Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Israel, day 8: Hebrew U, Religion and Identity, Parting and Departing

The last day was not as intense as the previous one.  It involved a trip to Hebrew University, a pair of sessions with a super smart negotiator, and then we packed and had a great last .... dinner somewhere near where the last supper was. 

First, Hebrew University May have the best view of any university I have ever visited:

We learned both about how academic stuff works in Israel (articles >>>> books), that it is a bit challenging to insist on English curriculum when the school’s name refers to another language, and that their grad students are doing sharp and interesting stuff.

After lunch, we had two sessions with a super impressive Israeli negotiator.  He talked in part about culture differences—that there are no words in Hebrew or Arabic for win-win but there are for zero-sum.  That win win means winning and then winning some more, right.?  He then went on to. Argue that the two sides have very different narratives that are the key obstacles to settlement.  That Palestinian identity is critically defined by conflict with Israel.  That their identity is about dispossession, about inability to realize rights, that this is about decolonization process, not a peace process.  “Success is making Israel one-eyed while we go blind.” 

For Israelis, conflict is a way of life. Hard to imagine how to be a Jew without conflict.  Many Israelis believe the conflict has nothing to do with Israeli policies, but with refusal to acknowledge right of Jews to self determination.  That the Jews are a people, not a religious group.  If it was all about occupation, leaving Gaza should have settled that.  

So, two core ideas: 
  1. How much investing can we do in authentic but not self defeating narratives?  Two conflicting narratives here, so how to create alternative ones that allow for settlement?
  2. Justice is an obstacle to peace.  Both sides have heaps of grievances and have made big mistakes, but the key is not fixing the past but finding. A resolution for the future.
I asked whether they had tried to learn from the resolution of other conflicts how to create alternatives. He said he had looked at other agreements and learned little.  

I tend to think it is less about narratives and more about interests and institutions, but he was pretty compelling,

We took a break and then came back for an exercise: we split into a bunch of groups and had to consider how to rule as supreme court justices (the court here is quite activist and far more centrist or liberal than the rest of the political system) on a series of scenarios that pitted group and individual rights.  Stuff based in reality like can the ultra Orthodox Jews block roads on the sabbath since folks aren’t supposed to drive on the sabbath or can ultra orthodox in the military leave events where women would be singing, and whether the various symbols of the state should berevised to be more inclusive.  It was interesting to argue with my colleagues in the trip...it made me realize how hostile I am to the ultra orthodox.  Ok, I knew that already “I fundamentally believe that fundamentalists suck.”  The spear wanted us to justify our decisions based on principles, but, as it turns out, the Israeli supremes tend not to balance competing rights but rights with sensibilities.  This, of course, sneakily and smartly built on the previous discussion about narratives.

The last event was an excellent dinner.  I explained the concept of “dibs” to our shepherd so that I could eat with him since that was a much lauded experience and I had serious FOMO.  It was, indeed, special, but just as I asked the big civ-mil question, Charlie Kupchan, one of the two organizers, stood up and asked everyone for their final thoughts.  I talked about how this great experience was a lousy propaganda effort (see my next post later today), that I was forced to confront how I felt about my identity and Judaism (I was not alone in indicating that this was caught up in a complicated relationship with one’s father and a post for tomorrow) and how great of a group we had.  The last was a very common theme.

I am glad I went.  I learned a lot, had great food, completed my cross Mediterranean swim despite Medusas, got to fly over an ancient land, and hung out with the cool kids.  And now I have to write the next book, prepare for the fall, and spend some time with Mrs. Spew.  Oh, and one last flight as I wrote this post and the previous one from the lounge at Newark airport.

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