This is an eventful time in Israel-related activity in San Diego and beyond, and I wanted to get some of my thoughts and resources in one place for my own and others’ edification.
In no particular order, most people know that US President Barack Obama visited Israel this past week for the first time since his election in 2008. It was a highly anticipated trip, no less by all those who’ve been saying since day one that he would “throw Israel under the bus” than by his most fervent supporters. Many of Obama’s critics regarding his Israel policies won’t be swayed no matter what he does short of making aliyah himself (and probably not even then), and reaction in Israel and in the American Jewish community has been mixed (what else would it be? Are we not Jews?). Still, even some conservative commentators lavished POTUS with praise, including Yossi Klein Halevi, who called the Thursday speech “a love song to Israel” and maybe “the most passionate Zionist speech ever given by an American president.”
I had a great conversation Thursday, after reading part of the speech, with a couple of students at SDSU who’d stopped by the Aztecs for Israel table and display on Library Walk. Carl (a history major) and Jay (finance) were two of the most educated, intelligent, and engaged people I’ve ever spoken to about this issue. They were knowledgable and challenging, open to learning, asked insightful questions – it was really a pleasure talking to them, and while they came as friends, I hope they left even more supportive of Israel. AFI was out in force this week (and will be back next week) to counter the ridiculous amount of hatred, lies and vitriol spread by Students for Justice in Palestine during their Palestine Awareness Week/Israel Apartheid Week (one and the same, of course). With able and critical assistance from StandWithUs and other community partners, “my” students (I’m their staff advisor) provide passersby with factual, helpful information about Israel, the IDF, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and how they differ), etc. They promote the truth – that Israel seeks peace, but that peace takes partners, and that in many ways Israel doesn’t seem to have any at this time. This is unfortunately but tellingly reflected in the student organization situation on campus, where SJP students have repeatedly rebuffed AFI efforts to engage in dialogue, either direct or with a third party (even when the third party is a high-ranking university administrator dedicated to diversity, who reports directly to the president of SDSU). My students have been amazing through this all, weathering terrible verbal and written attacks while maintaining their composure and maturity, displaying real courage and strength that makes me so proud.
Partly due to President Obama’s visit to Israel, NPR has done more stories on Israel this week than I’m used to hearing (at least when there’s no war going on). While I really appreciate the longer, more in-depth pieces public radio tends to air, they still sometimes display a subtle (or not so subtle) bias, such as when they say “the occupied West Bank” whenever talking about that region. Overall, though, I heard or saw a couple of interesting stories this week:
- A photo essay on Beta Israel, the community of Ethiopian Jews;
- A story about Ethiopian-born beauty Yityish Aynaw, who, as the first black Miss Israel, dined with Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, during his visit. This piece also notes a couple of other Ethiopian cultural and social milestones in Israel, including Idan Raichel’s collaboration with singer Kabra Kasai and other Ethiopian artists, and 2011 Israeli Idol winner Hagit Yaso;
- This piece about Hamas schools in Gaza (about 20 out of 400) that teach Hebrew. This was particularly fascinating, partly because of the subtext and things that WEREN’T said by the reporter or anyone interviewed. There is a whole generation of Palestinian men who are fluent in Hebrew because they worked in Israel before the withdrawal, and who are therefore able to get a glimpse into Israeli society via television and print media. While the 9th grader the reporter talked to in this story said it was important to learn Hebrew because “it’s the language of our enemy” (a sentiment echoed/parroted by “[a]lmost everyone I speak with in Gaza,” the reporter says), the 44-year-old cab driver, who worked in Israel for 12 years, doesn’t put it in those terms. He freely admits to watching Israeli TV and reading Israeli newspapers, and wanting his kids to learn Hebrew as well. I don’t think there’s any way to consume this media diet and not come away with at least a basic sense of humanity of “the other” (in this case, Israelis) and therefore be at least a LITTLE skeptical of your leadership’s claims about the “enemy’s” intentions. In other words, the seeds of normalization exist in Gaza; they were planted years ago, before Hamas came to power, and there’s nothing Hamas can do to erase the experiences and interactions these Palestinian men had with Israelis. Obviously not everything was love and light – far from it – but many of these men (who now have families of their own) know that many Israelis want the very same things they do. They know that on both sides there are people who want to raise their families in peace and security, within borders recognized by neighbors who, while perhaps not engaging in vibrant diplomatic and cultural relations, at least recognize each other’s right to exist.
Finally, a fair amount has been written and said about the phone call Bibi made to Turkish PM Erdogan from Ben Gurion Airport, as Netanyahu was escorting President Obama back to Air Force One for the trip to Jordan. Some of what’s being said is to the effect of “Obama forced Bibi to make the phone call,” “this is humiliating to Israel,” “Erdogan is the only winner from Obama’s trip to Israel,” and other such nonsense. Quite frankly, if you really believe that this phone call was forced on Bibi at the last minute (or at all( and that the renormalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey is of no benefit to Israel, you have no idea how international diplomacy works and should just stop talking about it.
That is all.