Israel: In Words of Meaning, Part 1

(This blog will appear weekly, on Tuesdays, for the next few weeks.)

People blog for many reasons, from pure ego to pure fanaticism (Are the two really that unrelated?). I’ve often found blogging a good way to generate, play with and test ideas, on myself and others, a little at a time. When you’re dealing with the tedium of a serious chronic disease, a little at a time may be, from time to time, all you can handle.

Time to do more.

When I first made Aliyah in 2010, one of my goals as a writer was to find new ways to explain Israel to Americans. Not an easy task, nowadays. Let’s face it. Neither Israel nor its spokespersons, official, unofficial, self-appointed and otherwise, are doing that good of a job. Often, they seem content with convincing themselves and others already convinced of their particular rationales and points of view. As for the rest . . . not their problem.

I thought about making it my problem. When you’re tied to an IV and looking forward to the hospital’s free lunch (Will it be brown again today, or maybe yellow or green?), you think lots of stuff. Still, this seemed, as it had in the beginning, a useful and worthwhile endeavor. So I set myself the task of figuring out something perhaps a bit more effective than what’s currently on offer.

But before you can figure out what to say, you ought to be clear about who you’re saying it to. Who’s your primary audience or, more aptly, who would you like to be your primary audience? Why? What’s the point?

My primary audience or, in an alternative vocabulary, market segment, has turned out to be a certain kind of American – serious people with serious doubts. Doubts about Israel. Doubts about America. Doubts, perhaps, about their own beliefs. Despite their present silence, I suspect that there are a lot of them: far more than those who’ve succumbed to the Governance-as-Tantrum-and Let-‘em-Eat-Our Ideology histrionics of Mr. Trump et al. Perhaps these serious people might turn out to be the New Silent Majority, with commensurate political power. In any event, they’re people worth speaking to.

(For those of you who missed the 1960s: The phrase “Silent Majority” entered American politics via Richard Nixon and his handlers. It referred back then to those who were fed up with the high-decibel antics and self-righteousness of the so-called New Left. That was then. This is post-then. The roles have been reversed. Now it’s the so-called conservatives who scream and hiss and flaunt their presumed moral superiority, while the rest of us, including too many of us formercons who saw it coming, gape in disgust, expressing nothing more positive than aversion.

Hardly the mighty “PC liberalism/socialism” arch-evil that today’s conservatives love to hate.

It might also be evocative to remember that the term was originally coined by the 18th century British statesman, Edmund Burke. He used it to refer to the dead. And now that the Great American Die-Off has begun . . . but that’s a matter for some separate electrons.)

If this possible New Silent Majority – serious people with serious doubts and, as yet, no compelling vision or program – is worth speaking to, it’s worth speaking to on their own terms, and with respect. Which means: no screaming, no insults, no propaganda, no hasbara, no self-righteous hectoring or we’ve-suffered-so-you-owe-us extortion. It also means remembering that what’s important and legitimate to us need not be so to others. In matters of faith, especially. While civilized humans are obliged to respect the right of others to believe as they choose, they’re obligated neither to venerate those beliefs nor subsidize them.

A lesson Israel’s spokespersons might well take to heart next time they start vilifying those who don’t support Israel uncritically as anti-Semites or worse.

And it’s always important to remember: Love lasts longer when you don’t persist in believing in either the perfection or the perfectibility of the beloved. As true for countries as for people. As for those who demand unconditional love as a blank check for indulging their foibles and failures . . . again, as true for countries as for persons that it’s a bad idea to tolerate.

Serious people get that.

So what do you say after you’ve said, “Hello, can we get maybe exchange some words of reason?”

That’s for the next few blogs. For now, a couple things you don’t say.

No arguing. All that does is give the anti-Semites, the BDSniks and the rest of that crew what they want. This is about persuasion via complex meanings, not replaying the same old/same old dreary pseudo-exchanges.

And just as effective explanation of Israel avoids sterile, repetitive arguing, it also means you don’t waste your time defending other defenders whom you might find abhorrent, and their particular take on things. Those who argue that the security policies of 21st century nuclear-armed states should be theocratic, or who declaim that there is no Palestinian people, or the rest . . . those are their positions. I need not justify them, or support them in any way.

So that’s what you don’t do: scream and holler, or compete with or justify those who do.

As for what might work –

The next few posts will be a distillate of the last year’s bloggery. Perhaps it will add up to something coherent and useful. We begin next week.

Now, two final items that must provide the grounding of any serious attempt to reach serious Americans.

First, this isn’t about peace. There ain’t gonna be no peace. Not for Israel, not for America, and not for a world increasingly menaced by Islamist savagery.

And there ain’t no more “People That Dwells Apart.” We’re all in this together. “Israel First” will work no better today than “America First” did in the 1930s.

We’re in it together. Serious people will understand that. And maybe that’s something upon which we can build.




About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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