There are always surefire ways to end an argument without a struggle. In yeshiva, you say, “There are conflicting opinions”. In marriage, the wife says, “Whatever you say, dear”, and the smart husband will shut up. In political discussions, the phrase, “There are several ways to look at it”, is shorthand for, “I don’t want to discuss it”. But in my case it is true. There are several ways to look at it, and I do want to discuss it.
I arrived in Israel in 1991 at the age of thirty (Everyone is scribbling away to do the math. I am the oldest forty year old you will ever meet). In the United States, I was hard-core left-wing. Of course, like any twenty something year old, my political views were shaped by which side had the cuter women and hippie chicks were way hot. I was out in the streets protesting for my right to burn the American flag, I had a Mao tee-shirt bought second hand in the Village, and I never missed a meeting of the committee for I don’t-know what that was held in Barnard (the only semi-legitimate way to worm my way into the women’s campus).
Just to let you in on how crazy the trip has been. I was in Israel in 1978 for my senior year of high-school. I went to the Sinai and it was still Israeli territory. Menachem Begin was vilified by the left-wing for trading land for peace. How dare he? Apparently, returning land that used to belong to the Egyptians is evil, but giving land that never belonged to anyone and was included in the UN charter in ’48 to an entity that never existed was a moral necessity. But I am a simple country boy so it is reasonable that I don’t understand. The memory that makes me believe I grew up in an alternate universe was that I proudly marched with Peace Now. Like I said, I was eighteen years old and they had cute girls.
When I arrived in Israel, the hot topic was “The Nation is With the Golan”. Back then, the Palestinians did not exist as a nationality (sorry, but that is a fact), and Syria seemed the most likely partner for peace. The only way to envision Yaaser Arafat receiving a Nobel Peace Prize or Rabin and Peres calling each other friends would have been injudicious use of controlled substances. But suddenly I found myself on the side of the line with the guys wearing white shirts and pocket protectors, and sandals with socks. All the rock-and-rollers and hippie chicks were way over there, on the other side of the political mason-dixon line. For the first time in my life, I actually had to inspect my political motivations under a microscope.
One year I did reserve duty near Jericho. There were two young men who I ended up spending a lot of time talking with. There are no discussions like miluim discussions. You have one month in the middle of the desert with no distractions to do absolutely nothing and you do it with the same guys every year. This was before the advent of the cellular phone. Yes, we did patrol on dinosaurs. Someone whispered to me that I should be careful because if I spoke to them, I would argue with them. They were (GASP!) left-wing. I found out that we had a lot in common, and that bothered me. I was dangerously close to being left-wing. They were members of an inner-city kibbutz and I was a member of a religious kibbutz. They thought that the Torah was dogma that brought evil and suffering into the world. We left that point aside. The peace process was in full swing and we had bigger fish to fry. They started out strongly in favor of Oslo but very quickly began to hem and haw. They were left-wing but they didn’t like the agreement so much because it was implicitly, though in an unspoken way, meant to economically screw the Arabs. They wanted peace with the Arabs, but very clearly not THIS peace. They were old-school socialists and thought that capitalism was evil. They wanted the Arabs as brothers, not as distant neighbors on the other side of a fence. They wanted to care for the Arabs, help them build schools and hospitals and enter the twentieth century, not give them a magnetic card and tell them to wash their hallway for fifteen shekels and hour, and get out of the country at five p.m. when they finish. They wanted peace, but not this one, and since it was the only one being offered, they supported it. They were the silent left and I felt a strong kinship with them.
I realized that all the hippies on the other side were wearing store-bought tie-dye and the rock-and-rollers were mostly old men with fat apartments in Tel-Aviv. They had the look and talked the talk, but they were the fat cats, the capitalistic elite. At the Communist Club, we used to joke that a Republican is a Democrat that finally has a solid stock portfolio. In America, Republicans are typically keep-your-hands-off-of my-stack capitalists. Democrats are willing to share the wealth.
In Israel, it’s not so simple. There is a left-wing politically and a left wing-economically. The left-wing political wants a Peace agreement with the Arabs. The left wing economic wants a more socialist agenda. There are also corresponding delineations on the right. After much introspection, I realized that I am right-wing politically but left-wing economically. Oh, and my wife was right wing, and she's cute.