Friday, August 14, 2009

Nadav and the Bubble

I've deliberately stayed out of the fray on the Nadav Tamir discussion. Nadav is a friend of mine, someone who I have had in my home for Shabbat dinner and his daughter Maya is in my son's class at Brookline High School.

So, now that it's over -- at least for the moment -- some reflections.

I'm not going to comment on the memo, Nadav's conclusions or the motivations for the leak from the Foreign Ministry. I will only say that I am completely convinced that Nadav did not intend the memo to be leaked.

So what does this tell us about our Boston "bubble". This is another echo chamber moment for us.

Did the rest of the world care about this story? Apparently. Jim Smith at the Boston Globe did several front page stories on this. They even wrote an editorial ( Alan Berger no doubt). Reuters even covered it so it wound up in the Boston Metro.

We learn, according to Jonathan Sarna, that the community no longer speaks with one voice. No kidding.

We also learn that there is tremendous anger among conservative leaning Jews that the "mainstream" doesn't listen to them. We learned that the mainstream thinks that it listens to them -- but, in their view (and survey research backs them up) that the vast majority of the community disagrees with them. We have also learned (and not for the first time -- this author can tell you many stories) that folks are not shy about being rude, disrespectful and will attack people personally when they disagree with them. One only need read the comments posted on MSM articles about this story to hear that Nadav is a weak kneed traitor who needs to be imprisoned and a naive fool bent on the destruction of Israel. One blog referred to him as being from Mars -- etc. etc. I stopped reading a lot of this stuff a long time ago.

I do not believe that those who protest are "astro-turf". They are real. And they are smart, cunning and unafraid. (and I mean that as a compliment). For the Russians, they grew up with the belief that authority is to be distrusted (unless it shares their view -- and even then quislings are all around us!) and to be torn down, mocked and even personally denigrated. It's a shame.

As for us in the mainstream, centrist community, I think this was a good example of sticking to our guns, defending our friends and attempting to hear all views. That's a good thing.

But it does pose a real dilemma for us policy wise. In my professional life, I am often called upon to "defend Israel." Now, my personal belief is that the IDF defends Israel. Fighting against "anti-Israel" activists is important. Making Israel's case and building support for Israel among those who influence others is important. But at the end of the day, since I never put on "madim" and carried an "M-sheh esray" (except for a week when I did a Gadna program) I don't consider myself a defender of Israel (and, if anyone reads this, please don't take that out of context -- I think I have been very clear about what I think my role is and how important it is).

But, back to the point. In my professional life I have held to the standard that I advocate and explain the positions of the "democratically elected government of the State of Israel" -- particularly on matters of peace and security. So, if Israel is dissing American Jews by allowing some rabbis to invalidate their conversions or consider their marriages invalid I feel fully empowered to speak up. On matters of identity, they need to extend respect to all. On matters of security, what do I know?

So what do you do when, after 20 years fighting this fight, you come to the conclusion that the current government of Israel is getting it wrong? So, in 2000 when Ehud Barak was talking about redividing Jerusalem, it concerned me greatly. I called a respected colleague and I said to him -- "What the hell are they doing? Do they really want to abandon everything that they fought for in the six-day war?" His response was classic -- he said, "Don't worry -- they will never move this forward -- it's just too complicated.

And now, nearly 10 years later the government is taking the same position and I agree with it. But, 10 years later I also see the nuances of how to approach it that I missed before. That's a topic for another time.

But on the issue of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, I have to admit that I think that this government's heavy handed approach and saying "no" to a very popular American president is not the way to go. Again, there is nuance here. And the nuance is being lost because of the bombast being thrown around by an inexperienced foreign minister who -- like our Russian friends here -- doesn't take any prisoners and eschews nuance.

The week before the Tamir memo was leaked -- the FM was accused of a variety of corruption charges. And his response was admirable. He said something to the effect that if he was indicted, he would resign. No "Ehud Olmert nuance" here. Very straightforward, very black and white. Wonderful for being elected by a constituency that reflects that approach. Not so wonderful for a world that sees the other side as white and Israel's settlement policy as black.

Israel has striven to be in the grey in this area. Even Jimmy Carter, the spiritual leader of anti-Israel activists around the world, visited Gush Etzion a few months back and said that Israel would never have to give that area to the Arabs. Even Jimmy Carter found some nuance in his heart.

So, that's what I try to communicate to people. I usually say something like "there are Settlements and there are Settlements." And then I go on to explain the "consensus" zones and even tell them that the Arabs don't want to return to the 1949 armistice borders (commonly known as the 67 borders). Syria wants access to the Galilee and the Palestinians want a land bridge between Hamas' Gaza and Fatah's West Bank. So there will have to be some give. And most people -- even those who are center left -- get it. I've heard Nadav Tamir say it and I think it's a way to keep some sanity about all of this.

I am sure President Obama knows this and "gets it". But I think he is perceiving Israel's current diplomatic approach as obdurate and counterproductive. And, unlike his predecessors, won't stand for it. And the Congress no longer feels that there is only one Jewish game in town. AIPAC (which to its credit has no policy on settlements as do most of the mainstream Jewish organizations) is now in competition with J-Street among Democrats. The D's control the House, Senate and the White House for a reason. And no amount of screaming and personal attacks is going to turn that around for at least another year. Israel may be willing to stall that long. But I don't think the majority of American Jews will be very happy to be on a collision course with the administration. And I don't think, as some of my more conservative friends do, that they are going to abandon Obama. There is little support for settlements among the mainstream.

So, here's a plea for nuance. Publicly and privately.

What is Jerusalem? What is in Israel's best interest for both it's security and it's Jewish character? Was leaving Gaza a good idea? Is leaving far flung communities in Judea and Samaria a good idea?

It would be easy to say yes or no. And we will never really know some of the answers. But let's at least give ourselves the freedom to step out of the echo chamber (in fact the many little politically homogeneous echo chambers that we have nicely built for ourselves) and explore some non-dogmatic options. We are critical of others for using their dogma to drive their actions. Let's not do the same.


About Me

Brookline, MA, United States
Thought provoking discussion or musings of a kid from the other side of the tracks...