Mad Men on the Ambivalence of Zion

Not long ago, per Ta-Nehisi's advice, I started watching the first season of "Mad Men," and it's unbelievably smart, and then, in the episode entitled "Babylon," came the Goldblog bonus prize: The most intelligent discussion of Zionism I've ever seen on cable, basic or premium. The exchange is between Don Draper and Rachel Menken, the Jewish department store heiress. Here's some of it:

Rachel Menken: I'll say one thing about Israelis: don't cross them.

Donald Draper: Well those people at the meeting were definitely Zionists.

RM: Zion just means Israel. It's a very old name. I'm sorry, I'm not an expert on this and something feels strange about being treated like one... I don't know what I can say. I'm American. I'm really not very Jewish. If my mother hadn't died having me, I could have been Marilyn instead of Rachel and no one would know the difference.

DD: What is the difference?

RM: Look, Jews have lived in exile for a long time. First in Babylon and then all over the world -- Shanghai, Brooklyn -- and we've manage to make a go of it. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we thrive at doing business with people who hate us.

DD: I don't hate you.

RM: [with sarcasm] No, individuals are wonderful.

DD: That's not what I meant.

RM: I don't know. A country for 'those people,' as you call us, well, it seems very important.

DD: Then why aren't you there?

RM: My life is here. My grandfather came from Russia, now I have a store on 5th Avenue. I'll visit, but I don't have to live there. Just has to be. For me, it's more of an idea than a place.

DD: Utopia?

RM: Maybe. They taught us at Barnard about that word -- utopia. The Greeks had two meanings for it: eutopos meaning 'the good place' and outopos, meaning 'the place that cannot be.'