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.