Ryan Harrison Lee

What John McCain’s Example Taught Me About Israel

While this event may not appear to be related to the message of Times of Israel, the lesson that has come out of it for me certainly is related.  I am talking about the death of United States Senator John McCain.

In this time of national mourning for Senator McCain, I think it’s crucial to reiterate the primary lesson with which he has left us. In this time of tremendous upheaval in the United States, with such calumny and vitriol seeping into the crevices of the national discourse, we must always remember that Senator McCain set a standard of civil, patriotic action, recognizing that those with whom he disagreed loved this country as passionately as he did.  We must get out of the habit of seeing people as two-dimensional, when they are, in fact, comprised of many facets. We must learn to love our difference. We are, after all, human beings, so beautifully and majestically flawed.

This lesson, of course, must apply as well to the various conflicts in the Middle East, both in terms of a participant perspective and of an outsider perspective.  It is time to reframe the conflict in a nuanced fashion, something sorely lacking in the discourse.  Nuance is not “sexy.”  It is not flashy or glittery.  It does not allow one to take the easy way out.  One must, instead, recognize the many layers and facets of a person and of an argument—in this case, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I have discussed at length, almost ad nauseam, the conflict with many people who know far more than I do.  Furthermore, books on the topic line my bookshelves, from all points of view.  I flatter myself to think that I have a well-rounded view on the issue.  However, what I do know is that my diplomatic nature forces me to think of ways to bring people together and to negotiate.  In that vein, I have realized something crucial about the way that the debate on Israel typically goes, as opposed to the way that I believe it should go, which surely would produce more fruitful results.

When people who claim to support either Israel or the Palestinians frame their arguments, normally there is an implicit assumption that the other side has less of a right to the land known to us Jews as Eretz Yisrael, or the Land of Israel, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.  There are many flavors of these arguments, but typically, they go like this.  What must happen, however, is an understanding that both the Israelis and the Palestinians believe just as strongly that this land belongs to them, regardless of the differences in tactics that both sides use.

We must acknowledge the truth of the circumstances when we look at conflict in a general sense.  Wishful ignorance does not benefit the issue, nor does it demonstrate respect or goodwill towards the opposite party.  If, for example, those who support the Palestinian cause do not recognize that Palestinian children’s textbooks advocate for killing Jews, there will be no progress.  This fact in itself does not diminish the Palestinian cause; however, hiding or disregarding it does so.  Moreover, those who study the conflict must admit that both sides are convinced that the whole land is theirs.  Not a part of the land.  The whole land.  If this is recognized at the beginning, both sides then must be told that even though they do have a right to the entire land, there is another group who believes the same thing.  Therefore, they are going to have to make painful concessions for the good of their people.  It is going to hurt, absolutely, but it must happen.  I am hopeful that both sides will be more willing to compromise if their truths and narratives are acknowledged at the outset of negotiations; doing so is, after all, a goodwill gesture.

It seems that, too often, negotiators may say that they want a compromise, but their actions indicate otherwise.  The true way to progress is to understand the other side’s argument better than one’s own—and to go a step further, to give the other side the dignity of saying so.

I will definitely continue writing thoughts about the conflict in the future, perhaps on more specific facets of it, but for now, this perspective seems to be sorely lacking in the debate.  It must be said.

Senator McCain’s legacy teaches us to remember the invaluable tenet that we must see the other side as a potential friend as we engage in civil discourse. May this be his greatest and most lasting contribution to our world.

About the Author
Ryan Harrison Lee is an aspiring diplomat who is currently teaching Spanish, English, History, and Government at a private school outside of Washington, DC.
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