Jewish Journal


November 17, 2011

Opinion: Conflict, choice and surrender


David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony- and Oscar-nominated playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director. His latest book is “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” (Sentinel).

David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony- and Oscar-nominated playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director. His latest book is “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” (Sentinel).

Read a response to David Mamet here: Dear David Mamet: Reform Judaism doesn’t surrender

The old joke has it, how many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? No one knows — it’s never been tried.

Similarly, Reform Judaism has met with few conflicts it did not attempt to resolve by submission.

It is praiseworthy, of course, to pursue peace, but Napoleon taught us the logical end of purely defensive warfare is surrender. And acts of continual compromise may be understood, and will be understood by one’s enemies, as precursors of eventual surrender.

Any conflict may be stilled by surrender. Reform Judaism, for reasons good or bad, but which, I am sure, seemed good to its various practitioners at the time of implementation, abandoned Yiddish, Hebrew, the Talmud, kashrut, ritual, the Eastern European Jews and currently toys with condemnation of its co-religionaries in Israel. In order to defend what?

After all the compromises have been made, and the conflict persists, and the will of the people has been broken by a lazy reversion to “the truth must lie somewhere in between,” what remains but the destruction of the Jews?

But sometimes the truth does not “lie somewhere in between,” and those times are all characterized by one’s own interests being at stake.

Henny Youngman famously quipped, “Take my wife. Please” — a joke less funny when the wife is replaced by the Jewish state.

Who would have suggested that the middle ground between Bin Laden’s Islamic fascists and the people of New York was the destruction of just one of the Twin Towers?

Yet a similarly absurd view infects many of our brethren as regards the State of Israel.

Please let us remember that we American Jews are protected from the threat of annihilation only by the strength of Israel, the resolve of the United States and the Atlantic Ocean.

The ocean isn’t going anywhere, but as we are the beneficiaries of their protection, the other two are the responsibility of all of you.

Who does not want peace?

Everyone wants peace. We see bumper stickers exhorting us to “Visualize World Peace” — I understand this to mean a world without strife. But there will always be strife. Countries want different things at different times, and they, no less than individuals, are prone to error, to arrogance and indeed psychosis, leading them to adopt ways destructive of peace.

These ways — aggression and the waging of war — are always, and from the point of view of the aggressor, legitimately, stated as a quest for peace.

Prior to World War II, Japan felt that it could have peace only be enlarging its hegemony in the Far East.

Germany, prior to World War I, felt itself “encircled,” its peace only obtainable by a “breaking out.”

The Nazis suggested that peace could be found, but only by elimination of the Jews.

The Israelis of today understand peace to mean the cessation of hostile activities by their neighbors. Their neighbors openly proclaim they can know no peace until the Jews are gone or dead.

All are searching for peace.

We Jews must be careful, for our balance of chesed and gevurah — of loving kindness and strength; we, in the main, default, in America, toward chesed. But such a default is not and cannot be either invariably moral, or a true “safety” position, though the Reform and assimilated Jew often thinks that may be so. A default position of chesed may just as easily lead to both immorality and strife, as the opposite. See the life of the spoiled child ruined by his loving parents.

If we train ourselves,  and our young, to consider the good Jew’s responsibility in any conflict, to assign to the combatants, opponents or litigants values based on their appearance or claim of victimhood, and, then close the mind, we induce in ourselves and those to whom we are responsible, a laxity of character. It is not sufficient to say, “I thought I was doing well,” if, when faced again with a similar situation, one will make the same doomed-to-failure, immoral and destructive choice.

Of course one thought he was doing well. Who acts otherwise? The failure of the left, and of the liberal, Reform Jews, which are a vast percentage of its polity, is the inability to compare results with intentions and alter one’s future behavior accordingly.

It is not enough to say, “It is a jobs bill” — who would vote against jobs? A clearer head, rather than indicting such a bill’s opponents as “greedy” or “selfish,” would put motives (which can never be known) to one’s side and consider performance. The opponents of such a bill, then, would be seen (and correctly seen, according to Jewish law), not as “voting against jobs,” but as “voting against the bill.”

And, indeed, an impartial review of all so-called “jobs bills” reveals that they cost the economy jobs.

Why would “the government” pass them, then? Because they have the power to trick the unwary, good-willed voter into supporting those procedures that are, in effect, the politician’s retirement plan.

Politicians buy votes. That is what they do for a living. One must watch them and their antics very closely, for they, no less than any other employee, are likely to get frisky with the household cash if the employer insists that he will never keep tabs.

How may we bring about peace? How may we retreat from a state of disastrous inequilibrium toward a more stable center?

First, we must state what such a stable situation would look like.

Do we want the economy to improve? Yes. Does 70 years of increased government control and taxes improve or weaken the economy? Well, then, are we strong enough to examine not the title, but the content of proposed bills, and determine, based on best available evidence and history, whether that bill is likely to bring about the desired result, and at what cost?

This is how we run our households; this is, or should be, how we make our choices as to education of ourselves and our dependents; this is how we run our churches and synagogues, the Boy Scout troop and the PTA. This is called “common sense.”

If we want the peace that is brought about by the exercise of common-sense choice (irrespective of the results of our actions — for, having chosen, considerately once, we may then see the results of our choice and later our course in accordance), if we want the peace of exercising common sense, we must school ourselves away from the group that insists on the party line and the gossip the press spews out to buttress it.

Peace costs something.

So far, in the West, the cost has been measured, for most of us, only in psychological disturbance. And most particularly among the Jews.

Well-meaning people are not exempt from foolishness. And those who, especially among the Jews, are “for” the Palestinians, are fools of the worst sort. For just as Michael Moore makes his living, many millions of dollars a year, from railing against The Rich, Western Jews may retain a measure of equilibrium by “siding with” the opponents and critics of the State of Israel. But Moore is not going to put all his funds into a pot and split it, pari passu, with the bums at an Occupy Meeting; and the American Jew is not going to give his apartment on Beacon Hill, his synagogue, or his children to Hamas because they title their struggle as “against Occupiers.” But he wants his cousin in Israel to do so to save him the struggle of a change of thought.

All of us know what it is to be involved in a struggle. It may concern a divorce, a lawsuit, a custody battle, a real estate transaction, an action in the workplace. The first reaction of anyone is shock, which is a sort of grief,  a longing for equilibrium: “What would I not give for the world before the phone rang?”

At some point, one must realize that things are not as they were before, and that one is going to have to go through strife in order to get peace. If you are upset about the State of Israel, you are, as Jews, upset indeed. You, no less then the Israelis, are then searching for peace. This peace may appear to be in the cards if you indict the State of Israel.

But this, of course, involves a rejection of your like. Now, many people derive a neurotic satisfaction from such — as if it made one “better” than the group — the excess of justice sufficient to indict one’s brothers.

But I think that most of you, those who, unfortunately, are “opposed” to the acts of Israel, are not of that group. But you would like to think well of yourselves and well of the world. The world, however, is made up of human beings — and they, no less than you and I, are flawed, misguided and likely to name their passions as either the pursuit of virtue or otherwise incapable of control.

But let’s adopt a Jewish approach to a universal problem that happens, in the case of Israel, to be particularly our own. Let us become moral scientists, using scientific tools to prevent the error to which all are prone. Let us first adduce the facts.

After we can agree upon the facts (which may take some doing) let us check: Are we now enraged? No. Then we may, still at peace, continue, happy with our newfound knowledge that determining facts does not cost us our equilibrium.

If someone is name-calling — if indeed, most of the Western media are name-calling — this need carry no weight with the scientist, bearing in mind that the group is no less prone to error than the individual. The individual’s position is better only in that he is more likely to make intellectual amendment, as he has only to consider his own fallibility and not worry about his subscribers.

If we consider the facts (who did what, when, with what justification), and proceed to logical extrapolation (who intends, or proclaims he intends, to do what now), a dispassionate (which is to say peaceful) observer will conclude that the peace the State of Israel seeks, as it has not been brought about by 65 years of concessions, can only be achieved at the moment through military defense and that, further, military defense without military reprisal, or its threat, is no defense at all.

The peace the Palestinians want, which they proclaim and which proclamations are borne out by 65 years of actions, can, at this moment, only come to them through the eradication of the Jews of Israel and the Jewish State.

With whom do you chose to stand?

And let us bear in mind that either choice will cost you.

One may say, as we did in the ’60s, “Why vote? It only encourages them.” But the vote is the only tool between us and enslavement. It is, as is often demonstrated, a weak tool, but it is our own.

And, as with voting, the decision not to choose is, of course, a choice, but it is the choice of one preferring the slavery of group-think to moral self-direction, which always means making the difficult choice. Why difficult? Because it is unpopular. This is also known as heroism.

We are enjoined, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

The question, “What is justice,” is the eternal question of the Jew. The answer, “It is what my group tells me,” is not the Jewish answer.

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