It’s nice having your youngest home for college Spring Break. It’s always good to get your progeny’s youthful perspective on life. At least life so far as it extends to you, her, and a tight circle of relatives and friends. But mostly how your life impacts her in an annoying kind of way.
A recap of one of those Hallmark moments follows:
Come on dad. Why do you have to always talk about Middle East history at dinner? Remember Hillel? Remember religious school? Remember Birthright? Don’t you think I picked up anything? You and mom should be more worried about today or tomorrow not hundreds or thousands of years ago. You know, you don’t get a do-over, so why obsess about stuff you can’t change?
Shakespeare said something about the past being prologue.
Yeah, and he’s dead isn’t he? Just because you made me take a Middle East class doesn’t mean you get a green light to give me history lessons while I’m eating my salad. And please let me eat my chicken without having to hear what so-called experts think about Iran, settlements, J Street, AIPAC, Avigdor what’s-his-name, or anyone who lives within ten hours of Israel’s borders. And I mean ten hours in a plane, not ten hours by car, camel, donkey, or anything else that goes less than 500 miles per hour.
Would those be the 1948, 1967 or 2012 borders?
Come on, dad. I don’t care which Israel borders. Just pick the ones furthest away from me. Can’t we just talk about your running? Or all of mom’s jobs? She’s gonna watch that first season of Seinfeld with you soon. Just be sure you hit “save until retirement” on the d.v.r. selection.
Look, if you’ll just stop, I’ll even tell you about some new friends I made in my Middle East class.
Deal. So tell me — any boys in that friends’ mix?
That’s like 30 years ago stuff. We just hang out.
He’s JUST a BOY who’s a FRIEND. I’m not telling you anything else if you keep asking questions like that. I’ll tell you what. What if I let you talk about Middle East stuff? I can ask you a few questions we’re supposed to talk about in class in a few weeks. You can help me with your….I mean MY talking points…. and then I can go “pre-game”……Deal?
Okay, just give me your REALLY SHORT answers, but make sure they seem mostly true.
You have doubts?
No, I just know my professor said everybody has their own truths, dates, and stories so I want yours…I mean MINE…to be like the majority truth.
Your class sounds like the classic Middle East struggle.
Whatever. So here’s some of the questions …
Which countries treat women and minorities the best and worst? Which countries are the most and least democratic? Which country did this Beinart guy say operates as both a democratic and undemocratic country, what did he mean and why is or isn’t he right? Which country in the Middle East would you choose to live in and why would you choose that country?
And then there were bonus discussion questions. I can either talk about the different reasons America supports Israel and whether this support could ever change; how the Arab’s Spring will affect Arab countries, the United States and Israel; how Israeli, Iranian and Palestinian issues might get resolved in the next ten years; or why really good dads give their daughters $30 so they can have enough money to spend.
Well, except for the I-just-want-to-get-out-of-here-with-some-extra-cash question I think I can help. By the way, it’s “Arab Spring,” as in Arab revolution.
Oh, I wondered why we were supposed to talk about Arab seasons. That makes more sense. Okay, you can start. I’ll make some notes. But first let me text my friends about the dad who decided to give his daughter some money because he got to talk about his favorite subject to his thankful child.
Let’s take this in stages. Stage One is the few minutes you’ve granted me — just enough time to take one of the bonus questions. Stage Two will be some of the lunches and dinners the rest of your visit when we can cover everything else. Stage Three will be the deposit stage. You’ll take what I say, mix it in with what you study on your own, and then deposit that knowledge in your class discussion. Plus, if you really listen and really discuss all of this with me before you go back, you might find a little extra in your monthly Wells Fargo deposit, too. And if you eventually decide to discuss your new undefined boy who is an undefined friend then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the extra spending money you need.
Dad, if I had only known there was a good bribe involved…..
Not fair. But I hope it’s enough. Which question first? And I REALLY only have a few minutes.
Let’s start with why America supports Israel.
For most of the last half century, our political leadership and the vast majority of Americans have seen Israel as a democratic oasis in an undemocratic region. It’s a region that has a melange of anti-democratic, dictatorial, misogynistic, and unreliable leaders heading up countries whose main connection to us is either the oil we buy, or the trouble they can directly or indirectly cause us, especially if we don’t provide aid. Israel stands tall in that crowd. Israel has been a consistent ally, shares our values, and defends our interests in a really volatile part of the world.
Could America’s support change? Sure. History — the thing you don’t want me to talk about — is replete with examples of shifting alliances. America has many interests around the world and if Israel and America ever seriously diverge on a particular issue — Iran is just one potential flash point — or if another country or group of countries helps fill a role that we now see Israel alone fill, then America’s support can certainly weaken. What worries me is so few people recognize that. Virtually everyone connected to the Middle East seems to be on “confirmation bias” steroids.
What does that mean? And I really have to leave, so can you hurry?
It means we start with a belief and filter out facts that don’t fit. If people believe things won’t ever change, they ignore reasons they might. Take someone who combines the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and his interpretation of Biblical history into an answer about why Israel shouldn’t trust any of the Palestinians and why the Palestinians just want to destroy Israel. If he gets reminded that the two major Palestinian leaders, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace as far back as 1993 and have continuously rejected violence, and that most key Israeli political leaders, including former Prime Ministers like Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert don’t doubt that, he still clings to his beliefs and lets those beliefs govern all of his actions. So he’ll point to other Palestinians who have done or said things that support his beliefs and he’ll use that to support the idea that now is not the time to deal with peace negotiations over settlements, borders, security, Jerusalem, water rights or any of the other key issues.
Or take some of the Palestinians who still believe that the third or maybe fourth generation of their family is entitled to move into a house in Israel that no current members of their family have ever lived in. They aren’t exactly open to considering how their Arab brothers played a huge part in causing their displacement by attacking Israel in 1948, so they focus their efforts on righting what they see as a past wrong instead of focusing on how to deal with, as you say, today and tomorrow.
Okay, so how does this all relate to American support for Israel?
Let’s talk at lunch tomorrow. I’ll fill in some of the blanks and talk about the rest of the questions when you aren’t so rushed and after you’ve brought me back some change.
Just keep it simple so I understand.
Understanding has always been a key Middle East issue. So has finding leaders on both sides that have the courage to take the kind of risks that can actually lead to an end to what has been a 64 year war. But we can deal with the rest of your class questions over the next few days. After you bring me back some change…..
Well, I understand you want some change, but I have the courage to take that risk….
Sounds like you’re off to a better start as a Middle East negotiator than a daughter who may need future aid, but we can negotiate tomorrow. No preconditions.
To be continued then?
Absolutely. “To be continued” is a reliable Middle East and familial certainty.
Note: The remaining questions will be addressed over the next several columns. I’ll also weave in my conversations with, and presentations from, various Israeli and American political leaders, journalists and activists.