Some hostility toward Israel is just anti-Semitic. Some hostility toward Israel is Palestinian nationalism. Some is sympathy for the Palestinians generated by an enormously successful PR campaign. And some is self-inflicted. But all of us should be concerned. The policies of the Israeli government don’t represent me – nor should they. But they affect me.
America decided to deal with the Native Americans by war and exile. It took three centuries, as succeeding generations of Indians realized that the White Man would honor no treaty and give them no peace.
I got on line the other night to see what to expect at the voting booth today. We have all been hearing about the primary races for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, although polls tell us that lots of people haven’t heard of Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu, or if they’ve heard the names don’t know why. That’s clearly not true of WAMC listeners. But what else is on the ballot? Actually plenty.
We are increasingly being forced to live in an immoral world. The radical wrong has hijacked the very idea of morality so that it no longer has anything to do with helping our neighbor. We're not supposed to lift a collective finger for our fallen fellow citizens. Nothing for the unemployed, nothing for people who have been defrauded out of their homes, nothing for unions, and no taxes from those who benefit most from America's wealth – and who are coincidentally disinvesting in America.
There’s been news recently about a decline in gas prices. Hallelujah? Or oh my God! Decline in prices means more people will build energy inefficient homes and invest in gas guzzling machinery or businesses. Some will benefit, but the world will suffer. How do we accommodate those inconsistent objectives?
A panel at a national meeting of historians I attended was devoted to the relation between the study of history and STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. One speaker explained that practical skills were widespread early in our history. Those skills, like surveying, sailing, or building canals, required both hands-on skills and the ability to perform calculations and experiment. American surveyors, navigators and builders were doing what we now call science and math, though they rarely got the credit. One surveyor wrote to a Frenchman around 1814 that no one was paying for astronomy, and no one was paying him for his astronomical investigations and calculations. But the speaker then pointed out that this gentleman was in fact being paid by the government for surveying and that his surveys required the astronomical observations he was making. He was doing the work, though not being recognized for it as his French friend would have been.
For the last few days my wife and I attended the semi-annual meeting of the International Society for Iranian Studies. It was held in Montreal this time. Several panels were devoted to Iranian foreign policy. At one of them, scholars outlined Iran’s strategic isolation and the limited choices available to it.
George Gershwin wrote “I’ve got plenty of nothing, and nothing’s plenty for me.” But sometimes it seems like politics is about the art of squeezing or taking as much as possible from people who have nothing at all – the villainy of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood story but in modern dress.
Listeners and readers of my commentary know that I have spoken out against what I believe is Israeli misbehavior. So I get flooded with one-sided petitions condemning Israeli behavior. To make myself completely clear, I see merit and fault on both sides. I will not sign one-sided petitions.
I am reminded of my conversation with a Palestinian student who argued with me that Palestinians have the right to kill Israelis, any Israelis, military or civilian, and they have no right to shoot back, only to accept their fate. I questioned him to make sure I was hearing him accurately. What he was making clear was the attitude, or brain-washing, that dehumanized the other side. That is the attitude we have to fight against. There is plenty of sin to go around, plenty of decent behavior to admire, but I will not participate in the dehumanization of either side to this controversy. And no just solution will result from seeing the crimes only on one side. Peace is universal and bilateral.
And that’s the problem. Public opinion works like a pendulum – it swings but it doesn’t stop. No doubt my commentary on the war in the Middle East is ineffective, not only because I am just one small voice among many, but because I am trying to stop the pendulum, even while believing it virtually impossible to do. I pray for leaders with the wisdom to bring this debacle to an end, but leaders are political and what they see is one-sided passion, not the cool calculation which might calm this situation down for the benefit of both sides.
There are repeated stories about some Israelis and some Palestinians coming together trying to humanize the other and bring a peaceful attitude. There are combined orchestras, movie and television productions, poetry and study groups, and individual people reaching out. But their efforts seem quixotic. The great mass of Israelis and Palestinians never get to know each other on human terms. That is partly the cultural consequence of a part of the world in which tolerance is seen as leaving each group to be educated by their own. Jews go to school with Jews, Palestinians with Palestinians, and there is no one in either set of schools to say this is libelous, that’s not true, it didn’t happen that way. So we get the same hyperbole that we get in any crowd, or mob. To be fair the Israeli press is much more open and much more contentious about these issues than our own and I believe than the Palestinian press. But the constituency of people, on both sides, who can see the other’s humanity and support peace, support it through adversity, is small.
I commented last week that whenever peace looms, someone kills someone on the other side and in the process kills peace as well. Of course we have negotiated peace while hostilities were still going on in various parts of the world. But in the Middle East everyone insists that the other lay down arms, and that the other is responsible for every weapon used, especially when there is discussion about peace. So it becomes possible for anyone and everyone to veto peace via political murder. It’s as if the Archduke of Austria is killed every week in the Middle East and the governments of Israel and Palestine see no alternative to renewed fighting – the murderers run both states.
Somehow, I don’t claim to know how, we have to develop a movement for peace, for mutual respect, not for taking sides.