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.
Returning from a meeting of historians, I’ve been thinking about the Israeli - Palestinian conflict in historical terms. Israeli settlers in the West Bank are reminiscent of the movement of settlers to our own Indian frontier until the frontier was closed in the 20th century. Settler conflict with Native Americans over land and atrocities on both sides was continual. This isn’t the whole story but it is important.
Last week the Supreme Court decided, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, that Hobby Lobby, and other closely held profit making corporations, could claim religious exemptions from federal law, and they could withhold some forms of contraception from their health plans.[i]
The Court decided yesterday in Harris v. Quinn that at least some of the employees who work under a collective bargaining agreement don't have to share in the costs of negotiating that agreement. The Court says it violated their First Amendment rights. How many unions and employees it will apply to is still unclear but this is not the first move the Roberts Court has made in that direction.[i] Sometimes the patterns matter much more than the individual decisions, whether good or bad.
Let me try to put some things in perspective. I spent a decade in the Legal Service Program which provides lawyers for the poor, first as a store-front lawyer, then in the management of programs or running a clinic. One of the recurring issues we used to debate was whether to focus on what we called “Band-Aids” or systemic change.
A recent headline read, “Slow Common Core.” For quite a long time there has been a backlash against anything viewed as “too tough” for our kids. That is a tendency of living in a democracy. Anything tough for our kids is bad but at the same time they have to get a fabulous education that will equip them for life’s challenges. So the solution is teachers who can make everyone learn painlessly. And therefore, if anything goes wrong it’s the teacher’s fault, not the student’s.
This station is an oasis of sanity in a suicidal world.
So many people refuse to let the reality of climate change seep into their comfortable thoughts. But sealing their minds against reality will not keep it at bay. Changes are coming, and the more we close our minds and eyes the more serious it will be. We and our children and grandchildren are the hostages to the foolishness of our generation. This has got to stop.