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flight and shadow

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nahash Sefta

My grandfather Israel Kaitz left Palestine with my 14 year old father Amos and his kid sister Tirtza in tow in 1939, ten years before the founding of the nation of Israel. Israel was an electrical engineer, a polylinguist who spoke 8 languages, a brilliant man who helped found the national worker's cooperative called the Histadrut.

But even then he saw the growing power of the ultra religious branch of judaism as a threat to both his emotional state and the country itself , so great a threat in fact that he ultimately decided to leave Palestine and come to America. My father hated religion too, his whole life, our few trips to the local Temple Beth Israel were actually more a matter of social necessity than theology.

Judaism to me as a kid meant weekly visits to Blumer's deli and good seats at whatever pro basketball team was in San Diego at the time, the yids liked to congregate there and usually had the best seats in the house.

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I traveled to Israel out of high school and spent nearly a year in the Western Galilee, at Kibbutz Gesher Haziv, a Kibbutz that my Uncle Ralph and the Detroiters had a hand in founding. Another uncle, Avram, was a founder of Revivim in the Negev. Kibbutzniks tended to be more leftist and socialists. Way back then in 1976 we heard tales of rocks being thrown at cars driven on the shabbos and of the ultra orthodox trying to assert their power in Israeli society, and not for the better, in any case.

I had promised my brother that I would go back to Israel if there was another mideast war and in fact went back to Israel in 1990 when the scud bombs started falling, an act that pretty much cost me my first marriage. I spent six weeks in and out of a sealed room with a gas mask and atropine injection kit, only returning after the war had ended.

Israel had changed dramatically in 15 years. While I had befriended and worked side by side with many Palestinians in the seventies I found that things had become much more polarized and now the two resident populations eyed each other across the room with great suspicion. A man who I worked with, toiling at hard labor in the banana fields, who had a stellar career in the army, confided in me that the mid east sun made both sides much like each other over time. Arabs and Jews were now involved in a spiraling dark dance. I met jews who lived and worked with muslims their whole lives and never had spoken an intimate word with them. Life in Israel had changed greatly.

I had worked as an electrician in Israel in the 70's. My boss's son was grown now but had undergone a crackup in Gaza and refused to fight, anathema in Israeli society where the warrior is lionized. He was looked at like a leper.

I had the pretty naive idea that I would organize a meet between neighbors and get people to talk with each other and look at each other as human beings. A sort of consciousness raising, an introduction. We held it in a local community center. It was not a great event. A Mossad man monitored the meeting, an invitation to a local arab chief's feast to me was rescinded, evidently I made things too hot for everybody.

I could go on and on about the specifics of the trip but don't think the story should be told as yet. I will say that the Israel that I had come to love had changed dramatically, and not for the better.

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I always felt that the Palestinians deserved a contiguous state with water, one that they could be proud of to call their own. Netanyahu has endorsed this idea for years but it never seemed like he did so with any real passion and in fact did all he could to actually subvert the idea. Now I believe that he was jerking everybody off the whole time, onanut they call it in hebrew, that my initial view of the man was correct, that he was a liar that could not be trusted and that he actually exemplified everything wrong with the worst of the family tribe. The master of the double dealing end game and the cruel calculus. In Israel you see, everything is always about winning. Life is a big game of shak, chess.

Bibi objectified his enemies and now even his own Israeli arab citizens. he has appealed to the most craven tribal impulses of his countrymen and spit in the eye of his allies. Carter, Clinton, James Baker in the Bush administration, Obama, everyone who has been in contact with his double dealing obfuscation and game playing has learned to hate him.

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I am a zionist. I am a jew. I love Israel. I love the jewish people as I try to love all peoples. I understand that Israel, in the midst of many real enemies, has legitimate security concerns, that we and they don't live in a perfect world.

Having said that I also think that the recent election, with Netanyahu finally admitting that he will never accept a Palestinian state, will come back to haunt him and Israel for generations, and that the repercussions will be swift and catastrophic. And they will wake one day on an island with few if any friends, to a deaf ear, facing an avalanche of negative world opinion, and reap the most bitter of fruits for their hubris, prevarication and insensitivity.

To me, being a jew means striving to be the most ethical and fair person possible, to jews and gentiles alike. The jewish people have a long history of persecution, we must make doubly sure that we refrain from persecuting others. Courage sometimes means attempting to do the difficult thing, even when another path looks easier and more convenient. It means doing the right thing and putting ourselves in other people's positions at times. It seems as if Israel is as split and bifurcated today as the United States is. I hope that both countries can reclaim the best parts of their national trust and spirit.

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