The only time I stepped foot in the Promised Land it felt pretty magical: kind…brilliant…compassionate. This is what it felt like. It was June 2005. Israel was just leaving Gaza. The famous Horticultural/Agricultural project that The Israelis funded and left for the Palestinians, that was famously destroyed, was still standing. Ariel Sharon was conscious, and was prime minister of the country. I was there making a short film about the Israel Air Force Center, among a few things a Veteran’s Center….that I am certain, at this moment, provides the best Veterans Services on the face of this planet (something to study and work on all over the world).
In terms of the conflict, I am the type of person who would never not say: “I’m on the side of humanity” (though I do understand this seems to be an unpopular idea). A Palestinian family celebrates ceasefire in Gaza Aug. 28, 2014.
And yet, during this period I really saw Israel’s point of view completely, and to a certain degree I still see that point of view today: Israel is facing very intense aggression…and is defending itself against it. But in those days as a country we were discombobulating aggression…not responding in anyway that could look–because it is — dumb, careless, overdone and cruel.
Back in 2005, there was an undertow to the visit and the film I was making. Great, compassionate, and by today’s standards pretty liberal generals Like Nehemia Degan and Eitan Ben Eliyu…spoke about the idea of the inevitability of Arab population overwhelming Israeli population in Israel. That undertow…along with the much earlier arrival of Meyer Kahane (in 1979) …and the Settlement Movement in Israel, has unleashed an acceptance of far right values in the country that I believe is unbecoming and DEFINITELY hurtful to the world-wide Jewish Community…and beyond that…something that contains a racism…emanating from the far right that is also spilling over and spread by Israeli kids on social networks…basically a racism from the far right that is… just not right.
On that visit in 2005 the thing got to me the most…..the thing that made me most proud of this nation at the time….was a talk given by Elizer Schkedy…who at the time was the Commanding General of Israeli Air Force. He said the following words…”Being Jews it is important for us not to kill innocent people.” He then went on to give a ratio…in their operations for every 12 active terrorists hit, 1 civilian would be hit. It felt kind of sad to listen to any of this. But this was a culture born of surviving attacks and within that….what Schkedy was saying was as noble as military ratios about airstrikes that kill people could get for me.
And it was a very long way from actual genocidal chants of “Death To Arabs” that are sometimes being heard from the Right in Isreal today...outside of mixed weddings….and from kids…on social networks.
When Meyer Kahane came to Israel from Crown Heights in 1971 and preached the idea of removing all Arabs from the country...offering them cash to leave …still very far from a genocidal idea…it sounded great to some hard core very religious settlers ready to get more into biblical settings. It certainly caused a huge stir towards settling, and one can see the settlement movement as part of a plan to keep Jewish population in Israel growing, but Israel has been acting as if the rest of the world in no way matters…and it may be doing that with a kind of certainty that extremism from the Arab world is really a very large danger to western interests. Extremism from the Arab World IS a danger….the entire Arab World is not a danger.
The “the rest of the world doesn’t count” argument is not wise. And the Israel that can be of much more of a service to the world, and possibly even could–oh my gosh–be appreciated for it…is the country of precise and intelligent and humane military actions…the country that COMPLETELY LEADS IN MAKING VIOLENT AGGRESSION OBSOLETE….not the country that makes excuses for too many civilian casualties…no mater how much one can claim the leadership of Gaza was shooting for that outcome.
All over the country you will see enlightened relationships between Arabs and Jews and a few western Christians, and all over the world enlightened relationships between The Arab World and all sorts of cultures……those enlightened relationships, HIGHLIGHTED BY MEDIA…must overwhelm the hate.
Hey, hate works (for certain people) . Hamas raises money with it….so do a few Jewish organizations. Outsiders don’t really benefit from hate. They may feed into it…but benefit? Not so much.
So I’d love to see a new generation of leaders in Israel that lead with the strength of love.
Enlightened relationships between Arabs and Jews and Christians will have to prevail...and I’m not suggesting for one second any form of weakness or tolerance for being attacked…I AM SUGGESTING even more focus on comprehensive defensive measures…with way less casualties and bombardment of property.
The country’s recent responses have fed into Hamas’ strategy of reporting heavy civilian death tolls. Perhaps these death tolls will cause the Palestinians to break with Hamas. Perhaps not. So often…what causes a people to break with hate…turns out to be cultural appeal.
Screaming “Death to Arabs” at inter-religious marriages is an embarrassment to the State of Israel and that kind of racism–along with being horrendous–is overwhelming the public relations situation brought to the world. Bruce M. Shipman, an Episcopalian Chaplain who practiced in New Haven and was associated with Yale (though not employed by the university), dared to say that these disproportionate attacks might actually fan the flame of anti semitism. This was in a New York Times op- Ed Piece not long ago. He was identified in the piece as “Chaplain at Yale.” He received a quite bit of hate mail. Yale received quite a bit of hate mail. The actual Head Chaplain at Yale received quite a bit of hate mail. Shipman later published a piece in the Yale Daily News condemning anti semitism..…as do I…more than you can possibly imagine…ANYONE condemning Jews for the actions of Israel…horrible. But it happens...and it happens all over the place. Bruce M. Shipman…was right. Israel’s actions ARE fanning the flames of anti-semitism. And it is this wonderful leaning towards these Hard Right values…that is creating a country…that is actually making huge contributions to the world….which is instead completely known for the wrong things.
Shipman had to leave his job. For being right. And, as he left, he wrote in the Hartford Courant that people should not be intimidated against bringing up these subjects…also right. And then he quoted William Sloan Coffin, which led EVEN MORE people (myself included) to believe he was Head Chaplain at Yale…but when you’re wearing you’re heart on your sleeve, and you’re quoting your inspirations….whether your the Head Chaplain or Ordained by the Archdioses to take on a few Episcopalian Yalies off-campus…you’re okay by me. The quote from W S. Coffin: “Our Faith Should Quell Our Fears…Never Our Courage.”
Look….American Jews love Izzy …ok….but if we make Aliya… we’d prefer to chose to do it…rather than be forced into the Kahanian bargain that it’s the only safe place for Jews to be. That… is not a fair bargain. And sometimes…it looks like Israel supports that bargain.
While Staying Strong and defending the country intelligently and compassionately, I believe we will see much more strength, when we continuously highlight and develop more positive relationships with the world’s 1 billion plus Arabs, when we focus on communicating and debunking myths with them, while always continuing to call out and take on, humiliate…and defeat anti-semitism and aggression, wherever it appears.