By Symi Rom-Rymer
I think Thomas Friedman can read my mind. Just as I sat down to write this blog post, I came across a new op-ed of his that addressed my very topic. (Hat tip to Mr. Friedman)
In his op-ed, Friedman takes on recent efforts by Western political leaders and entertainment personalities to delegitimize Israel. He argues that Israel is a complex and multi-faceted country that deserves to be seen and understood in all of its nuance rather than as a symbol of unfettered cruelty. Furthermore, he gives his readers a glimpse into the Israeli psyche and shows just how it fits into the context of the greater Middle East. But more importantly, he demonstrates that simplistic views, such as the ones put forth by Britain’s Prime Minister or Oliver Stone, serve not to ameliorate the situation, but rather simply prolong the anguish for all involved.
Friedman’s views may not be particularly novel, but his words rang especially true for me in the wake of a rather emotional conversation I had with a new Brazilian acquaintance, Peter (not his real name). We were both participants in a journalism training course in Prague and were relaxing at a bar with friends at the end of an intense week. Suddenly, one of the people in our group mentioned that Peter’s last name is also common Brazilian Jewish name. Teasingly, I turned to him and suggested that he might actually be Jewish. His immediate reply of: “no, I don’t want to be Jewish,” didn’t bother me until he added that the reason he didn’t want to be Jewish because of Israel. He felt that Jews were selfish in their dealings with Palestinians and in their refusal to give more land to the Palestinian state. Blindsided, I didn’t quite know what to say. I had expected a simple answer of “I don’t want to keep Kosher” or even, “I’m Catholic, why would I want to convert?” My immediate response—although unsaid—was to reply defensively and demand to know what was so bad about Israel. Another part of me wanted to give him a crash course in Jewish politics and explain the huge rifts within the American Jewish community over that very topic. A third part of me felt grateful. Continue reading