live in the suburban idyll of Paramus. That in a world where anything is possible, hope as a word can be more painful in its naivete than encouraging in its humanity.
The writer is a junior in Davenport College.