Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wrong To Be Right

I finally understand something about myself. And it only took – oh, I don’t know – 15, 20 years (give or take).

I have long prided myself on not fitting any pre-determined political labels, of being able to see and appreciate many sides of every issue, and of having many friends on both the right and left ends of the political spectrum, most of whom I can (and often do) hold very spirited, yet respectful discussions and disagreements on politics, and our friendships have remained in tact – no matter how misguided and downright wrong my friends may be.

What I have not understood until very recently is why I have been so happy to not fall into any of the labels, and why it is such a source of personal pride that I don’t really associate myself with any particular political view point.

The epiphany finally hit me in a Facebook group that a good friend of mine started up. The group is meant as a platform for fun, and truly has been a lot of fun, but the nature of the group primarily has been attracting Zionists with very right-wing political views.

At the risk of alienating all of my right-wing friends (in the interest of fair play, I’ll alienate the left in my next blog), I have found that for the vast majority of people holding right-wing political views, that this almost automatically goes hand-in-hand with holding racist views against Arabs. I can’t and won’t join them in this.

A couple of months ago, I posted this blog recounting a lesson that I learned at a very young age about racism (against it, not for it). While that particular instance dealt with racism based on skin color, the impression it made on my development was tremendous. The lesson was driven home even deeper when we moved the Washington DC area to North Carolina in the summer before 7th grade, and instead of my Jewish Day School, I was one of the extreme minority of Jews in the public junior high school. Anti-Semitism wasn’t overly rampant or wide-spread in the school, but it was there and it was really the first time I had ever faced it.

Between the lesson from early on in life mentioned above, plus the upbringing I had with my parents plus the experiences of anti-Semitism I was able to internalize a couple of very important realities.

The first of which was to never be ashamed of who or what I am.

The second was to always relate to people as individuals. Period. There is no such thing as universally “Jewish” traits, or Arab traits, Chinese, Italian, Black, Female, whatever.

Putting people together under an “umbrella group trait” is refusing to acknowledge the individual spark, and the individual potential that exists in each and every one of us.

This is what the Nazis did (and what many people still do) to Jews and we see where that has taken us. It is what the Civil Rights movement has been fighting from being done to Blacks. It has been the basis of countless hate crimes against even more countless races, religions and nationalities. It has been the basis of sexism and misogynism which even the more “advanced” countries of the world are still struggling to combat.

Thus, I find myself feeling very uncomfortable much of the time in the Israeli right-wing circles. Because too often, these friends and these circles make what they pass off as “political” statements which are really statements against Arabs – as a people, the Arab people on the whole.

I can understand – to a point – where this comes from. In terms of political solutions to the conflict here, several of my views are not so different from those of my right-wing friends.

I agree that Israel is the Jewish homeland, that we have an historical connection to this land and an inherent right to it. We also have a legal right to the land because the early Zionist settlers in the late-1800’s and early 1900’s either bought tracts of land which were owned by people or paid exorbitant fees to the Ottoman authorities who were controlling the land (there was no “Palestinian” entity at that or any other time).

Beyond all that, Israel received it’s “final” vote of legitimacy when the United Nations passed the Partition Plan in November 1947 (which was rejected by the Arab nations) thus ending the British Mandate and clearing the path for the Declaration of the Jewish State in May 1948.

I also believe that the so-called “occupation” and “apartheid” mistreatment of the poor defenseless Palestinians is a huge PR victory for the Palestinian Authority much more than it is a reality.

This is not to say that Israel has been completely blameless for our handling of the situation, and mistakes have certainly been made by our so-called “leaders”, but the picture that we see and hear painted internationally of the “plight of the Palestinians” really bears a very minimal resemblance reality on the ground.

So, many of my political views really are pretty in sync with those of my friends on the right, but as I said earlier – only to a point, and here is where I will probably disenfranchise many of my right-wing friends.

I have nothing inherently against Palestinians or Arabs. I honestly don’t.

I hold the leadership of the Palestinians responsible for their peoples’ plight. Billions of dollars have been poured into the PA since the Camp David accords were signed in 1993, which have not gone to the Palestinian people for infrastructure, education, technology, jobs, etc. but rather has gone to weapons, ammunition, and the international public relations campaign (not to mention, of course, the millions that have somehow found their way into the private bank accounts of many of the Palestinian leadership).

The Palestinian leadership has purposely (IMHO) kept their own people living in absolute squalor and poverty because otherwise the world would not feel the need to continue pouring money into the Palestinian coffers nor would they need to continue blaming Israel for the disgraceful condition that people are forced to live.

We all see the "polls" and "surveys" which show how overwhelmingly the Palestinians support suicide attacks, death to Israelis/Jews, the martyrdom for their suicide attackers, etc. But what we don't necessarily see is how brainwashed the average "man in the street" is by their so-called leadership. The average person has very limited (and directed) access to news, and a very skewed view of both the complexity of the history between Jews and Arabs and the current situation.

While these people are kept in poverty, what their leaders do show them of Israel and of Jews is the success and relative wealth which we enjoy and their own complete dependency on Israel for work and for income. The Palestinian leadership has managed to break all of the hopes and dreams of their own people while painting Israel as so completely responsible for their reality that of course the average Palestinian will support whatever it takes to fight back against us. The average person there feels that he has nothing to lose in going for proverbial broke against those responsible for his situation.

So why wouldn't that person support suicide attacks and martyrdom for those who undertake them?

But – and this is a very big but – I refuse to see this as a reflection on all Arabs, or even on all Palestinians. It is a reflection on their own failed leadership. It is the responsibility of the Palestinian leadership to look out for the welfare of the Palestinian people, just as it is the first and foremost responsibility of the Israeli leadership to protect the interests of the Israeli people.

While I can find an agreement with many on the right for the political intricacies of the very complex situation here, I cannot, and will not be party to the demonization of the entire Arab people in doing so.

I don’t need to be. I feel that I can advocate what is right for Israel – both in terms of being in our best interest and in terms of taking the morally right correct course of action, without falling back on the need to paint every Arab as a blood-thirsty hate-filled monster that needs to be destroyed. We don’t need to rely on bullshit to prove out

I don’t know where that middle ground is, but I believe with all my heart that there is one. And I hope and pray that we can find it one day, before it’s too late.


  1. Who put these leaders in power and what do the average people do who live in these areas?

  2. and dont think you can get rid of me that easy :-P

  3. for some reason I cant get in my group to respond that is why I did it must have sabotaged my computer!

  4. It's not as though they have a democracy and in which when the people aren't happy with their leaders they can replace them. And even when they do have some semblance of "elections" the people have been so brainwashed by their leaders that they automatically attribute their crappy situation to Israel rather than where it really belongs.

    I can't get into Facebook from my laptop eiher - but I'm not yet ready to get rid of you - you still have my Bathroom Readers... ;-)

  5. Asher, there is no such thing as Arab racism here, hating somebody because of his race. Maybe in Germany and New Hampshire, but not here in Israel. Sure, there are "white" Jewish Israelis here, but there are also black and a wide spectrum of coffee-colored Jewish Israelis. Arabs and Jews are among the Semitic peoples.

    What you are describing here is not racism, it is a combination of hating the enemy plus an all-inclusive definition of who is the enemy.

    Three important facts on the ground are, 1)there is an Arab enemy, and 2)there are Arabs who are not our enemies, and 3)there is no clean way to discern between them, especially since there are so many cases where someone who did not look like an enemy ended up acting like or speaking like one. Just think how freaked out the parents of the kids who's bus driver went on a yeshiva shooting spree - it could have been their kids, whom can you trust?

    The people whom you are incorrectly calling racist have decided that, since there is an Arab enemy, all Arabs will be considered enemies. Once a person is perceived as an enemy, it is unreasonable to expect them to be treated with political correctness by those who perceive them as such. They will be related to as bad guys.

    Do some people use too inclusive a definition of who is the enemy? In my opinion, yes. But I respect them for trying to fulfill a religious injunction, “Ohavei Hashem sinu ra -Lovers of Hashem: hate evil!" When coping with the enemy, I dosen't really matter who was brainwashed and who has a full heart. It is irrelevant to those blown up if the bomber was just running away from a bad shidduch (marriage match) or had jihad at heart.

    As for our brainwashing, on the other hand, I do really care. We are a generation that has been taught not to hate, and taught to think that someone who hates must be wrong and deserving of a bad label, such as racist. I am not surprised that the main group of Jews you perceive as racists are in a group whose chief goal in life is “Ohavei H’.” They are trying to overcome the incorrect teaching never to hate. Are they doing it perfectly? Are they fulfilling the mitzvah "Ohavei H' sinu ra” exactly as it should be? Probaably not, but they are tying to fulfill something without a good teacher and without a good role model.

    But they are worthy of our respect and love. Personally, although this might be a Bruria-inspired semantic exercise, I prefer to emphasize hatred of evil itself, rather than the evil-doer. This allows me compassion for the plight of young women and girls who would rather die than marry the man chosen for them by their fathers, while still allowing me to deplore any and all violence perpetrated against Jews for being Jewish, and against Israelis for being Israeli.

    But regarding the difference in opinions of Rebbi Meir and his wife Bruria, when I point out to my son that Bruria emphasizes the interpretation “May all sin be removed from the land,” my son points out that an effective way to do so would be through Rebbi Meir’s interpretation (which is also the literal interpretation), “May all sinners be removed from the land.” He’s got a point. As long as we allow even a potential sinner to exist we allow for the possibility of sin. But where do you draw the line?

    Rav Kook teaches that every nation has its purpose. It’s not by accident that the Arab enemy is, at the same time so dangerous and so hard to define. Perhaps it is to force us not to simplistic, not when we are judging an Arab, and not when we are judging a fellow Jew.

    For some reason, I keep thinking of the Bedouin IDF soldier who was killed on the same day as Avraham David. He died serving our country. And yet, his family asked for his name not to be published, so they would not suffer at the hands of those who would consider the young man a traitor. It just doesn’t get more sloppy than that.