I spent the week following my participation in last month’s Israel Symposium with relatives. I’ve kept close contact with five first cousins on my mother’s side, and most of their children, who now have more children of their own than I can easily keep track of.
|With my Israeli relatives in 2007 (I’m in middle in white shirt)
One such first cousin (once removed) hosted me on the night before my return to New York. We had a Friday night Shabbat dinner with his in-laws, including his rather prominent brother-in-law, a globe-trotting authority on energy issues.
It’s no secret that Meretz, the progressive Israeli party we feel a kinship towards, is struggling to garner enough votes to regain influence in Israeli politics. It was a pleasant coincidence that I recently met a run of Israelis, outside of the Symposium, who happened to be Meretz supporters. These include the filmmaker, Arnon Goldfinger (whom I interviewed two days before my departure), a young couple from Kibbutz Shiloh whom I chatted with as we waited for our flight out of JFK, plus several of my cousins. One of these was my host that evening, who now considers himself a “socialist,” after being disabused in his career of the altruistic goodwill of his private employers and being inspired by last year’s social protest movement. Others include his sister and her husband, who now live as non-member residents on the kibbutz where he was raised. It’s not a surprise that my firebrand dovish cousin Gila, with whom I again spent a wonderful few days at her home at Kibbutz Kabri, will vote for Meretz.
But my time listening to the political views of other relatives was less gratifying. One
40-something cousin, no fan of Netanyahu and from a traditionally Laborite family, actually meant it as other than a joke when she derided my involvement with the “Arab lovers” of Meretz. I hadn’t realized how completely she has been alienated from the possibility of peace by the second Intifada and the rise of Hamas in Gaza; she typifies the way that the electoral peace camp has collapsed in the face of the renewed violence and hostility that has marked too much of these past 12 years. She’s so beyond reason now that all she can summon regarding “Arabs” is that they “hate us” and “want to kill us.” (She hastens to add that she doesn’t mean “all Arabs”; Christian Arabs are nice, she says.) And she can’t even be persuaded of the justice of Arab rule over their neighborhoods in East Jerusalem: “You want to divide Jerusalem? Jerusalem is ours.”
Her husband, an antiques dealer and owner of real estate, pontificates that the Palestinians are not really a nation; he appears to have imbibed Joan Peter’s controversial (and largely discredited) 1984 study, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine, which contends that most Palestinian Arabs were relative newcomers to Palestine from other parts of the Ottoman Empire. Her father — a prosperous retiree of the Egged bus-drivers’ cooperative and therefore a past stalwart of the Histadrut and Labor Party — loudly opined at one point in his limited English that “The Arabs are all liars.”
At the same dinner where I met my other cousin’s prominent brother-in-law, I was introduced to his father’s new girlfriend. Miriam is a pleasant 65 year-old who is given to one simplistic view of the political situation: “The Arabs will never make peace with us.” Attitudes like these underline the need for bold leadership (whether Israeli, Palestinian and/or American) to bring back hope among Israelis that a secure peace is still possible.