Volume 3, Number 45
"There's a Jewish story everywhere"
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The headline read, "Clinton Says U.S. Seeks Unity With Muslim World." If she did, it was the lesser of the two sins she committed. Worse, Secretary of State Clinton went abroad and did that which American officials - as officials - should never, ever, ever do - she used her own religion to discuss American policy. "I am a Christian," she said, according to the Washington Post. "Through the centuries we have had many people who have done terrible things in the name of Christianity. They have perverted the religion."
Irrelevant. The Government of the United States, which she represents, is an institution separated from her Church and every other by our founding charter. There had better be no Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist foreign policy emanating from Foggy Bottom.
There are all sorts of countries all over the world with which the United States can have varying levels of positive interaction. It may well be the job of the Secretary of State to find more countries and more levels, but with due recognition that we already have excellent relations with some countries in the "Muslim world," and others - if they want to have relations with us - need to change what they do. And the idea that there is a Muslim foreign policy - or even a "Muslim world" - with which the United States should want to be "united" is seriously offensive.
There are Muslims who regard themselves politically as European, Asian or North American. Even where Muslims predominate, governments and priorities differ. Indonesia, where Mrs. Clinton was speaking, is different in outlook, form and policy from Afghanistan, which is different from Uzbekistan, Bosnia, Turkey and Dubai. What foreign policy priorities do Burkina Faso and Turkmenistan share? India has the second largest Muslim population. Bahrain and Iran have foreign policy priorities that are often diametrically opposite, and one of them has priorities directly opposite to many of ours. Egypt and Saudi Arabia certainly have different views on foreign policy than Syria.
So where is their "unity" supposed to come from?
Which leads to the final problem of Mrs. Clinton's pronouncements. She said a foreign policy priority for the United States and, "one of the central security challenges we face - (is) to how to better communicate in a way that gets through the rhetoric and through the demagogy and is heard by people who can make judgments about what we stand for and who we truly are."
The first two things she should communicate are: 1) The United States separates religion from government at home and abroad, and does not appeal to people's religious views as determinants of foreign policy; and 2) acceptance of diversity, not some enforced or mythical unity, is the hallmark of American success. The real test of democracy is not the fact that a majority rules, but how it hears its minorities - religious, ethnic and political. Protection of individual liberties under the rule of law is "what we stand for and who we truly are." Our unity comes from accepting our diversity - E Pluribus Unum.
Which raises a final point. We believe there are people, Muslims and others, who are not in need of a better explanation. They understand America perfectly well. Precisely what we treasure about our diverse and tolerant system is what they abhor, and they don't want us spreading our ideas in their countries. It is those people, particularly when coupled with arms and a suicidal ideology - not our lack of public relations - that "constitutes the central security challenge we face."
Towards this end, this publication has assembled a diverse group of writers, representing a wide spectrum of opinion within the Jewish world. As editor and publisher, I try to achieve a balance because I firmly believe that by presenting different viewpoints, we might occasionally spark a discussion, or get someone to reconsider long-held beliefs. At the moment, I think, there are more politically conservative columns offered to us than liberal ones—but we’d like it known that all are welcome.
My dreams for a global Jewish dialogue also envision that the discussion would—or at least could—be conducted with civility, so that rather than challenge each other’s motives, or cast aspersions on each other’s characters, we Jews could commit ourselves to the intellectual process of examining alternatives and deciding together which of them are best for our people. Of course, this goal is often observed in the breach.
When passions run high, it seems, civility is the first casualty. And though arguments based on personality rather than policy make me shudder, I recognize that they too are part of the mix—that to ban them, or censor them, would make the choices faced by the Jewish world appear far too sterile.
There’s nary an important subject in which unanimity is possible, and particularly this is so when we discuss how we Jews should deal with people who are our proven enemies, or how to treat those who are perceived to be our adversaries. To borrow a metaphor from President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, should we extend our hands in friendship, or should we clench our fists in self-defense?
Bruce Kesler, a political conservative who writes an occasional column for us, has referred to my position as that of an “open-forum liberal,” a description that I like. I have my own opinions, but I have no exclusive claim on the truth. Rather than stifle the opinions of others who disagree with me, I try to make certain that they are aired.
My instincts tell me that there needs to be a way to surmount the politics of bitterness, or the controversies of religion, and find common cause with our fellow human beings, whatever their beliefs or background may be.
That is why I personally eschew those forums in which one group tries to demonize or dehumanize the other, and instead gravitate towards meetings in which groups display a willingness to look past their bitterness and reach out to the other side.
Perhaps that is why I have been so particularly enamored with the work of the Peres Peace Center in Tel Aviv, a non-governmental organization that was started ten years ago by Israel’s President Shimon Peres during a period when he was out of political office. The Peres Center has a longstanding partner here in San Diego in the Hansen Institute for World Peace at San Diego State University, under the directorship of Dr. Bonnie Stewart. The leaders of both organizations believe that Arabs and Israelis, and Jews and Muslims, are not doomed to be enemies. They believe—and have demonstrated--that by the slow application of positive will, old injuries can be forgiven, economic partnerships formed, and friendships created.
Stewart and a colleague at SDSU, Dr. Sanford Ehrlich, the Qualcomm Executive Director of the Entrepreneurial Management Center, will be appearing together at 7 p.m. services, Friday March 13 at Congregation Dor Hadash, 4858 Ronson Court, in the Kearny Mesa area of San Diego to discuss plans developed by Israelis and Palestinians to market a new olive oil, blended from olives picked in both countries.
Proceeds from this peace product will fuel other cooperative agricultural ventures between Palestinians and Israelis involving many different vegetables grown in the two countries. The blended olive oil project is the latest development in a Hansen Institute-led effort that has spanned more than two decades to get the two peoples working together. Palestinian-Israeli cooperation in the past has involved sharing such knowledge as what are the best practices for repelling insects, watering, fertilizing, pruning, and picking the olive trees, and now cooperating farmers are moving into the co-marketing of their products.
The Peres Peace Center tries to apply this cooperative philosophy to nearly every field of human endeavor, so that partnerships can be forged in the arts, medicine, science, business, sports, and so forth.
Political arguments have their place, but it is very rare that people ever will change their minds about closely-held beliefs. To do so would involve admitting that they were wrong about something—an admission very few humans willingly make. The good news is that people are willing to make “new decisions” – that is, they are willing to reevaluate their ideas based on a new set of facts before them.
The beauty of cooperative ventures such as those promoted by the Hansen Institute and the Peres Peace Center is that through patience and good will, new facts are being brought into play.
When enough people believe that their families will be better off when there is peace, sooner or later the political leadership is bound to take cognizance of this development. Change does not always come from the top; sometimes it can be brought about by the common citizenry.
JEWISH FAMILY SERVICE
Shlomo Moshe was a healthy happy 3 month old baby. One Shabbos afternoon, as he lay in his crib taking a nap, he suddenly stopped breathing. Hatzoloh Ambulance rushed him to Booth Memorial Hospital where doctors worked on him for 45 minutes before he was pronounced dead. The diagnosis was SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as Crib Death).
While sitting shiva someone asked me, "How are you doing?" The question threw me. I didn't know how to answer. My father was there and he said, "His son just died. How do you think he's doing? He's doing terrible. How else would he be doing?"
My father apparently considered that to be a stupid question and I agree. Therefore I never ask that question to people who are sitting shiva.
On the other hand, the person who asked the question was a good person who cared about me and asked with total sincerity; not glibly or thoughtlessly.
One of the wonderful things I experienced was the amazing amount of chesed, goodness and comfort offered by so many people. One woman, Mrs. Lillian Schlussel, Far Rockaway, NY, wrote a poem for us that moved Shlomo Moshe's mother and me very much. I framed it and continue to read it over to this day. Here it is:
A jewel was given to you on loan
You loved him right from the start
You watched him grow a little bigger each day
Then on a quiet Shabbos afternoon
It's hard to return a "jewel" you have grown to love
We are only human and G-d's wisdom we don't understand
Dedicated by Baruch & Adina Cohen in memory of their daughter Hindy, a"h (Chana Hinda bas Baruch Chaim v'Adina) on the occasion of her fifth yahrtzeit.
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CAROL ANN GOLDSTEIN