I have just published a “Chirpstory”– that is, a compilation of tweets– about the event I went to today at the New America Foundation, a Washington DC policy research institution (think tank), at which five panelists and a slightly out-of-her-depth moderator were trying to discuss the situation in Gaza. If you’re interested, you can see the archived video of the whole event, and the bios of all the participants, here. It was pretty interesting.
Here, I just want to add one additional comment, in reaction to some things NAF’s own Lisa Goldman said there about the heartfelt and apparently intractable feelings of “fear” that Israeli people have. (In the context, it was very clear she was speaking about Jewish Israelis.) She acknowledged that the Gaza Palestinians were in currently living in a situation of real danger; but she said people should not forget that Israelis live in a constant state of fear. “Any Israeli you talk to, they will tell you about how terrible it was in 2002 and they could not go and enjoy a pizza because of the fear of suicide bombers,” was one of the things she said.
I found this argument interesting, for a number of reasons. Firstly, she seemed to be equating the fear the Israelis feel with the danger the Palestinians are experiencing. In other words, the “feelings” of 6 million Jewish Israelis are just as important (or more important?) than the actual danger of imminent death that currently stalks 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Secondly, she neglected to mention that (gasp!) Palestinians have feelings, too! And one thing all Palestinians in Gaza feel right now– along with many of their close family members and other fellow Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel, and around the world– is very intense fear. Thirdly, she seemed completely stymied by the phenomenon of the Jewish Israelis’ fear. She seemed to be saying– though I need to check the video for the exact quote– something like, “Well, because of those Israeli fears, that means there is nothing we can do.” Finally, making this argument to an audience primarily made up of US Americans, she seemed to consider that her invocation of the “fact” of the apparently intractable fears of the Israelis, on its own, constituted some kind of a reasonable and convincing argument. Very bizarre.
Even more bizarre, because earlier both she and Ms. Naomi Paiss of the New Israel Fund had been at pains to tell the audience that “Israeli society” (by which, again, I think they meant Jewish-Israeli society) “encompasses a wide spectrum of views.” They had both really seemed at that point to be working overtime to undercut the analyses made by Max Blumenthal and others, to the effect that Jewish-Israeli society has in recent years undergone a large-scale lurch to the right… But despite that “wide spectrum of views” that Goldman and Paiss both identified, still, there was Lisa Goldman telling us that we have to remain paralyzed in the face of the fear that, she argued, nearly every Israeli feels.
Well okay, as it happens I spent a non-trivial amount of time in Israel in 2002 (June.) I rode the buses, went to the pizza parlors and restaurants. People around me were watchful, and every public place had a security check at the door. (Hullo! That is the case in tens of other countries, too. There’s nothing so special about Israel, it turns out.) Also, I know for a fact that there are a number– okay, currently a small number— of Jewish Israelis who are not themselves “paralyzed” by fear and who do not expect, as a matter of course, that the whole of the rest of the world will join them in their paralysis.
Lisa Goldman seems like an interesting– if slightly parochial– person. She does some good writing at the “+972” online mag which is an important platform for Israeli (and some Palestinian) peaceniks. I had never seen her in person before. She seems like an unlikely candidate to be, as she is, the relatively new head of New America’s “Israel-Palestine Program”. Born in Toronto, she moved to Israel as, it seems, an adult, and took Israeli citizenship; and stayed there to work for around ten years. Including, she wrote this blog. At some point in late 2011, she left Israel and went first to Toronto before she moved to Brooklyn (NY.) She still lives in Brooklyn and told me she commutes down to DC every so often on NAF business. Also, during today’s program she admitted, with an irresponsible laugh, that “I don’t understand US politics.”
So I’m now extremely puzzled as to why NAF, which seeks, I think to contribute policy-useful research and thinking to the discourse here in the United States, should have appointed her.
What goes on in Washington DC is extremely important to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Surely, any US think tank that seeks to be studying this conflict seriously and making good, serious recommendations as to how this policy can be improved, needs to be capable of looking at the US policy-making dimension of the present diplomatic imbroglio/impasse/fiasco in a very serious way? I don’t think it’s enough for someone in this position to be just an Israeli (and Canadian) person of somewhat– or even strongly– pro-peace sympathies. And given the arguments she was making today, about the need for everyone to “understand” (and apparently also be paralyzed by) the fearful feelings of Jewish Israelis, I have more doubt than I did before I saw her today, about the depth and groundedness of Goldman’s pro-peace inclinations.
Okay, there was one other thing. I thought it would have been very appropriate, at the beginning of this gathering, to give some– even minor– acknowledgment of the depth of the human losses of the past eight days. But there was none. So when I stood up to ask my question (at about 1:12:00 in the video), I said it would have been nice to have started the session with, say, a minute of silence for all the victims. Lisa Goldman cut in from the stage (though she was not the moderator of the session, on a number of occasions she tried to act as such; and this was one) and said “We don’t have time for that!” I said, “Not even a moment? 210 people have been killed– ” But she appeared adamant… So I moved right along and asked my question.
This cutting off of any acknowledgment of “feelings” for the victims of the violence seemed a little harsh to me.
Oh well. A pity about that… But still, having a public event at a sizeable Washington DC think tank at which Palestinian-American rock stars Noura Erakat and Samer Badawi got to be part of the panel was a wonderful advance over the way things were in Washington DC even just a few years ago. You can get some flavor of what those two– and all the rest of the panelists– said, from the Chirpstory.