Epistemology – studying the nature of knowledge — is one of those words that academics love and normal people don’t. But thinking about thinking challenges us to understand how people understand things, sensitizing us to assumptions and distortions. It is important to realize that the systematic, longstanding campaign to destroy and delegitimize Israel has created a zero-sum, dualistic epistemology. Israel’s enemies can see Israel only as bad; in reaction, some friends see Israel only as good. With a complex democracy in a dangerous neighborhood viewed through this good or evil, black and white lens, reality becomes distorted. The messiness of life, brimming with nuances and paradoxes, vanishes. While we may not need 50 shades of grey (for SO many reasons), we do need a broader, richer, deeper palette for portraying the Jewish State.
As 14,000 Israel lovers convened Sunday in Washington for AIPAC’s annual policy conference, critics rejoiced that the Big Bad Jewish Lobby was on the ropes, while still claiming the the only reason the US supports Israel is AIPAC. In exaggerating AIPAC’s power while minimizing it, the clashing caricatures rest on subtleties only bigots can believe. Yet, attending my second policy conference, as an invited speaker not a member, I am again struck by what I called last year the sweetness of AIPAC. Rather than the meeting of a political cabal, a Jewish Skull-and-Bones society, this is an all-American, red-white-and-blue-mixes-with-the-blue-and-white, Zionist hootenanny – in both meanings of that Scottish word: as a rousing, joyous, pro-Israel celebration and a true meeting of the minds.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent trip to Israel was triumphal. At a time when Israelis frequently feel criticized, boycotted, abandoned, delegitimized, he represented the silent majority of citizens in the world’s major democracies who not only accept Israel’s right to exist, but cherish Israel’s contribution to the world.
The American Jewish Left loves labeling AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, as doctrinaire, unrepresentative, and bullying – adjectives which often describe the Far Left itself. This “AIPACing” of AIPAC – caricaturing the broad bipartisan lobby as monolithic and intimidating — reflects another, more insidious, scheme. Increasingly, the barrage of Israel criticism is escalating hopes of ending Israel’s West Bank presence into dreams of ending Israel.
Israelis face two fundamental peace process puzzles: how to stay safe if Israel withdraws from any territories and how to remain ethical if Israel keeps all the territories? These issues require careful analysis and alternating leaps of faith – either trusting the Palestinians to stop seeking Israel’s destruction or imagining away the political and moral problems with undemocratically controlling 2.7 million Palestinians. The latest peace-processing should inspire weighty debates by various smart people explaining their particular security and moral calculus. Alas, instead of the nationwide seminar we need, we get a three-ring circus we could do without, with Secretary of State John Kerry demonized, Israel bullied, and sideshows promoted as main events.
When running for president in 2008, Barack Obama infuriated both Bill and Hillary Clinton by saying he dreamed of being a transformational leader like Ronald Reagan — and unlike Bill Clinton. Insulted by this challenge to their legacy, the Clintons accused their opponent of endorsing Reagan’s policies, when Obama was assessing impact not ideology. Indeed, Obama hopes to make as big a presidential footprint as the 40th American president, who was born 103 years ago today on 6 February 1911. Yet, as California celebrates “Ronald Reagan Day,” and as Barack Obama begins his sixth year in office, even Obama’s supporters would have to admit that the Democrat from Illinois who was born in Hawaii does not measure up to the Republican from California who was born in Illinois — at least so far.
Last Friday, the world lost a leading philanthropist and humanitarian, Anne Heyman, who died during a horse-riding accident at the too-young age of 52. The founder of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, she cleverly harnessed Israeli expertise and experience to help many orphaned during the Rwanda genocide – who now feel orphaned again. For those of us in the Young Judaea world, we lost someone whose life embodied the Jewish communitarian values and idealism we imbibed in the Zionist youth movement growing up – and someone whose warmth and goodness made her a dear friend and cherished member of our extended youth movement family.
The Obamathon is over. The barriers have been removed, the security forces have been deployed elsewhere, and the port-a-potties that dotted Jerusalem for their comfort have been carted away. Nevertheless, the excitement of Obamafest 2013 remains, the legacy of his affirming words still linger, and the payback he expects on Iran, with the Palestinians, has yet to be fully calculated – or collected.
“I’d love to sit at a cafe and just hang out,” President Barack Obama told Israel’s Channel 2 last week. Echoing many presidential predecessors who bristled in what Harry Truman called “the great White jail,” Obama confessed: “Sometimes I have this fantasy that I can put on a disguise and wear a fake mustache.” He mused about wandering Tel Aviv and meeting university students casually. In that spirit, I offer an alternative itinerary – with the requisite reading list to befit his earlier incarnation as a law professor. This itinerary would confirm Obama’s insight from his 2008 Atlantic interview, that Zionism reflects “the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves.” More important, it would refute charges that Israel is America’s albatross or an obstacle to peace, reminding the President why polls show Americans support the Jewish state overwhelmingly.
Recently two teachers went to pay their respects to their principal as he sat shiva in Jerusalem. In one of those remarkable everyday moments of cooperation that never make headlines, one teacher was Jewish another was Arab, and they drove together naturally, happily. Unfortunately, in one of those horrific moments of violence that frequently make headlines, some religious teens harassed them, damning the Arab and Jew for riding together. The teachers were unhurt, but their car was damaged, as was the social fabric, the delicate lattice of social ties and values that define a society.