Sunday, February 22, 2015

Israel, Arabs, and Postulates for Living

Postulate one: you learn in life that generally you can only control what you yourself do. Others will generally do what is in their own interest, except your parents, if you are lucky, and except your spouse, if you are lucky, and sometimes other members of your family, or sometimes someone else, but you can't count on it. It's a blessing when someone understands you and helps you, something to be relished.

Postulate two: it doesn't help much to blame others and to hold a grudge. I'm talking about utility, not justice, and not even truth. If things go bad, you do best to look at your own actions and make them better next time. You can acknowledge what somebody else did wrong, and how somebody else is a jerk, but aside from choosing who you associate with next time, blaming somebody else doesn't have that much utility, except maybe legally.

Postulate three: it's a good thing generally to do “the right thing” without expecting either appreciation or reciprocity. Don't go crazy about it, but just do the right thing, even if the other one is a jerk (most people are not jerks all the time, although I've heard that some are, mostly concentrated in the financial industry.) You may get appreciation, you may get reciprocity, or you might get resentment. Still, I think it does you the most good to do the right thing. Just don't go overboard.

Do these postulates apply in political affairs? Especially, do they apply in international affairs, where I believe there really is a clash of civilizations? Clearly, turning the other cheek to Mr. Putin is not the right thing to do. Bullies must be stood up to, not collapsed to.

But let's not talk about Russia, let's talk about Israel. The Israelis are much afflicted in their neighborhood, where school children in neighboring Muslim countries are taught to hate Israelis and Jews. Being sweet to Hamas or Hezbollah isn't likely to help much. Even being nice to the Palestinian Authority brings a mixed bag; the PA has to answer to its people, and there enough hard-liners to make it very difficult to make progress.

But thinking a little more short term actions and long term results, 20% of Israel's population is non-Jewish, mostly Muslim, but also Christians and the Druze. This population is generally discriminated against in many ways. But in fact, they offer a major opportunity for Israel to do the right thing.

So, here's the proposal: If Israel took this population as a gift, as an opportunity to do the right thing, it is possible that they could really make some headway. What if they preferentially delivered excellent educational opportunities to them? What if they practiced affirmative action for employment? What if they went out of their way to make this population successful?

OK, it would be hard to do. But imagine what might happen. First of all, would they be appreciative or resentful in the short run? Or suspicious? Probably appreciative and suspicious, but who knows – I've never even been to Israel. But I can't imagine that this population wouldn't take advantage of a smoother road to become educated.

Then what might happen? They might become a very economically successful part of Israel. They might develop their own institutions, but they would probably just integrate. I can't imagine the Jewish businesses not incorporating such talent. In time, these non-Jews might become some of the most appreciative and patriotic citizens of Israel of all.

Then, what happens in the rest of the Arab world? Well, they might declare jihad against these turncoats, some of them. But mostly there would be envy and maybe admiration, and maybe even competition. If there were resentment and denial, it would be rebutted by families and relatives who would know the truth.

The truth would out. The eighth century Caliphate ideal would be replaced by the twenty-first century modern ideal. The misled Middle Eastern Muslim masses would be slow to come around, but thought leaders with some sophistication would privately and then publicly point to Israel as a beacon for Arab advancement elsewhere. There would actually be a way out of the tunnel.

Call me a fabulist. Call me na├»ve. Call me uninstructed. But, as they say in the movie review part of Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle, “It could happen.”

Or maybe nothing would happen. The Israeli right wing would waylay it; the Arab world would become even more antagonized by the attempted seduction; the most respected law of social affairs would rear its head, the Law of Unintended Consequences. But so what. At least the good people of Israel would have done the right thing, and that is reward enough on this earth.

Budd Shenkin