On The Heels of #MeToo, Can We Have That Honest Talk on Israel?

Allow me to conflate two issues that, at first blush, don’t appear at all related.

First, as a man, I know my voice in the MeToo movement that’s currently taking place is not the most vital. That said, I am happy to express my admiration for the many women (and the smaller number of men) who’ve stepped forward and outed their abusers. In the process, they’ve brought the topic of sexual abuse and harassment into the national, and international, forefront.

Early on, it was called the #MeToo moment. And, in the instant gratification world we’re living in today, that wasn’t an inaccurate qualification. If the media firestorm was only about Harvey Weinstein and the women he, personally, harassed, it really would have been just a moment – a fleeting blip in our collective consciousness.

But the New Yorker expose was really made possible by many pre-moment actions, including those of women who stepped forward and confronted Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. For the record, it feels more than a little foreign to me to be praising (former) employees of Fox News (full disclosure: I did work for Media Matters for America for a bit, where Fox News is a frequent target of attention). Nonetheless, women such as Gretchen Carlson, Megan Kelly, Laurie Luhn, Laurie Dhue, Andrea Tantaros, Juliette Huddy, Wendy Walsh and Andrea Mackris, set the stage by outing arguably the top two mahers at Fox News. They sparked the conversation.

The Weinstein story followed. And after Weinstein, came the flood. With the timely assist from Alyssa Milano, the flood is what made the “moment” into “the movement.” Actors, news anchors, comedians, celebrity chefs, producers, directors, politicians and pundits… many men in positions of power have since been made accountable for their actions. Forced out of positions that made them so powerful. Had their covers blown. (Notably, our President has, so far, proven immune to his accusations.)

The consequences have been surprisingly swift and punishing. So much so, that there’s a legitimate conversation taking place about overreach, and what type of actions, exactly, deserve the MeToo label.

But the real value of the MeToo movement to me isn’t the powerful figures it has brought down. It’s the increased confidence women have expressed in confronting demeaning or dangerous behavior. It’s the change in the way we publicly conceive and act toward women. It’s the conversation that it forced into the mainstream.

Some (maybe many) men have expressed discomfort or confusion in processing this new era. And that’s to be expected.

Change is often difficult. And change often intrudes on us when we are least prepared.

But change is also often necessary in order to move forward. In order to adapt to new circumstances.

Shouldn’t we embrace change? Or, at the very least, shouldn’t we prepare for it?

I ask these questions because, in the MeToo movement, we’re seeing the (much needed) resetting of social norms happening right before our very eyes. And it’s making us look inside and take stock of what we think, and how we act. I know it’s had this effect on me.

So while we’re here, while we’re in this time of introspection, shouldn’t we reconcile a few more facts with our behavior? Shouldn’t we see if there are other areas in our lives where our thoughts and actions may be inconsistent with our principles and morals?

Yes, I am talking about how we think about Israel and how those impressions drive our actions. I know this is a difficult topic for many. But, in the words of the good Reverend Dr. William Barber, “I want to wrestle with you” for just a bit.

We, as Jewish Americans, are historically a liberal community. We support civil rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights… If there are rights, we pretty much support them. We’ve assisted in the exodus of Ethiopian and Soviet Jews, along with a host of liberal and progressive causes. We fundraise and give money to many charitable organizations.

We do all of this proudly. We make public statements about it.

We also proudly support and defend Israel. For the record, I have no problem with this. I am a Zionist.

But what we consistently fail to do is apply our democratic ideals and standards to the actions of the Israeli government. For a host of reasons, with varying degrees of legitimacy, we give the Israeli government a pass on policies that we would find abhorrent if were they implemented in the United States.

I know. It happened slowly and, to some of us, imperceptibly. But over the course of 20 years, we’ve arrived at an Israeli government that is increasingly nationalistic, autocratic and hostile to Palestinians.

We are an overwhelmingly liberal community. But aside from a small minority, the reaction to the right-ward lurch from leaders of US Jewish organizations has been muted at best. In recent cases – like the Trump administration’s unilateral decision to move the US embassy, or during the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran – most prominent American Jewish organizations simply fell in line with the Netanyahu government.

We provide cover for those questionable policies. We give our tacit support – sometimes not so tacitly. Worse, we ignore or censure credible dissenters among us, as well as the sources of news that cause us to question our generationally ingrained, reflexive support.

Do we really agree with what’s happening on the ground in East Jerusalem and the West Bank? Do those policies square with our principles and democratic beliefs?

If we’re not sure, shouldn’t we talk about it?  Shouldn’t we learn from the MeToo phenomenon? Shouldn’t we gather all new information and reassess our view toward Israel in the 21st century?

Shouldn’t we acknowledge that, unlike the first 50 years of its existence, Israel is no longer in immediate danger of military invasion, and is considered the most heavily armed and best army in the Middle East? Shouldn’t we acknowledge the fact that Israel is a nuclear power in the most unstable region on this planet? And yes, don’t we also have to acknowledge that it’s been nearly 20 years since “the handshake” and we’re not any closer to an actual peace accord?

There are many legitimate reasons to support Israel and to laud its accomplishments. I am not at all advocating that we suddenly and completely abandon that support. I am not in favor of the BDS movement, or extreme organizations that oppose Israel from a foundation of hate or anti-Semitism.

I consider myself squarely on Team Israel. I just want my team to do the right thing.

Shouldn’t we talk about what the right thing is?


Photo by Daniil Avilov on Unsplash

Mahalo, Maui!

Dear Maui,

I miss you! Since I’ve left your welcoming beaches, luscious hills and wondrous mountains, I’ve been filled with longing. I want to feel your sand between my toes once more, and to drink in your intoxicating air.

I want to return. I know one day I will. But that day is not today, and that makes me so sad.

I can still feel the warm kiss of your sun and the gentle lapping of your waves. I’m different now that I’ve experienced your presence. You’ve changed me. But the essence is fading fast.

Instead of your beautiful blue horizon, this morning I woke to frosty grey skies and freezing air. I’m happy to be home. Though, as I’m contemplating the return to my regular life, my heart is still with you.

I saved a memory of us for just this moment.

I’m floating on a paddleboard in the warm silkiness of one of your bays. The sun is showering my back with radiance, as I’m awed by the sharp, green slopes rising in front of me. Clouds are gently skimming your peaks with their smokey wispiness. I look down, and through feet of depth, I’m able to peer the shimmering outlines of curvy boulders at the bottom of your crystal clear waters.

You’re so perfect. I want nothing more than to remain here with you, at peace.

I’ll be back. Wait for me.

US Embassy Move to Jerusalem: Biting the poison apple

Many of us learned last week of President Trump’s announced plans to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The move was not unforseen, as media coverage in the preceding week informed us to expect the decision; and Mr. Trump, himself, made the pledge during the presidential campaign last year.

The anticipated announcement consumed the media for days, as political and foreign policy experts weighed in on the consequences of the decision. I assume similar debates were held in the halls of leading Jewish organizations in Israel and the diaspora. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is a big deal, and an organized response by the Jewish community is to be expected.

I had a chance to read the statement made by Jewish Federations of North America, which was subsequently reaffirmed by our own Greensboro Jewish Federation. Many of you, like me, also received a follow-up message from Rabbi Fred Guttman, who called the Trump administration’s decision “the right thing to do.”

“The right thing to do…” That phrase gave me considerable pause.

Do we know that this is really the right thing to do?

After a few days of deliberation and internal struggle, I found myself very much unsettled by the statements made by Jewish organizations and leaders in support of Mr. Trump’s decision. This includes our local Jewish institutions that speak for our community.

Having the benefit of a few days’ time to analyze the world’s reaction to the announcement, I am not at all convinced that the consequences are worth the “victory.”

Impact in Israel: Israeli society is divided, with many left-leaning figures and news outlets calling the move unwise. Palestinians in West Bank and Jerusalem fill the streets in protest, and are, predictably, met with riot control tactics. Four dead, so far, and dozens injured. In Gaza, Hamas is calling for another intifada. Rockets are, once again, flying across the Negev, and into the vicinity of Jewish city centers.

Impact on the US: US embassies world over are placed on high alert as protests erupt at their front gates. Allies in Europe and Middle East come out against the announcement, adding to increasing diplomatic isolation and signaling a waning ability to influence future world events.

From my perspective, it seems that Mr. Trump has offered us, the Jewish world, a poisoned apple. And it appears that we are all too happy to take a giant bite, even as we know that it is poisoned. As hopeful as the JFNA statement is about “a two-state future,” make no mistake – this puts a two-state solution farther out of reach, not closer.

Mr. Trump’s entire appeal is the permission for people to act on their own worst, tribalistic instincts. Isn’t that exactly what’s happening here?

What’s to be gained by swallowing hard and accepting Mr. Trump’s leadership on this issue? Are we not smarter and more principled than to fall for a charlatan’s tricks? Are we not better than this?

My 26-year history in this community informs my hope that we are. My experiences with my fellow Greensboro Jews – young and less-young, conservative and liberal, observant and not-so-much – tell me that we are.

Am I wrong?

Photo credit: Jerry Kiesewetter

Steady There… Facing Approaching Fatherhood

I confess. For most of my life, if I ever thought about raising children (which was hardly ever), my immediate internal response was panic. It’s not that I’m afraid of children. In fact, most of the time, I think I kinda like em. I am just mortified of ruining some unsuspecting and underserving kid’s life.

The all-prevailing American marketing cabal has taught me that dads are supposed to be gentle, patient, responsible and wise. I am NONE of these things. Ok, on a good day, I can cover one, maybe two of those qualities. I just can’t imagine myself providing the emotional buttressing that good parenting requires.

I consider myself a pretty level-headed and enlightened (or enlightenment-seeking, at least) individual when it comes to most things. When facing new situations, I like to keep an open mind, gather a substantial amount of information, and then proceed to make an informed judgement on how I should move forward. I pride myself on not jumping to immediate conclusions, while I search for deeper meanings or insights. I strive to respond to situations objectively, based on the merits of pertinent facts, while quarantining any personal feelings or leanings.

Below my detached, analytical shell, (like most dumb=men) I also have a macho self-perception of this rugged, I-can-take-on-anything, cool dude. Most of my immediate, emotionally-driven reactions tend to be sarcastic, comedic commentary. “Cute” and “cuddly” are less accessible when you’re operating in Macho Mode.

Neither of those dominant personality traits scream “good parent.” I’m either “too cool for school” or too analytically-inclined to be good at parenting. It makes me uncomfortable.

New scene: ultrasound room, 18-week pregnancy check-up

My cheeks are literally aching, but I’m not really aware of the perma-grin that’s causing it. I am also desperately telling myself that the water draining from my right eye and rolling down my cheek is just a result of eye irritation. My right hand is numb and twisted in a freakish position, clinging to the fingers on my wife’s hand.

My neck is screaming with discomfort, but my eyes are transfixed on the too-high mounted TV screen. There, white, gray and black swirls periodically reveal tiny, jerky movements of the glory that – in five short months – will become my daughter.

Here’s the crown of her head… the face, eyes, mouth, spine, kidneys and rump (that’s the pregnancy-lingo term for baby butt). Every little inch of her is captured by the magical ultrasound wand, and assembled into images to be expertly analyzed by the technician and excitedly pored over by her parents to-be.

I am frozen.

Imagine my shock. No sarcastic thoughts bubbling up from the caverns of my mind. No worries of inadequacy, or incompetency, or natural parenting ability. No panic attacks, shortness of breath or out-of-body experiences. Just pure bliss… and pride.

Three days later, I’m posting a grainy ultrasound photo of my daughter in utero on Facebook. I hate Facebook, and haven’t made a post in at least six months. That doesn’t stop me from lighting up inside every time a “Like” notification graces my account. I, guiltily, spend hours watching other people appreciate the perfection which I had a hand in creating.

I’m obsessing over the little nose which gives the slightest suggestion of the final shape it will take one day. It’s the only feature that can really be made out in the rough profile. But, I don’t need to see it any better defined to know that it is beautiful and unforgettable.

How can it be that I already treasure this thing so much? I’ve never held her or seen her in person. We won’t form a physical bond for another 21 weeks, but already I feel an overwhelming need to protect her and make her happy.

This isn’t at all like what I was afraid I would (or wouldn’t) feel. It doesn’t feel like a chore. It doesn’t feel foreign. It doesn’t scare or intimidate me… Ok, maybe a little.

It also feels natural and right and how it’s supposed to be. Let’s hope that doesn’t fade.