Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Always, Always Israel

For some people, it’s always about Israel.

Over the past few weeks, I and other columnists have written about Sakineh Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for the crime of “adultery.” The good news is, folks from all walks of life and political persuasions have rallied to Ms. Ashtiani’s cause. The strange news is, some still suppose Israel is the problem.

You can extrapolate the Ashtiani case to any number of issues – the growing danger of Iran, the cruelty of Sharia law, the misogyny of Islamic regimes – but even if you spend a paragraph, as I did last week, pointing out that Israel is irrelevant to the topic, that’s still the part that gets people animated.

Every public opinion engenders some measure of response, and there are those who perceive hypocrisy whenever one injustice is given press, rather than another. They’ll complain, “I notice you didn’t write about the expulsion of the Acadians” or “the theft of the Elgin Marbles” or whatever. But as a reliable tangent and an object of anger, the Jewish state stands alone.

And I don’t just mean anonymous ravings by people who post opinions online. I’m a sanguine sort, but even I don’t expect to read surpassing wisdom from “ChunkyLover54” on some Internet comment thread.

Awhile back, I was invited to speak at an educational institution, which posted the transcript of my remarks on its website. The speech was not about the Middle East, but one member of the school’s community, on poring through the canon of my columns, discovered that I had, from time to time, written positive things about Israel. He demanded that a disclaimer and link to an Arab advocacy group be posted under my comments.

After a business partner and I went our separate ways, he opted to punctuate our relationship by sending me a hand-written screed about “the Arabs” – a topic we had never discussed and on which I was unaware he held any view – stating that he had harbored anger with me for years because of public statements I made in support of Israel.

One of the most affable journalists I know (to the extent that’s any kind of distinction) finds it impossible to discuss current affairs for any length of time without making reference to my “twisted defense of Israel.”

Look – I’m just a Presbyterian. Why should these people care what I think about the Jewish state? The answer is, they don’t care about my opinion, but their anger is so strong that it blinds them to anything else. And Israel, as with politics in general, becomes the focal point for their other frustrations.

But you know what? Let’s use that energy. Herewith, I put out a call for proposals.

In Israel and the Palestinian territories, you have millions of people in a small space that most of them consider holy, and home. Without forfeiting your spot at the grown-ups’ table by ranting like a nut, tell us what Israel should do.

Would you then turn to the plight of Ashtiani? Or do you imagine that solving the Israel-Palestinian situation would somehow civilize the entire Middle East, eliminating the region’s many problems with human rights? I might disagree with you on that but, if you’ve got a great idea, let’s give it a try.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.