The Tel Aviv Bubble

Kevin Drum deems it “telling that a full-blown Israeli zealot like Marty Peretz now apparently finds only a tiny part of the country truly agreeable”:

The part of Israel that remains perfect to Martin Peretz is vanishingly small. But it does still exist, tangibly enough that you could trace its perimeter on a map of Tel Aviv: the ethnically mixed neighborhoods of Jaffa, the impeccably preserved Bauhaus downtown, the symphony halls and dance theaters, the intersections that still hold traffic, tense and honking, at 2:30 in the morning, the cosmopolitan sidewalk cafés that make real the old liberal dream. Peretz, the longtime owner and editor-in-chief of The New Republic, has been living here since October, and he reported recently that he has seen performances by the progressive dance company Pilobolus, the Cape Town Opera, and a Malian jazz group, which drew “a very hip crowd.” The sections of Tel Aviv he inhabits are so secular, Peretz says with relish, that in his first six weeks he saw exactly “eleven guys with Orthodox clothes. That’s it.”

By contrast, “When he visits Jerusalem—’a very poor city’—he notices ultra-Orthodox boys running everywhere, and he disdains the sanctimony of the very religious and the ‘superpatriotism’ of the Russian immigrants.”

I don’t want to totally discount the Peretz/Goldberg/Drum thesis that the haredi and the Russians are changing the face of Israel in somewhat distressing ways. But I do think it’s often useful to check these aperçus about Israeli society against other more banal countries. How much does my dad get around in the United States of America? Well, you could chart its perimeter on a map of New York City. It doesn’t include Staten Island. It doesn’t include the Bronx. It doesn’t include Queens. It doesn’t include Brooklyn. It really doesn’t include the Upper West Side, either. There’s a swathe of the city ranging from his apartment on East 79th Street down to the Village where we used to live and where his office is, and that includes the theaters and Madison Square Garden in between. I guess he also goes to Mets games.

There’s a certain parochialism that’s common to cosmopolitan intellectual types in all the major cosmopolitan cities of the world. I’m not sure there’s really anything unusual about Tel Aviv in this regard.

What’s unusual, of course, is that there are several millions Palestinian Arabs subject to the jurisdiction of the State of Israel who are nonetheless not citizens of the State of Israel or even legal residents with some kind of regularized immigration status. That’s very unusual and it’s both a huge injustice and a giant practical problem. But that aside (“how did you like the play, Mrs Lincoln”) a lot of this other stuff strikes me as pretty ordinary.