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.



  1. Thankfully you're proof that not all of the Jewish leadership in Boston are dismissive of my generation. The sooner the powers-that-be understand that they ought to pay more attention to the new-age facebook folks that helped get Obama elected, and who have no interest whatsoever in the organizational politics dividing our community, the sooner they'll begin to bring more of them on board. I don't know why they spend so much time fearing J-Street, rather than figuring out how they are bringing more and more 20-somethings on board. It's an absolute shame how much time and resources are continously devoted to programs targeting that age group that have no chance of bringing new folks into the fray.

  2. Thanks for your note! I would be great to continue this discussion off-line. Please be in touch so we can chat.

  3. You wanted thoughts, Alan? Well, here you go.

    Part 1 of 3:

    What Nadav has done was utterly unprofessional to say the least; his vile deed actually rises to a much higher level of impropriety. But it's all water under the bridge now - Nadav is gone after his term expired (he should have been fired, though).

    What concerns me a lot more than that ugly (by now stale) story, though, is YOU, Alan, your views, opinions, and the echos you create in your own echo chamber. I promised to hold you up to your own standards after your first posting, so here we go:

    Nadav Tamir and you, Alan Ronkin, are birds of a feather, so it is quite natural that you would come to his defense - after all, you wrote here that "Nadav is a friend" of yours. As for the presence or lack of intent to leak the memo -- common, Alan, you can't be so naive as to believe it was accidental. You either don't know how politics work (yeah, right ...), or are clueless about how things are done in Israeli politics (for your own sake I hope it's the latter), or, much worse still, you are being duplicitous, making an innocent face.

    When you're talking about the supposed 'mainstream' of the Jewish community, you're talking about the nominally 'Jewish' secular left-wing 'liberal' 'progressive' section of the American Jewry (there's hardly anything truly 'Liberal' or 'Progressive' about them -- intolerant and dogmatic leftism is a more apt description of that slice of the population). You know, Alan, the majority can be wrong, and the minority can be right (even when they are on the Right). In fact, one person could be right, and the whole world could be wrong, as history teaches us.

    Now, the real question is, who's got it right? Who figured out what really is taking place, having separated the wheat from the chaff? You tend to think that it's the 'liberal progressives' -- we, the Conservatives (including most of the 'Russians') tend to think that we did. How can one tell definitively who is right and who is wrong? Well, there is the reality test -- if our predictions are correct in that they come to life (very unfortunately sometimes), then probably we got it all figured out. Who keeps the score, though? Do you? I do. And have I got stories to tell you ...

    As for the fact that "folks are not shy about being rude, disrespectful and will attack people personally when they disagree with them" -- as you correctly pointed out, "One only need read the comments posted on MSM articles" to see as much. News flash: people are people, and there are as many rude and disrespectful people on the Right as there are on the Left (I would argue that there are more such people on the Left, but let's just ascribe this to our personal preferences and biases).

    And yes, Alan, as you have so correctly pointed out, we on the Right "are smart, cunning and unafraid" -- thank you for the compliment. Being one of the 'Russians' myself, I have to say that much of your assessment of us is on target -- we have learned not to trust the authority automatically, to question everything, to read b/w the lines, etc. Some of us are even on the rude side, I have to admit -- this comes from the lack of proper Liberal, pluralistic, tolerant, and democratic upbringing (homo Sovieticus). Please forgive those of us who don't do it out of malice, but merely on account of the difficult baggage we carry.

    Having said that, I have encountered enough leftists in the US (and especially so in the People's Republic of MA), including 'liberal' 'progressive' Jews who have been utterly disrespectful, rude, downright nasty, and sometimes verbally and even physically violent. So please hold your horses when you are tempted to come out with accusations in our regard, OK? Lest I inundate you with horror stories of barbaric behavior on the Left.

  4. Part 2 of 3:

    When you talk about the 'mainstream, centrist community' -- including yourself in it -- you may be mainstream (as in being in the majority), but centrist you are not: statistics and public opinion polls show as much. After all, if ~80% of American Jews have gone gaga and voted for Barak Hussain Obama, this does make them the majority (call them 'mainstream' if it makes you feel better), but it does NOT make them centrist. Of course, his approval ratings among the 'mainstream' Jews have gone down since (just as we on the Right have been predicting), but you get my point, I'm sure. Sticking to their guns is what people instinctively do -- never allow the facts get in the way of foregone conclusions. Is THAT a good thing? I, for one, really don't see it that way.

    Re the policy of the 'mainstream' nominally 'Jewish' 'establishment' vis-a-vis Israel -- you have to either accept your own professed slogan of "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel" or get out of the wholesale business and go retail. Problem is, you can't do both. And if you do go retail, then you would have to criticize the idiotically leftist decisions and actions on the part of Israeli gov't. You have to be consistent and fair, otherwise you're merely preaching to the converted in your own cosy echo chamber.

    Having lived in Israel for four and a half years by now, I can tell you that Israeli politics is a dirty mess -- as I'm sure you've heard before. But I am only now beginning to understand the many nuances inherent therein, of which you speak so much, but which you yourself do not practice. So decide which business you're in -- wholesale or retail -- and stay there. I suggest you go wholesale, as it's much simpler and easier. And if you violate that policy divide, then I'll call you on it each and every time I hear about it, as I am in the retail side of things myself, and I do happen to know quite a few details and nuances you may not be even aware of. So watch what you say, Alan, as you not only do not know much about the matters of security but also the internal Israeli politics, much of which makes me sick, too -- some of it for the very same reasons that make you disgusted with it, but some for exactly the opposite reasons. So, please, stop babbling about Judea and Samaria and other such very complex matters and issues that you really do not fully understand in all their intricate details and nuances, OK? Stay on the wholesale side, please.

    As for our Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman -- believe it or not, Alan, he's enjoying a sufficiently high approval rating within Israel, higher than your beloved Hussain Obama (both in Israel and in the US). So eat that, if you can swallow it :-) It is not for you, Alan, to judge whether Lieberman has got it all figured out -- in fact, he has, but he's got enough idiotic opposition, which make his life harder -- and for the record, I did not vote for Israel Beiteinu, I voted for Likud, but I like Avigdor very much. Make of it what you will (I know what you're thinking right now :-)

  5. Part 3 of 3:

    As for your 'Russian friends' there (in the US) -- indeed, we do not like taking prisoners, but as for your accusing us as a community that we 'eschew nuance' -- you are thereby engaging in ad hominem attacks, which are completely off target. Believe it or not, we understand a whole lot more about the whole thing than you could ever dream of. Precisely because of our background and historical baggage. As for you being "sure President Obama knows this and 'gets it' -- NO, he doesn't, not at all. To use your own term (which you applied to Lieberman), Hussain Obama is 'inexperienced' -- and this is being generous on my part. But I am not here to talk about Obama -- trust me, you don't want to get into that issue with me, either. Suffice it to say that we on the thinking Right find his "current diplomatic approach as obdurate and counterproductive" -- and this is being polite and mild.

    BTW, not to gloat or anything like that, Congress has gone over to the Right since you posted this entry, Alan. Oops ... And J Street has been shown for what it is (I'll spare the epithets here). Yet, you at JCRC chose to welcome it into your VERY broad tent. One has to be open-minded for sure, but not so open as to let the brains fall out. This is exactly what happened to the JCRC, though.

    Nuance, Alan, it's all about nuance. Please start practicing it, OK? Especially in public -- your private life is your own concern.

    Seva Brodsky
    Boston --> Jerusalem (1 May 2007) by way of Nefesh B'Nefesh


About Me

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