“Would you like to appear on FOX News to talk about Israel and Palestine?”
Sure, why not? If you’re going to go out, better it be in a blaze of glory.
Going into a television interview, I should note, one must have goals. Objectives. Hopes. Dreams. One must also have fears. What do I want to say, and what do I absolutely not want to say? What do I want to focus on? What do I want to stress? Who am I trying to reach? When it comes to the current violence between Israelis and Palestinians, I’m in a pessimistic mood. I believe Netanyahu’s never been interested in peace, the Palestinians are too fragmented to have a government that offers them any kind of direction, the occupation is getting worse and worse, and—how’s this to focus the mind?—while Netanyahu pretends Hamas is just ISIS, movements are rising in the region which will make many of us long for negotiations with Hamas.
That’s what I wanted to say. And I did so because I believe we can, and should, combine our most closely held beliefs with a pragmatic outlook. Some folks like to say religion is only ever about being anchored in the past, stuck in the 7th (or 1st, or what have you) century. I think religion also forces you to look into the future. What happens to me? What happens next? On Tuesday night, I was a guest on a Kelly File segment about the increasing violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
I went on in a theological frame of mind. You can watch me, and co-panelist Brooke Goldstein, “debate” a question that has already been answered (there was no mention, by the network, of Israeli incitement):
But I went on nonetheless, not only because I’d like to reach FOX viewers and be part of conversations I would not otherwise be part of, but because this is too important to leave to extremists.
History is critical, of course, and history is always part of our contemporary circumstance. Therefore, for every point made by my co-panelist, Brooke Goldstein, I made sure to offer a rebuttal. Not in order to lead to a zero-sum game, but to prove how history, despite its importance, is insufficient to solve a conflict. Somehow it can only extend a conflict. Because too often, these conversations are reduced to my side versus your side. My pain versus your pain. And nothing gets done.
Because we refuse to move beyond pain.
So I decided to be a little bit more theological about it. Given that my religion asks me to look forward, to an expectation that after this life comes another life, and our final and complete accountability, I decided to frame my responses differently. Not, “how did we get here?”—even though that’s important, but more “where will we end up if we keep going in the direction we are?” To me, the solution to the problem of Israel and Palestine is urgent not just because the occupation is wrong.
Which it is. But because if it doesn’t end, what happens? You’ll notice that I stressed dialogue and negotiation, while Goldstein warned about “religious war.” I’m not sure whose interest it is to make the current conflict become an existential battle to the end between the world’s Jews and Muslims, but that’s what happens when we start accusing our opponents of being inspired by and led by their most closely held beliefs. Negotiations have failed before, but we shouldn’t confuse the current quiet for an actual solution. My fear is a civil conflict, a civil war, between Israelis and Palestinians, which will quickly draw in extremist groups. To argue this is not “racist.”
It’s simply obvious. If you marginalize people who push for peace, who want negotiations and conversations, then you necessarily pull forward the people who want anything but. (It’s also ironic considering that we, as Americans, revolted and fought a war for our independence over far lesser grievances.) If we’re so concerned about incitement, and we should be, let us be equally concerned about the conditions that make incitement possible. There are radicals in every place and every time. But they only catch fire in some places and at some times. There are worse folks around the corner.
If we don’t offer solutions, then others will. Worse people, with viler agendas. Let us be firefighters, not arsonists.
Oh, and a side note: it is possible to have a civil conversation on FOX News. I have hope for the future.