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November 30, 2020 1:41 pm

Memories and Expectations of Antony Blinken

avatar by Martin Peretz

Opinion

The New Republic staff with a young Antony Blinken. TOP: Left, Chuck Lane; Third from Left, Leon Wieseltier; Fourth from Left, Rick Hertzberg; Fourth from Right, Antony Blinken; Second from Right, Laura Obolensky. BOTTOM: Left, Dorothy Wickenden; Second from left, Mort Kondracke; Third from Left, Marty Peretz; Third from Right, Charles Krauthammer; Second from Right, Mike Kinsley; Right, Ann Hulbert. Photo: courtesy of Martin Peretz.

An extended metaphor from Meir Blinkin, the immigrant Yiddish writer, born in 1879 in Pereyeslav, the Ukraine, dead at 37 in New York where mourning throngs ushered him towards his last address:

Chava was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that life was really beautiful, full of promise; life never betrayed those who hoped and believed…

But…

When Chava finally fell asleep she dreamed she had come into possession of a marvelous violin and that all unexpectedly the main string, the one which produces the tenderest, most     heartfelt tones, had snapped.

This was the tale of a curt marriage. But this also was Blinkin’s life — or the lives of his neighbors on the lower east side of New York. The next generation was someone whom I’d met when I was doing “good works” for the Jerusalem Foundation, actually as chairman. He called himself M.H. Blinken (with him came a new spelling of the name) when, as now, two initials as a first name translated into “wealthy man” or “important man.” I recall meeting him in Palm Beach — though I’m not certain — and collecting a hefty five-figure gift for that philanthropy and then having to listen to him criticize Teddy Kollek, an old line Zionist and mayor of Jerusalem, “the city of gold” — or perhaps more aptly “the city of God” — but of a relatively dovish persuasion. Dovish but tough, if you get what I mean, which I don’t quite.

Tony, as I call him (but I haven’t seen him for a handful of years), comes from an intriguing family… at least the part of it I know. That is, I don’t know his father’s side of the family —Donald’s — but I do know his mother’s, Judith. And his sister’s, Leah. This was really a case of the paterfamilias, a family whose character and color somehow descended and was etched by the father, in this case Samuel, who cut the cloth of a large part of the Paris Jewish community, more of the North Africans than the Eastern European and the old-line French, the descendants of the consistoire of Napoleon, the sanhedrin.

I recall visiting the Pisars when Leah was applying to Harvard and happening in on a conversation about Sam asking prime minister Mitterand to write a letter of recommendation for his daughter. I stuck my head into the confab, arguing that Mitterand’s words would not help — how well did he know the young lady? — and might only raise questions like: why does she need the PM to write for her anyway? But Pisar had survived Dachau and Maidanek: his words did carry weight. Even perhaps with his daughter.

I met Antony Blinken when he was at Harvard but got to know him reasonably well only when he came on board The New Republic. One fact I learned quickly was that he was very smart, even brilliant, and if he believed in something and you didn’t, he could argue you down with alacrity and depth. We spoke then only a tiny bit about Israel and the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians. But once in a lunchtime discussion around the question — at least as I recall it — he mustered the facts of history which in my view settled the argument.

Of course, Blinken worked for both vice president Biden and president Obama. I trust Biden almost as a righteous gentile Zionist… not that he grasps everything that he should; nor do I. So, yes, even Zionists can be wrong, very wrong. Settling the land, especially all of the land that is left, will destroy even the practical possibilities of peace, even the possibilities of calm. But, from my point of view at least, Obama is hostile in principle to even those of us who believe in a two-state solution but recognize that the blame for its failure to materialize has, for 40 years and more, rested squarely with the Palestinian leadership. This is too concrete a view for Obama’s elevated, and incorrect, conception of liberalism as unifying all oppositions, with himself as the unifier. Israel must, somewhere, be to blame, and he and John Kerry found that “somewhere” in the fig leaf of the West Bank settlements.

I am, obviously, not encouraged that John Kerry is part of the Biden Administration — but I am encouraged that his purview is nowhere near the immediate interests of the Jewish state, except that the universe is the concern of every state, of everyone. Under Biden and Blinken, I do not hope for the axiomatic position of Trump and Kushner, a position I believe is probably the fastest way to peace in the long run. Anyway, the new administration is very different from the old and certainly more reflective. So, I do hope, actually expect from it savvy, responsibility, practicality when it comes to the question of Israel and the Palestinians, of Israel and the other Arabs (like the Saudis) — and I believe, especially under the guidance of Blinken, that’s what we will see and experience.

But I don’t hope or expect a 100% performance. And I have grave misgivings about the other issue of importance to Israel — Iran. Here the Biden administration confronts a choice: continue on some level the Trump policies of isolating the regime, or ease back into an approximation of the nuclear deal of 2015, Obama’s foreign policy “legacy,” by loosening sanctions. Already some signs point to Biden leaning the second way. There is talk that Rob Malley, Obama’s point-person for the Middle East, will reemerge in a Biden administration, and Malley is a supporter of rapprochement with the regime and quite frankly an antagonist — if not an enemy — of Israel. Dan Shapiro is certainly not an enemy but he believes that a lot of pressure on Israel is good for Israel — and his name is also being floated.

This means that Antony Blinken may face a choice of his own: stay with and support the Obama logic, or push for a more pragmatic and assertive approach to Iran that falls short of Trump’s hard line — be a “team” player, or use his capital with the incoming President to urge a tougher stance. If he chooses the former approach, Blinken will be doing no favors to Israel, the Iranian people, or the Middle East as a whole. And also no favor to the United States.

Martin Peretz was editor-in-chief of The New Republic from 1974 to 2013.

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