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Ellis Weiner

Ellis Weiner

Posted: July 31, 2006 01:23 PM

A Daring Solution to the Middle East Dilemma


Once again, as the cycle of violence resumes in the Middle East, people of good will search for solutions. All the usual tactics, it seems, have failed: diplomacy; military action; UN patrols; democratic elections; invasions and occupations; withdrawals and cease-fires and officially signed accords. Prisoner exchanges. Waiting-and-seeing. Doing nothing. Doing something. Threatening. Asking nicely. Spending money. Withholding money. Praying.

Clearly, the situation requires fresh, innovative thinking--one example of which arrives in the form of "a squadron of yogic flyers" levitating over the Sea of Galilee to "throw 'a shield of invincibility' around the Jewish state," according to Yahoo News of Wednesday, July 16. Apparently a team of Transcendentally Meditating Israelis seeks to acquire the 265 like-minded (and I mean minded) TM adepts they believe necessary to protect Israel by hovering, in some sort of invisible trans-physical-etheric-astral form, over the entire country.

It's a start. But it may not be enough.

Now consider the possibility, common in such situations of stalemate, that the strife between Israel and her neighbors might benefit from the introduction of some major new element--a mediator, a catalyst, or some other paradigm-shifting factor that has until now been entirely absent. Of course, some believe that this "major new element" should consist of several large-yield nuclear bombs. "Glass over the entire Middle East and start again," is their (never entirely facetious) proposal.

Call me sentimental, but I think that too drastic a course of action. Still, things have reached a pretty pass when otherwise reasonable people speak wistfully about nuking millions. Israel has been like a transplanted kidney suffering through 60 years of rejection by its host body. What to do now? More drugs? Better drugs?

Or how about bringing in a whole new kidney?

To address Israel's difficulties, we might begin by looking for points of comparison in our own experience. Is there any social or religious group in the U.S. remotely similar to the Jews of Israel in their physical isolation within a larger geographic area, their cultural otherness vis a vis their surrounding neighbors, and their aggressive ethos of self-sufficiency and group identity?

Well, now that you mention it, yes.

Consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, of whose everyday life we get something of a glimpse in the new HBO series "Big Love." Or, at least, we think we do. Then again, pay-cable's version of Mormon polygamy is embodied by the attractive, slim, and elegant Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin. Whereas photos of actual polygamists reveal that the men look like Uriah Heep, the women look like the offensive front line of the 1952 Green Bay Packers, and all are wanted for questioning by the Fashion Police.

These, we are entitled to suppose, are the Hasidim of Mormonism, the hard-right extremists protecting the sacred flame of whatever it is they believe. But even the mainstream adherents of "LDS" are, in an American context, unusual. They send out missionaries to, like, Malaysia. They stockpile groceries and don't drink. Their temples (at least from the outside) resemble fairy-tale castles from a 1950s Disney animated feature. Their Bible is not, in fact, the Bible, but the Book of Mormon.

It is not too much to suggest, then, that the Mormon Church is almost as anomalous within "the Christian nation" of the U.S. as is Israel within its Arab and Muslim environs--an observation which leads to the following surprising--and tempting!--suggestion:

The Jews in Israel and the Mormons in the state of Utah should trade places. All Mormons go to Israel. All Jewish Israelis go to Utah.

It is a bold and ambitious plan, although two criticisms immediately come to mind. One is that the logistical and legal difficulties it entails would be almost insurmountable. The other is that it's fucking insane.

To the first we might reply that progress is never without its cost. To the second we could say, Is it really? Is it "crazy"? Or is it just crazy enough to work?

Certainly, if only at first, neither group will welcome this idea. To the Jews, Israel is the Promised Land (although you have to wonder about a Promiser who omits mention of six decades of hostility, terrorism, and tsurris). As for LDS, they are understandably fond of their homes, their communities, and their state, which for all intents and purposes they own.

So we'd have to sell both sides on a deal that is, from the standpoint of reasonable political discourse, totally nuts. But isn't that what the situation mandates? When all else fails, what else is there but the totally nuts? What the world needs now (pace Huffpost contributor Burt Bacharach) isn't love, sweet love, but lunatic schemes that shatter precedent and make everyone and his brother go, "Huh?" So let's try it on for size.

Consider how this daring suggestion addresses no fewer than ten (10) fundamental categories of religious and national experience and, in so doing, solves "the Middle East problem" once and for all. (Note: As in a standard contract, the section "titles" that follow are for convenience only, and are not to be construed as possessing legal significance.)

1. SAFETY AND SOVEREIGNTY, SORT OF: The Mormons, who already have their own state, would probably be thrilled to have their own country. The Jews, who for all of history have wanted a safe and secure place, would find it in Utah--indeed, it would give a whole new meaning to the term "Jewish state." The Palestinians, most of whom are Muslim but a substantial minority of whom is Christian, would in any case find co-existence with Mormon Christians infinitely easier than with the departed Jews, smoothing the way to a peaceful, secure Israel.

2. MATCHING DESERT EXPERTISE: Both the Jews, with their ability to "make the desert bloom," and the Mormons, with their hardy pioneer history, are old hands at living in arid conditions. Each would find the transition to their new homes easy and natural.

3. IDENTICAL BODIES OF SALTY WATER: This congruence is perhaps the most striking and persuasive of the entire list. Israel features the Dead Sea; Utah boasts the Great Salt Lake. What are these, if not the only two bodies of water on Earth that were obviously separated at birth? Thus, Jews and Mormons alike would find their new adjacent body of unbelievably salty water much like their old.

4. WET VS. DRY: Jews drink alcohol, and so will naturally feel at home in the U.S. Mormons don't, and thus will as easily fit in among teetotalling Muslims.

5. NEIGHBORS ALREADY FAMILIAR: Muslims, or at least many Arab countries, will have no difficulty with the (officially renounced but still ongoing) Mormon practice of polygamy. (Talk about "Big Love"--King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has four wives, seven sons, and fifteen daughters.) And everyone knows that a large portion of the Jews in Israel are, by now, transplanted Americans anyway. Thus each group will find its new neighbors both familiar and reassuringly accepting.

6. CULTURAL ADVANCEMENT FOSTERED: Mormonism is relatively new. Its sacred book is the only one of the world's great religious texts to be originally published (in English) in the U.S., not counting Dianetics. It is not unfair, then, to suggest that Mormon cultural history is--quite understandably, of course--somewhat limited, and lacking in the legitimacy and gravitas of those of faiths founded millennia ago in the Middle East. This (perfectly reasonable) deficit would be ameliorated by immersing the LDS church in the ancient surroundings and Biblical atmosphere of Eretz Yisroel. As for the Jews, one can argue (per "Diasporism," as advanced by the fictional "Philip Roth" in Operation Shylock, by the non-fictional Philip Roth) that they attained their cultural zenith in Europe up until the advent of Nazism, and that it's been downhill ever since. That decline would be halted and reversed in the safe, free environs of the U.S.

7. GOOD NEWS RE WEATHER AND SPORTS: The climates of Utah and Israel are very similar, or at least close enough. And the Mormons would, as a nation, undoubtedly enjoy the opportunity to field their own Olympic and World Cup teams. The Israeli Jews would finally get a chance to ski.

8. DISTINCTIVE CONCERNS EQUALLY INDULGED: The Mormons, obsessed with genealogy, would in Israel find themselves in the ancient cradle of civilization, where things really are old (as opposed to relatively brand-new Utah). The Jews, obsessed with real estate and "land," would in Utah finally enjoy more than enough in which to spread out, sub-divide, etc. And, of course, the Jewish fondness for show biz and entertainment would find a ready outlet in filming this whole meshuggeh enterprise for reality television, creating the mother of all "trading spaces" shows.

9. SACRED STRUCTURES READY AND WAITING: Each group will leave behind a sacred structure which its replacement may sanctify and dedicate to the memory of its former inhabitants. The Jews can turn the Mormon Tabernacle into the Mormon Museum, as gesture of good faith and respect. The Mormons can turn the Wailing Wall into a similar monument. Or, to assert their independence of each other, the Mormons can raze the Wall and build a Tabernacle, while the Jews can convert the current Tabernacle into condos.

10. MESSIAH EQUALLY ACCOMODATED: Both groups, even after the "switch," will be free to await their own respective Messiahs. If Jesus returns to Israel, the Mormons will be right there to greet Him. If "Moshiach" comes, He will of course come to Israel as well, but we will assure that the Jews will have left behind all the necessary forwarding forms for mail and messiahs. If the "Anointed King" asks after the whereabouts of his people, the Mormons can simply say, "Oh, they moved to Utah."

There will of course be a host of subsidiary matters to address in a project of this scope. For example, the hotly contested city of Jerusalem should probably become an international protectorate--an idea that has been under consideration for years. The Jews--and the people of the U.S., for that matter--will have to decide whether or not to re-name their new home Jewtah. But these are mere details.

"Unworkable"? We won't know until we try. "Unrealistic"? Perhaps. "Offensive and insulting to one or both of the groups involved"? Then I apologize.

Does anyone have a better idea?