Israel, Politics

If you believe that things can get worse, why not believe they can get better? – Fourth Entry for JStreet contest with Jewschool

j_street_largeEditor’s Note: The following is the third winner of four recent entries by individual who will be heading to Washington, D.C. at the end of the month for JStreet’s first national conference: Driving Change, Securing Peace. The following post was written by Rabbi Ezra Weinberg of New York City. Yashar Koach – and see you in DC! To everyone else: there’s still time to sign up – and if you can’t come, check back here for live blogging by our contest winners as well as some of your favorite Jewschoolers.
I was asked earlier this week what I thought of Jay Michaelson’s article in last week’s Forward entitled, “How I’m losing my Love for Israel.” Having read and mulled it over several times, the only words I could think of in response were “disheartening.” It has never been a lonelier time to support Israel as a peace-builder, in words alone, let alone though actions. Those of us devoted to bridging the ever growing gap between a Zionist identity and builders of a just world for all inhabitants often seem like the shrinking minority. Michaelson speaks frankly about the polarization effect this middle space has left him. All his reason for despair are justifiable. His loss of love for Israel stings precisely because of this familiar identification with that experience of being yanked apart living by opposing forces: in this case the “Israel bashers” versus the “Israel no-question askers.” For one to honestly care about the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians takes courage and an unusual amount of risk. And the pressure to choose sides or to disengage completely is mounting.

These choices offered by Michaelson are disheartening, yet it is obvious that he is too tortured to make the final decision. Thank G-d for that. I am not ready to make that decision either. In lieu of this state of indecision, allow me to take the liberty of asking the next logical set of question: For those of us who refuse to be seduced by “reality” and chose a more polarized understanding of the conflict, how can we trudge onward with this gigantic burden of the middle ground? How many more times can we sing Od Yavoh Shalom and believe it? These question require more than just cognitive faculties. It makes a spiritual demand to believe in what we do not see. We must ask ourselves if we have the inner capacity to hold our beliefs in tact? How many more storms of massive polarization can we weather? Choose your metaphor here. How many more years can our clichéd mantras like “my destiny is inextricable from your destiny” keep us together? In real terms, how much are we willing to put on the line?
I do not believe all these questions need to be answered at once. But the first step in fortifying our souls to avoid polarization is to reexamine our attitudes. I do not fault anyone who despairs from a seemingly hopeless situation. But your soul should be strong enough to say to your breaking heart at some point, “Is that the best you got?”
I find my latest inspiration to come from a Rebbe Nachman quote that I rediscovered on Yom Kippur. Loosely translated from above, “If you believe that things can get worse, why not believe they can get better.” Why not believe that? Why not? I have to believe it because embracing the alternative would be asking me to throw away my entire world view that I’ve spent my life cultivating. And I’m not ready to do that. No matter how seemingly impossible it may appear to our limited vantage point, something as immovable and intractable as the middle east conflict, with enough work, love and G-d’s help, can get better. I plan on contributing my part. What are you waiting for?
Editor’s Note: The forward has since created a “On Losing My Love for Israel” page, including a follow up piece by Michaelson himself called Love Is Not Blindness.

14 thoughts on “If you believe that things can get worse, why not believe they can get better? – Fourth Entry for JStreet contest with Jewschool

  1. Jonathan1, you keep bringing up this Sinai fantasy. What other country in the world has been so loose with its territory as Israel? The Egyptians will not give Gaza an inch. Instead, the “international consensus” will demand that Gaza be extended north, into Israel, and by that time, you will probably agree.

  2. It won’t be a fantasy if people really start talking about it.
    Egypt can be compensated (for instance by allowing it a safe passage through the Negev and Jordan and into the Persian Gulf.)
    The only fantasy is that the world began and ended on June 4, 1967, and that those lines are set in stone.

  3. You want to compensate Egypt for giving land to the Palestinians in Sinai by giving them a route through the Negev. I say, why bother, just give them the whole Negev. If all that was holding up peace with the Palestinians was to give Egypt the Negev, the pro-peace position would be to hand over the Negev.
    Are you pro-peace, Jonathan?

  4. No. I am suggesting that we shouldn’t worship on the alter of June 4, 1967. Land swaps and border adjustments will have to be part of any partition of western Eretz Yisrael.
    I’m pro-partition. I assume you are anti-partition.
    I guess I am pro-peace in the sense that just about every single creature on this planet is pro-peace, but we all want our own version of “peace.”
    (I don’t see how building a highway that runs through the Israeli-controlled Negev is the same as ceding sovereignty of the entire area to Egypt, btw.)

  5. We should condition the partition of Israel on receiving reciprocal land in Jordan and Egypt. Everyone should make sacrifices for peace, right?

  6. Avigdor, you are beating around the bush on this issue.
    If we want to have a state of Israel with an overwhelmingly Jewish population, one that can be built into a “glorious” society, and one that is not involved in keeping its “foot on the neck” of millions of other human beings, we’ll have to partition the land–but we should do so in a wise way.
    What are you asking me?:
    Do I wish that Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinians had different political realities? Yes.
    Do I wish that we’d be able to keep all of the land and natural resources? Yes.
    Do I think the 1967 War was our fault? No.
    The list can go on and on, but how does it solve our problems to say that it’s all the Arabs’ fault? Even if that’s true, where does that leave us?

  7. All that is fine. We’ve discussed partition before, Jonathan1. I know where you stand, and you know where I stand.
    I just don’t understand why you keep deluding yourself that Egypt is going to give an inch of land to Gaza. And then you premise that by suggesting we give something to Egypt. You should know what is going to happen. Egypt will STILL not give an inch to Gaza, but now they will say… what’s this? You were going to give us something? Give it to us anyway.
    That’s how it’s always been with the Arabs. Whenever we show that something is up for negotiations, they create leverage over us and then pressure us to start negotiating.
    If you were an Israeli leader and I was an Egyptian leader, and I heard you say that, that’s exactly how I would respond. I would conveniently forget about Gaza, declare that Egypt has a sovereign right to access the Persian Gulf, and that Israel already accepted this fact, and all that is left is to negotiate the implementation. You will respond with, wait a minute, what about Gaza? I’ll answer with, Gaza is your problem; now you either give us access to the Persian gulf, an idea you already accepted, or you threaten the stability of our peace agreement.
    And you know what will happen next? Jpost will publish one article against giving Egypt access to the Persian Gulf and Haaretz will publish another article saying how important it is to preserve the peace with Egypt at all costs and they’re not really asking for that much. Then Egypt will cause a diplomatic crisis and watch how Israel tears itself apart.
    We’re not trading rugs here, Jonathan1. We need to stop speaking like everything is up for negotiations. No country has ever given another country land, willingly, in the history of humanity. You argue for partition of Israel, fine, you have your reasons and we’ve discussed them. However, you would be a fool to expect any other nation to do the same.

  8. I’m just trying to bring up different ideas on how best to deal with our situation with the Palestinians.
    Partition is smart. The Gaza expansion idea is smart. Transfering Palestinian-populated areas from Israel to Palestine is smart. Dealing with Marwan Barghouti and not Khaled Meshal is smart.
    What can I tell you? I really don’t have all the answers 100%.
    Either we try to figure out the wisest way forward, or we resign ourselves to messianic dreams and “keeping our foot on the necks” of millions of human beings forever(the far-Right) . . . or we adopt the far-Left’s delusion and bury our head in the sand and pretend that it’s all our fault and that Israel isn’t located in the Middle East.

  9. Barghouti is a nobody. I’m so sick of Western liberals creating these heros like Barghouti and Fayyad. Have you spoken to any Palestinian about this? Barghouti was on the Fatah list that lost to Hamas in 2006. He has no support outside the West. His popularity relative to Ghneim or even Dahlan (both hated murderers) is marginal. The only reason he is famous is because he is in jail. The only thing he deserves for his crimes is a bullet in the head.
    I actually think the exact opposite. We need to stop dealing with Fatah altogether. The PLO can deliver nothing. Their word means nothing. They are being propped up by $1.5 Billion in cash being thrown at them by the US/EU every year. If not for that money they would have all been murdered long ago.
    Say what you will about Hamas, but they enjoy genuine support. I don’t see the harm in destroying Fatah by opening a dialogue with Hamas. The Fatah elite will all flee to France, and to hell with them; bringing them back from Tunis was the worst mistake ever made with the Palestinians. Those left on the ground will have real support of their people. As for Hamas, it is still digesting the beating it took in January. Meanwhile Iron Dome goes online in 8 months.
    Regarding your plans to divest Egypt of its sovereign territory, keep dreaming. The easiest way of easing the Gaza pressure cooker is just allowing Palestinians to leave for Jordan, the Gulf, Europe, America, wherever they want. This is how high population density is handled in normal parts of the world – people leave.

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