Archive for April, 2019

BIBI, AGAIN

Israelis have given Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu a fifth term. Last Tuesday, his Likud party won 36 of the Knesset’s (parliament’s) 120 seats, main rival Blue & White 35. President Reuven Rivlin will call on Bibi to form a coalition government. So?

Bibi was all about security and Israel as a Jewish state. Last weekend, he promised to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. That would kill a two-state solution. (Disclosure: It’s long been dead. The Palestinian “right to return” would upend the Israeli nation.)

My cousin Lisa Bennett, who lives in a Tel Aviv suburb, supported her cousin Naftali Bennett’s New Right party. She comments: “The biggest Israeli dilemma is defining the core values of the country.” The overwhelming consensus: Israel should be Jewish and democratic. But what if only one value can be selected? “Ultimately, the majority of the country feels that being a Jewish state remains our top priority.”

Bibi received support from Donald Trump, whom many Israelis love. Trump’s soon-to-be-revealed peace plan, authored by son-in-law Jared Kushner, supposedly will herald a great new era in Israeli-Palestinian relations. (Disclosure: Not likely.)

A week ago, Trump made a “snap decision” to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, taken from Syria during 1967’s Six-Day War. Syrian artillery looked down on Israel’s Hula Valley and fired at will on Israeli towns and roads. The threat from Syrian and Iranian forces would be intolerable. 

But recognizing Israeli occupation of the Golan pending a peace deal with Syria—how will that happen?— is a far cry from making a diplomatic leap regarding sovereignty and igniting the next potential firestorm. More than a self-professed “instant history lesson” is required for an American president to construct a Middle East policy.

As to Netanyahu, the Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner points out that Bibi has never been wrong about security issues. For example, he opposed pulling out of Gaza. (Disclosure: I did not.) Israelis acknowledge Bibi’s security bona fides, and “this goes not just for voters for the Likud party, or even the right-wing parties that are expected to join Likud in the next government, but even for Blue and White, which largely echoed Mr. Netanyahu’s positions on important foreign policy and national security questions.”

Still, Israelis dislike much about Netanyahu. He may be indicted by attorney general Avichai Mandelblit on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He allied with racist parties and is outspoken in his attacks on Israeli Arabs. And security may be more challenging than Israelis think. The journalist Ari Shavit warns that Bibi has “provided short-term profits at a very high long-term price. Netanyahu’s Israel is mortgaged. And we are going to pay dearly.”

Democracy, as Lisa hints, may be a casualty if Bibi continues attacking Israel’s supreme court and media. His wooing far-right and ultra-orthodox parties positions non-orthodox Jews in Israel and the Diaspora—definitely including women—as second-class. (Disclosure: That includes me as a member of a Reform congregation; the Reform movement is North America’s largest.) All this could widen the pronounced gap between Israel and a significant part of the American Diaspora, often misinformed but legitimately concerned about the rights of Jews—and Arabs. 

So Bibi marches on. My prayer: He won’t march Israel off the end of a cliff.

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UNTRUTHS VS. LIES

Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, recently appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition” to present strategies for speaking to people with different opinions. What he didn’t say also offers much to think about.

Promoting his new book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, Brooks advised, “When you’re talking to somebody else, you’re not positioned to say that that person is a pathological liar. What you know, or what you believe, is that person is saying something untrue—and that’s what you should take on.”

In forsaking personal attacks, Brooks cited NYU’s Jonathan Haidt on two values that might draw us closer together: compassion and fairness.“We don’t define those things in the same way,” Brooks warned, “but we care about those things.” Brooks also acknowledged that conservatives and liberals have different moral foundations. His endgame regarding discussing—and arguing: Listen to the other person then let compassion and fairness perhaps lead to common ground.

It’s important to listen to those with whom we disagree and acknowledge what they’re saying. Of course, listening doesn’t mean agreeing. But it can reduce some of the pent-up rage in the other person, who may see you as foolish, unpatriotic, maybe evil. Letting someone else get their words out—even vitriolic words—can be like releasing air from a balloon inflated to the point of bursting. Also, the active listener becomes better informed about the opposing position. You can’t advance your own position without a clear sense of what another believes and on what values they draw their position.

So you listen. You acknowledge. But still, things often get sticky. What happens when the other guy distorts or ignores provable facts, or proposes non-facts? Can you use the “L” word? 

Granted, your opponent may simply be misinformed and utter an untruth. That’s easy enough to do. How many times has any of us mentioned a movie with an actor who never appeared in it or a sports statistic we didn’t get right? Some people—some—will acknowledge an untruth when it’s pointed out. Facts often can easily be arrived at. A smart phone makes a great starting point.

But your opponent—or someone she supports—may, yes, lie. The difference? An untruth represents a lack of knowledge through error or ignorance. No harm may be intended. A lie involves deliberation, falsifying fact and truth, usually to seek some advantage. 

Liars, knowing they haven’t an objective leg to stand on, often fall back on a murky right to their own alternate reality. The crowd at your inauguration was the largest ever or the Mueller Report completely exonerated you as long as you believe it. Fact loses any relationship to demonstrable reality. George Orwell presented an authoritarian government’s concept of fact and truth in his classic novel 1984: Black is white and white is black.

Re Brooks, can you really love your enemies when they scorn reality and objective truth? Of course, using enemy to describe those with whom we disagree creates a toxic political climate preventing reasonable solutions. At the same time, enemy may be an apt term for those who deny facts. We can love them only if we’re hellbent on committing physical or national suicide.

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