Dawn of an Albatross

In every generation the dovish wing of the Labor Party is blessed with a tender politician who mumbles nice words; the poet who, like the albatross, the stately sea bird in the well-known poem by Baudelaire, is hobbled by its huge visionary wings once it lands on the deck and whose ludicrous walk makes it the victim of abuse by coarse sailors.

In every generation the dovish wing of the Labor Party is blessed with a tender politician who mumbles nice words; the poet who, like the albatross, the stately sea bird in the well-known poem by Baudelaire, is hobbled by its huge visionary wings once it lands on the deck and whose ludicrous walk makes it the victim of abuse by coarse sailors.

Is it any wonder, then, that the latest albatross, Yossi Beilin, the descendant of a splendid line of albatrosses - such as Shimon Peres, for example - chose to found his new movement in a place that abuts the expanses of azure, far from the impoliteness of the abusing crowd? The images from the Hangar in Tel Aviv harbor that were screened on "Six O'Clock with Oshrat Kotler" (Channel Two, Monday, 6 P.M.) showed a grandiose production staged for an audience of a thousand people (financing by "good citizens"). There he inaugurated a movement called "Shahar" - an acronym, meaning "dawn," standing for peace, education and - I didn't manage to hear what the "r" stood for because the picture cut to a group of demonstrators carrying signs reading "Run, poodle, run," a vulgar parody on the equally vulgar slogan of the new movement, "Run, Beilin, run [for prime minister]."

The slogan was in fact the subject of a parody a few weeks ago on Channel Two's satirical program "Only in Israel": A small, bespectacled fellow is out for a stroll with his girl, when a group of hooligans attacks him and the frightened girlfriend screams "Run, Beilin, run!" It just goes to show you that no matter what Beilin does, and no matter where he runs, he will suffer shame and abuse. Let's admit that he brought it on himself a bit when he chose to announce that "We're taking responsibility by changing the leadership" (as the banner on the stage declared) in such a quintessentially Tel Aviv venue of restaurants that are so expensive you could bust.

Pivotal in America

The extraordinarily popular French television host Bernard Pivot came to New York in his latest incarnation as a researcher of Francophonia. On the face of it, what could be farther from things Francophone than New York, the capital of Anglophonia? Pivot, though, presented some of Manhattan's top cultural luminaries (nearly all of them Jewish) speaking French and steeped in the French tradition (France 2, Sunday, 11:40 P.M.).

The most impressive of them was the writer Paul Auster, who received Pivot in his small home in Brooklyn and told him, in French, about the three and a half years he spent in Paris during the 1960s. At the time, he decided to translate some of the leading French surrealist poetry into English (to support himself, he gave English lessons and translated Simenon). Years later, the protagonist in one of his books would be a translator who wears himself out producing a Sisyphean translation of the memoirs of Chateaubriand. Auster admits that he needs Paris from time to time in order to feel day-to-day life; whereas New York infuses him with the energy to write. New York is tolerant of minorities, in contrast to Paris, which is seething with racist violence. In the defense of France, Pivot pointed out that the lady of the Statue of Liberty is French!

Gary Tinterow, the curator of the French department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explained to Pivot the advantages of a non-state museum, which is less bound than its counterparts in France to considerations of "heritage," and which makes it possible to sell paintings from the collection and purchase others in their place.

And what an energetic Jewish woman is Annette Insdorf, an expert on the films of Francois Truffaut. She was born in Paris to Polish survivors of the Holocaust who chose to live in New York, but gave their daughter a French education. The two last guests, poets John Ashbery and Ron Padgett, complained that in America no one invites them to television talk shows, so it's good that someone came from France to remind them that they exist.

Einstein's sausages

It is not only those with a non-Jewish brain - that is, stupid goys - who believe in the superior intelligence of the Jews; that belief is also well-rooted among the very people who possess the supposedly superior intelligence. To discuss this paradoxical question, three wise men were invited to "Tonight with Gabi Gazit" (Channel Two, Monday, 11:30 P.M.): Zvi Yanai, former editor of the journal "Mahshavot" (Thoughts), Uri Gottholf, a mathematics teacher (many people consider mathematics a subject that "activates the brain") and Eran Katz, author of a new book entitled "The Jewish Brain," which deals with study techniques but which, as its title suggests, tries to offer an explanation of its own of the superiority of Jewish intelligence.

Was it the hairsplitting of the Gemara that made us what we are? Or was it some sort of Jewish gene? Perhaps the social pressure to succeed? And how did all this disappear in Israel? Behind the discussants was a statistical chart showing the high rate of Jews among recipients of the Nobel Prize and the like, and a photograph showing Albert Einstein writing the theory of relativity on a blackboard - supposedly the most overwhelming proof of the superiority of the Jewish brain.

But what are we to make of such proofs, which view the human brain, and the Jewish brain in particular, as a kind of sophisticated mechanical apparatus for the manufacture of thoughts, just as there are machines to manufacture sausages, for example, and ostensibly the sausages of Einstein and of other Jews who enriched science and culture are better. At the conclusion of the discussion, Eran Katz recited random numbers he was able to memorize instantly with the help of one of the techniques that he explains in his book.

Fraternity of moderates

If this were England, the former chief of the Jerusalem District Police, Arye Amit, would have marched on Tuesday in the procession marking the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and she would have waved to him in a hand enclosed in a glove, and then later, in the pub, he would have told the boys how he had stood close to her and that for sure she noticed him.

In Israel, where the hierarchies of intelligence are no less distorted than those in the social realm, retired senior police officer Arye Amit has acquired the status of political pontificator on television - a moderate pontificator, it should be said, one of those utilitarian moderates who know that you can get a lot more with moderation than you can with extremism, until the circumstances change and the iron fist of the former lawman are exposed.

The law is the law, right? Amit is one of the entrepreneurs of the new Jewish construction project in the heart of the Arab village of Jabel Mukaber, adjacent to Jerusalem's East Talpiot neighborhood. The project is as legal as you can get and will also bring prosperity to the residents of the village.

A guest on Channel One's 7:30 P.M. current events program on Monday is Mohammed Awissat, a lawyer from the village, who complains about the injustice and arbitrariness that the project entails. Amit does not reply. He is already at the site, with the bulldozers and the dust, pontificating about the tourists who will flock to the new development. Similarly, Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, has no doubt that everything is legal and has been authorized by all the necessary committees. As in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud and as in the new neighborhood of Har Homa in south Jerusalem, the Arabs are not against Jewish building - they are being incited by the left.

If we were in England, retired senior police officer Arye Amit would perhaps receive from the queen an honorary medal for his contribution to tourism in the village of Jabel Mukaber. This is Israel, so he gets only a legal pat on the shoulder from Ehud Olmert, which is worth - hail, moderate fraternity! - more than all the honors in the world.

Queening it

As though intoxicated, I spent the whole day (Sky News, Tuesday) watching the golden jubilee parade for Queen Elizabeth II. No Arafat, no Sharon, only wave upon wave of Britons in all their communities and camps, who waved with yellow and blue and red ribbons, and an elderly lady in a red suit (earlier, for the luncheon at Guildhall, she wore a blue suit) leading them and queening it over them by virtue of the fact that she was born into a certain family, and her entire justification for being there boils down to her birth. It's a totally arbitrary justice, flagrantly unjust, and yet bound with stronger ties of consent than any other type of governmental system. When you have above you a monarch who is neither right nor left but simply sits there because that's what nature and birth ordained, you don't have to go around turning up your nose all the time in protest at the government. You can wave the national flag without feeling that you are waving it for the right wing. You can watch a flyover by the Air Force without feeling that you are a militarist.

A monarchical system also exempts its subjects from agonizing over all the injustices it is doing in its colonies and settlements, and over the massacres and the detention camps: There is someone to expiate those transgressions for them. In a monarchy one can declare, as the Archbishop of Canterbury did in all naturalness as he emerged from the luncheon with the queen, that Britain must remain a Christian land yet also show tolerance for Islam. It is the monarchy that made it possible for Britain to forgo its dream of empire and return to itself without enduring great shocks. And it all happened during the time of that woman in the red suit.