Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Debt of Honor Owed The Arab Peoples

Last night I read an excellent article on Al Jazeera America about the unfortunate phenomenon of rape in America's high schools. Through one victim's story it showed vividly the lifelong trauma of being first, violated and second, punished by a system which sweeps the problem under the rug, ignoring Federal law to enable the attacker and bury the attacked.
I thought about how inspired I have always been by Muslim values and how unfortunate it is that the situation in Israel seems to polarize people by faith.

Way back when in 2003 I began to cover my hair in a traditional Jewish way. I was not inspired by my own faith. No I had seen a Muslim woman praying quietly and devoutly on the Metro in D.C., and I thought to myself, I want to be as spiritual as her.

The idea of "inner jihad" also makes so much sense to me. That the essence of strength is to stop yourself from doing bad things. Not to fight the rest of the world. There's a similar concept in Judaism, in Hebrew: "Azehu gibor? Hakovesh et yitzro," or "Who is strong? He who conquers his own evil inclination."

Notice that the Hebrew wording is in the male, not the female. Gender in religious language is a whole other topic in and of itself. But it is not unimportant.

The Arab nations are very much identified with the religion Islam. But Islam came much later on, after their forefather Yishmael (Ishmael) was born.

I thought about the issue of honor among Arabs and why it is so important. Reflected that there is a debt of honor owed to them by the Jewish people. On a conversation I had with my daughter regarding the Biblical story of Ishmael.

The Bible tells it straightforwardly: Abraham had a son with Sarah's servant, Hagar. The logic was that Sarah was infertile; Hagar was an available womb.

We're not supposed to look back and judge Biblical figures according to the logic of our day, but that seems like a negative experience at best, if you look at it from Hagar's perspective. She was an object owned, a thing to be taken, she had no choice in the matter. Sarah (and of course Abraham) dictated even the most intimate of experiences.

Then Ishmael is born, and things seem OK for awhile...until Sarah conceives and has Yitzchak (Isaac). Now what are she and Abraham supposed to do? Hagar and Ishmael are very inconvenient.

That sounds horrible to say and do you know what? It is horrible. It is shameful and painful and wrong from where I sit. But the Torah (Bible) doesn't shade the story this way or that - it is what it is.

So Hagar is exiled with Ishmael, a single mother and her child. What are they supposed to do? How will they live?

Regardless of any other factor involved, Hagar's honor was violated, and Ishmael was immediately tasked with the burden of recovering it.

Right there is the conflict over Israel.

It is 100% a spiritual conflict, a spiritual debt, and although we humans can't necessarily "see" what the problem is, it is possible to put two and two together.

Any solution to the problems taking place in the Middle East right now have to begin with repairing the debt that is owed...making peace on a spiritual level...ensuring that all parties have not just subsistence but the honor they are due.

Jews and Arabs are not enemies because of what happened to Hagar and Ishmael, any more than Jews and Germans are enemies because of the Holocaust.

Regarding the former, G-d determined what the Jewish lineage would be, and told the Jewish people to conquer and inherit the land of Israel in a very specific way and with very specific distinctions as to who should do this and who should not.

Similarly, G-d determined that a Holocaust would take place and chose the person who would try to carry out the "Final Solution."

At the same time, Jews are responsible for making right what we can in this world - Tikkun Olam ("repairing the world.") One way to do that is to honor and respect all people, specifically and especially people who have been harmed because of our actions, even inadvertently and even before we were born.

This means more than just words. It means working to make the Arab peoples spiritually, emotionally, and materially whole, and not just focusing on ourselves.

* All opinions my own.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

10 Real Conditions For Peace In Israel

1. State Endorsement of One G-d: You can live in Israel and be an atheist, but as religion is integral to the state there should be a basic official support for faith in the Divine. If this exists, I truly don't know about it so maybe Israel should talk about it more.

2. Honor the Sacred: Israel can't impose the beliefs of one form of Judaism on everyone. But there are certain things that should be inviolable. Certain symbols (like the Torah), the definition of who a Jew is - these have to be worked out at a reasonable religious level. It cannot always be a "free for all" nor a nation where the ultra-Orthodox have a stranglehold on official expressions of faith.

3. Religious Integrity: Israel is a Jewish nation - a nation where Jews must be able to live freely as Jews. That is the basic precondition of its existence. There cannot be the false message that everyone is exactly equal. They're not and can never be, even as there should be equal protection under the law.

4. Rule of Law: Everybody, Jewish and not Jewish, is entitled to the same objective fair treatment under a system of law and not personal preference. That should be basic and corruption has to be rooted out wherever and whenever it exists. Israel in particular has got to make itself an example of this.

5. Expulsion of Terrorists: Free speech is one thing but advocating for the destruction of the State is another. So is holding weapons. People who want to destroy Israel should routinely be expelled.

6. Financial Justice: One of the most common anti-Semitic stereotypes is that Jews are money criminals. Therefore Israel has to be extraordinarily careful to carry out financial justice. Where these kinds of crimes occur they have to be followed by actual reparations. In such a small country, there should also be a well-organized system for providing the basic needs of life to all - food, water, housing, and medical care.

7. Education: A very good grounding in critical thinking instills basic understanding of history, of the complexity of multiple cultures living side by side. In such a complicated state education is critical to mutual understanding.

8. Honesty: On both sides there needs to be a straightforward dialogue about what the issues are and how there will be collaboration to resolve them. There should be absolute intolerance for propaganda, the deliberate manipulation of words and images to achieve political aims.

9. Universal Recognition of Israel's Right to Exist: The hidden message behind a lot of anti-Israel criticism is that Israel should somehow "lay down its arms" because the refugees are helpless. And this includes criticism that comes from within. The problem is that Israel going defenseless means its immediate destruction. Any solution has to start with the recognition that Israel is a legitimate state, and proceeding from there.

10. Global Support: Palestinians are refugees for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that they're being used as a collective battering ram to hurl at Israel as a propaganda tool. The world is complicit in this situation and is responsible for helping to resolve it fairly.

* All opinions my own. 

How Israel Has To Fight The Brand War Now

Israel is at war, and a lot of people seem to want the country to simply lay down its arms and drop dead. These people say Israel is somehow just a bad, illegitimate, criminal country:

  • Global media like The Independent (UK) writes that Israel can't "get away with murder" anymore in the social media age. 
  • Mainstream American media like USA Today adds that the country plans to openly subsidizes propaganda, just like China.
  • Jewish-sounding organizations like "Jewish Voice For Peace" show bloody pictures of Palestinian children on Twitter, writing statuses like "Though Israel pounds their homes to rubble, their spirit remains unscathed."
  • Social media is alive with hateful comments such as those on Whisper, calling for Israel to be "nuked."
  • All of the above are magnified by a seemingly endless series of comments, photos and links to each other.

I am Jewish. I believe that Israel is being targeted, should defend herself and has an inherent right to exist.

At the same time, like everybody else, I feel for the Palestinians and do not have an answer to their plight. I do know this: This war is an incredibly tragic one, but it is also one that terrorists have provoked and want to maintain until Israel is destroyed. And they are fighting on every front, including with incendiary propaganda.

Israel could fight back on the PR side, but doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of it. I think it is culturally averse to doing this job, and finds it somehow below its dignity; or even perhaps untruthful by nature. I think also the nation may be overconfident in relying on its version of things, e.g. the obvious fact that Hamas is a ruthless and determined enemy.

Another factor, looking at it from the outside, may relate to a kind of organizational dynamics. That is, because Israel is trying so hard to avoid civilian casualties (e.g. "it's not our fault"), it somehow underestimates the gravity with which people view the Palestinians' plight.

Whatever the reason for Israel's failure on this front, it's setting the country back. No matter what happens on the battlefield, human sympathy matters. And Hamas is using the people not only as human shields but inflating the body count to pump the public's tears. It's working.

Here are 10 ideas that Israel may want to consider, therefore:
  1. Stop apologizing. Israel has a tendency to apologize, negotiate publicly, try to prove that it is merciful and good, and so on. Why? The enemy is a bunch of killers. Treat them as such.
  2. Take control of the story. Israel needs to stop reacting to what others say about it, and start telling the narrative that it wants and needs to tell. Why is it that non-Jewish academics, journalists and activists seem so comfortable doing this for us, but so many Jews not only are uncomfortable backing Israel, but tend to join anti-Israel protests?
  3. Focus on the essential truth. Palestinians are victims - of terrorists, not Israelis, who keep trying to make peace treaty after peace treaty. It is well known that Palestinians who cooperate with Israel are viewed as disloyal and face incredible brutality from within. Israel needs to focus on and tell that story and not allow anyone to portray this as an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a civilian-terrorist conflict.
  4. Stop going it alone. Israelis tend to avoid asking for help or portraying themselves as part of a network of linked allies. We live in a networked world though, where people are not trusted unless they can portray the ability to get along with others. Israel's allies speak as much or more for it, as Israel itself.
  5. Celebrate Jewish nationhood. Israel is famously tolerant and diverse. But there is also a place for celebrating the reason that the State was established, e.g. that Jews should have a national homeland. Israel could do so much more to be proud of its reason for existence, publicly.
  6. Focus on archetypes as much as facts. Israel needs to get much more in touch with American thinking and pop culture, which is subtle, more emotional and focused on externals. And then include facts and figures as supporting information. Israelis right now tend to talk a lot about facts and figures and shy away from show business. Unfortunately a certain amount of showmanship is unavoidable. 
  7. Don't oversell. In the non-insane social media world, people have a natural understanding for the territorial integrity of Israel as a nation and also a belief that it should be preserved as a Jewish state. There is no reason to argue the obvious - when you do that what happens is that you create doubt in the minds of your supporters.
  8. Get unified. There is an old cliche, "two Jews, three synagogues," and the tendency to debate and disagree is extremely valid for Israelis and Jews in general. Unfortunately, so is the tendency to hate oneself simply because one is Jewish (internalized anti-Semitism.) If the Jewish people cannot agree on the notion that Israel is a legitimate state, and that the problem is terrorism, how can we expect the rest of the world to?
  9. Don't compete for victimhood. No two brands can operate in the same space. The Palestinians, for better or for worse, own the status of "victim." Portraying images of kidnapped yeshiva students or slain Israeli soldiers does not provoke sympathy but rather the opposite, rage that the "oppressor" seems to value its own lives over the quantitatively higher number of lives lost on the other side.
  10. Stop the glitz. Instead of branding campaigns aimed at portraying Israel a certain way - e.g. as a high-tech center or a tourist destination - open the doors to the world and let the media, social media, movie and TV cameras in. The aim is to dislodge the terrorist narrative, which has it that Israelis are an evil cartoon character. In reality, the state is complex, full of good and bad and fascinating and frankly the utterly confusing. Social media would show the impossibility, in many ways, of trying to secure a tiny state while also humanely fighting an enemy full of trained dedicated killers who are also held hostage to the cause by their communities.
* All opinions my own. 
** This article may be reprinted with attribution.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finding Strength Inside The Furnace

I never understood how Jews retained faith after the Holocaust. 

My thinking was: Why would you believe in a G-d that abandons you?

I have made my peace with religion: I know that I don't know what I don't know. 

I accept that bad things come from G-d, who makes us aware when we are off the path. That the Holocaust had to do with that, - and I will never really understand or "know" more than that.

And now the world is exploding in anti-Semitism, again. What do we do? Run and hide? Apologize to the world for existing?

No way. No way, not today, no how. We've had enough of bowing and scraping.

My Facebook feed alone is alive with emotion: anger and fear over anti-Semitism. Sadness at the loss of life. Rage at the injustice of it all, not just events but how Israel and Jews are portrayed. A dogged hope for the life and the State of Israel.

The kids absorb all this. My daughter said today, I won't be hateful. Because if I hate them like they hate us, then they've won.

I don't want to be hateful, either. So far so good on that - I actually feel sorrow for all the victims of this tragedy and only a cold eyes fury at its perpetrators, the terrorists.

But I think about how the Holocaust seems to be starting all over again - just look at France - and there are so many people just egging it on, and I get furious.

Something else is happening as well. It's like a slow-moving tectonic plate. I am becoming unwilling to live my life in fear - it is just too great a burden.

This isn't the same as being an arrogant asshole, mind you. Been there, done that way too much and I regret being such a fool.

It has to do with losing the self-hatred, the shame, the fear that comes from being born into a post-Holocaust family. With a mentality of worrying all the time about whether people will look at you and see someone who was part of that group - you know, that group - starved, tortured, raped and beaten, and very efficiently too.

It is also about absorbing the fact that all of us are subject to the Divine. And only the Creator - that's it. (My personal belief - I totally respect that many others see things differently.)

From that perspective I am aware of the importance of simply doing what is right, without excessive analysis and deliberation. 

I see increasingly that life is about living with moral clarity. The knowledge that there is a right and a wrong. The belief that you were given a conscience solely to be guided by G-d.

* All opinions my own.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Defending Israel On A Sunday

Daily life and its challenges often take us away from the things that matter most in life. Like G-d, family and friends.

Similarly, the quest to be seen as important can make us focus overly much on career and status symbols.

One of my old friends from high school captured this well the other day on Facebook when she shared a status that said something like, it's not what you do but who you are.

This morning two men were talking loudly in Starbucks about Israel and her obvious right to self-defense, a right which isn't obvious to everybody. Israel-haters are thinly veiled anti-Semites who want to see Israel - and the Jewish people by extension - dead.

The men in Starbucks were Christian. I know this because one also talked about his denomination of the faith and how it had become less anti-Semitic over time. There are others who are not Jewish nor even believers in religion who stand up for Israel relentlessly. 

My daughter said to me, why is it that the non-Jews are standing up for Israel and we are not even standing up for ourselves? 

I think she meant "not enough." 

I think she meant about Jews who protest the Gaza invasion even as it is a last ditch effort at self defense, at territorial integrity.

Her words made me ashamed that I spend relatively so much time focused on me, me, me, and not enough time supporting the causes that are not only worthy but critical.

So this is a post, unfortunately occasional, where I do want to stand up and say that Israel is without question a legitimate state by any standard and should defend herself to the fullest.

* All opinions my own.