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When You Are Politics, and Politics Are You

I went to public school in New York and a university in America that wasn’t diverse, but that sought to fill the void by shoving various multicultural programs down our throats.  Both real and fake diversity gave me some sort of mild appreciation for having friends from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, from all across the political spectrum.  I enjoyed sitting at bars, mildly or aggressively disagreeing with people while sipping my drink.  I sometimes labeled these exchanges ‘great conversations’ and I felt good for having them. I felt worldly and tolerant.

Some of us dabble in politics.  We have pet issues, and we’re vocal about some of them.  Others don’t only have political views, but we have deeply embedded values that guide the majority of our personal decisions and color our entire world view.  Some see these values as political issues, but we see them as the very fiber of our being, central to who we are. Which, of course, poses the question: can you form meaningful bonds  with people who find the essence of who you are to be offensive?  Is the PC approach of ‘not talking about it’ or ‘listening and accepting each person’s right to have an opinion’ actually viable in all cases?  We all want to believe that it is.

I remember sitting at a bar a couple of years ago with a friend of mine and some of her acquaintances who all study fine arts here in Jerusalem. I like art.  My mom is an artist and I was bred to have an appreciation for modern art. An evening with a bunch of artists could have been a learning experience, a chance to discuss the revitalization of the arts here in Jerusalem, an issue that I’m deeply interested in.  Instead, it ended up like this:

Art Student: So where are you from? What are you doing in Israel?

Me: I made aliyah and I’m in the army.

Art Student: ::smiles::: Aliyah?  Do you know what the word means in Hebrew?
Me: Yes, a move upward. From La’alot.  What’s your point?
Art Student: Well, I would hardly call a move to Israel a move up.  You don’t know it yet, but this country is a screwed up place. We do terrible things.
Art Student: Never mind.  Why didn’t you fight the draft?  You could easily get out of it. You’re American.
Me: I volunteered.
Art Student: You volunteered?! You might want to educate yourself about the IDF first! They occupy Palestine, among other things. You are a part of this machine now.

You get the idea.  At a certain point, we did transition to talking about their senior art projects, but despite that banter, no one felt the desire to get to know me, and it was mutual.  I walked away doubting myself and others: we’re all dynamic people- why can’t we avoid that one issue and have an good time?

After a lot of self-doubt, years of similar conversations, strained friendships, being de-friended and re-friended, and ‘respectfully avoiding’ politics in many circles, I’m finally ready to submit to the truth.  The truth is that I’m no longer holding up pro-choice banners on the quad and then calling it a day.  I’ve dedicated my existence to what the rest of the world calls a ‘political situation’ and what I call home; to a faith that the world calls one of three monotheistic religions, and what I call my lifeblood; to what the world calls antiquated and what I call Zionism, the Jewish people’s greatest hope and an asset to the entire global community. The truth is that my tolerance and ‘appreciation of diversity’ has limits. It makes no room for the preposterous de-legitimization of Israel’s statehood. I don’t appreciate the ‘diversity’ of perspectives regarding the difference between intentionally attacking civilians and dismantling terror networks, which sometimes entails tragedies for everyone involved.

I value free speech and I’m in support of your right express all of these sentiments, but  I don’t respect your views.  I don’t want to share a drink with you and avoid the issues, or to sheepishly disagree.

Sometimes,  our perception of right and wrong and trumps tolerance, whether we like it or not.  How strong of a bond can we form if you staunchly believe that my path in life is contrary to everything that you believe in? A political and social travesty? A humanitarian disaster?

We should strive to appreciate all that surround us for who they are, but also to accept that at times, our beliefs and our values isolate us and it requires a great deal of stamina in order to have the strength of our convictions. But, we must.

12 Comments

  1. Jinjirrie

    7/6/2010 at 11:58 pm

    Since when has zionism, a pernicious ethnosupremacist political ideology and form of racism and white supremacism, been an ‘asset to humanity’?

    What a joke!

  2. xisnotx

    7/7/2010 at 12:31 am

    all very interesting, but i dont think you’ve convinced dustin: http://www.jpost.com/ArtsAndCulture/Entertainment/Article.aspx?id=180671

  3. rozi

    7/7/2010 at 12:34 am

    wow jinh, now everyone here is going to convert to anti-zionism because of your philosophical and mind opening comment!

  4. JamesEJ

    7/7/2010 at 9:24 am

    Cori, Kol HaKavod!

  5. The Loxist

    7/7/2010 at 11:40 am

    So… you just want to surround yourself by people who agree with you? There are settlements and outposts for that, so enjoy the outskirts. Here in the real world, people have differing opinions and agree to disagree.

    And I find it hard to believe that you have trouble with all of those pesky artists running around Israel making your right wing views unsavory. All those Bezalel kids running amock at Mike’s Place… Harumph.

    Really, it sounds like you’re giving up rather than turning over a new leaf.

  6. AlexK

    7/7/2010 at 12:07 pm

    I love it how dumb leftists and our enemies have nearly identical views. And opinions no less. Wow. What powerful opinions! Big “fucking” deal as Joe Biden would say. Zionism is alive and well and these idiots can go to hell. That’s a rhyme.

  7. Tom Morrissey

    7/7/2010 at 1:44 pm

    Time to find yourself some of them right-wing artists.

  8. cori

    7/7/2010 at 11:09 pm

    Loxist- you didn’t read carefully, I guess. The point was that certain “opinions” go beyond mere political views and conflict with major values. Example: if you’re gay, can you ‘agree to disagree’ with someone who protests against gay marriage once a week? Sometimes, things are personal. That was the point. For me, Israel’s legitimacy and security are personal.

    Also, I said nothing about the settlements, so don’t presume that you know who I am. I live in Jerusalem and plan to stay, which in no way reflects a desire to only be around people just like myself.

  9. ck

    7/7/2010 at 11:57 pm

    My issue here, which I relates to the comments left by Loxist and the post and comment by Cori, is the divisiveness and anger exhibited by both sides, or should I say, “extremes” of the situation. Having been accused of being a fascist by left-wingers and a Godless hater of Israel by right-wingers what I miss most is basic civility – the ability to have a conversation without rancor, anger or hatred. I also miss the acknowledgment that the world isn’t black and white, that it’s made up of different shades of grey. I am however thankful for those amongst my friends, colleagues and acquaintances, of all ideological persuasions, who can see past ideological blinders enough to treat someone they may disagree with, with common decency and respect.

    Thank goodness that such reasonable people exist and that not all people on the left are like Richard Silverstein and not all people on the right are like Baruch Marzel.

    AND is ought to be noted, I use the terms right and left wing under protest. It seems all right-wingers in Israel approve of and support socialized health care and socialized higher education which, from an ideological perspective, makes them practically communist, at least according to Fox News and the US Republican party.

  10. cori

    7/8/2010 at 1:26 am

    CK- treating everyone with decency, civility and respect goes without saying. I’m talking about friends, I’m talking about people that we’re close to- it may not be PC, but I think that *many* people feel that sometimes, the elephant in the room is just too big.

    Completely agree with you re: the lame terms ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ – hence why I didn’t use them in my post, nor will I ever.

  11. themicah

    7/8/2010 at 2:23 pm

    Bars aren’t exactly the best places for civil conversation.

    Heck, the only time in my life that I almost got into a physical altercation was the result of a brief conversation about Israel in a bar. In China. On Purim.

  12. montana urban legend

    7/8/2010 at 6:36 pm

    It seems all right-wingers in Israel approve of and support socialized health care and socialized higher education which, from an ideological perspective, makes them practically communist, at least according to Fox News and the US Republican party.

    No, no, no, ck. The rhetoric is that it makes them Nazi. You’re not keeping up!

    And what an intriguing label too, given the setting.

    In any event, I too have been labelled and scorned by anger management dropouts on both the right and the left, although I do find that the rightists have been a bit more strident to me, for whatever reason. I don’t pretend to have any answers. However, as someone who seems to believe that political problems can be resolved with political solutions, I do think the two-party system in America makes the most problematic contribution – that and the fact that Western civilization, of which America sees itself as the standard bearer, is being confronted (and I refer neutrally to that fact) by a significant bloc within the non-Western sphere.

    Whether or not we are making a bigger deal of this than we need to is beside the point. It’s a powerful idea and therefore resonates through the political discourse on that basis.

    All that said, be grateful for the fact that in Israel you’ve at least got the chance to form a third party and rise up in such a way as to win the right to either build a coalition with which to represent the country as a whole, or to do it on your own. Political discourse might be becoming coarser in Israel – (and is it really becoming that way? I was under the impression that it was always lively enough to be labelled contentious by less passionate cultures…) – Strong U.S. support/alignment and the debate over pacifism/revanchism in Western culture more generally might play significant roles, too. But be grateful for living in a society where expression is expected to be more passionate, creative, and meaningful and where solidarity is not just an option.

    I know. It’s not much consolation. But in the internet era, it will take time for the idea of what constitutes discourse that is both meaningful and unifying to evolve.

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