In 1986, when The New Republic was a must-read (before Silicon Valley Philistines ruined it), it posed the Jeweler’s Dilemma: You own a jewelry store downtown. Fearing robberies, you install a buzzer. A young black male appears. Do you buzz him in? Are you a racist if you don’t? Today, as my family and I wander freely around Jerusalem, a safe city in a safe country with a remarkably low mortality rate, I think about the Jerusalemite’s Dilemma: Although all Arabs are not terrorists; almost all terrorists targeting Jews are Arabs.
How do we protect ourselves while also protecting the trust a functional, multicultural city requires? How do we manage when ethnic profiling might save us by prematurely judging a potential attacker, but the passive bigotry of group-specific fear is wrong and encourages more violence by further polluting the atmosphere? The videotape of the December 3 supermarket stabbing in Mishor Adumim illustrated the problem. Two men and a teenager stand unnaturally close together, as often happens when people shop in the same section.
Suddenly, the 16-year-old erupts, stabbing the two. Afterward, my 12-year-old daughter articulated the dilemma in the heartbreakingly honest way of the young, saying: “I don’t hate all Arabs but I do hate all the Arabs who want to kill me.”
This is the terrorists’ perverse calculus, with its chilling effect. Terrorists cloud the commons, injecting fear, sowing suspicion, spreading distrust. The number of Israelis hurt or killed recently by terrorists is statistically insignificant, but the fear is widespread. The risk is shared broadly, but an attack’s burden falls completely, horrifically, on the few unlucky enough to get hit. All of us then suffer from the clouding, the darkening, of common activities – shopping, waiting for a bus, walking the streets, living our lives.
As a native New Yorker who jogs daily in Jerusalem’s Old City, I teach my children lessons I learned as a kid who looked like an easy mark growing up in crime-infested New York. Look alert and be alert, with an exaggerated personal space bubble no matter who passes you, black or white, Jew or Arab. Anyone who comes too close arouses awareness – note, not suspicion or hostility, simply mindfulness.
That’s my first response to my daughter. Resisting terrorism entails maintaining routines, including treating everyone around us equally as individuals. Terrorists want to spread the cancer of suspicion. They want us scrutinizing Arabs rudely and for Arabs to then be offended, alienated, radicalized.
We also must redouble efforts to improve Arab-Jewish relations in Jerusalem, demanding equal rights, opportunities and treatment for all citizens. Israel’s leaders must improve Arab conditions. Yes, these words are easy to write, hard to achieve.
Both sides are responsible. Israeli Jewish efforts are often damned, regardless of what we do. Israelis run the Light Rail into Arab neighborhoods and are called imperialists; had the Light Rail avoided Arab neighborhoods – as the Washington, DC, Metro when built avoided many black neighborhoods – we would have been called segregationists. The separate Arab and Jewish school systems the Arab population demands earn the absurd “apartheid” accusation; an integrated Arab-Jewish school system would have been called colonialist.
Arab Jerusalemites should end their foolish political boycott and start exercising political rights to expand their resources, just as all Palestinians should end their counterproductive, bigoted, “anti-normalization” boycott, suspending all formal interactions with Israelis, so we can build mutual ties and friendships, even as our leaders stumble about.
I personally repudiate the criminals who torched the Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem. I praise my children’s school, Hartman High School – and my oldest son – for rushing there in a solidarity prayer vigil the next day, where students sang “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” We divided our family’s latest charitable contribution 50-50, half to the Har Nof widows and half to rebuilding the school.
I will continue supporting Tag Meir, the Left-to-Right coalition of groups opposing anti-Arab “price tags” attacks. I will continue cheering honest leaders like President Reuven Rivlin, who challenges Israeli Jews to accept, respect and bond with Arabs as fellow citizens.
And I boast about initiatives like the six-part training seminar in teaching advanced math and science that the Israel Center for Excellence through Education just launched for 20 middle school teachers – with elementary school teacher training planned soon.
Alas, these beautiful stories rarely make the papers. If pseudo-events are false PR events staged for the media; perdu-events, from the French word for concealed or lost, are actual moments that few know about because reporters overlook them. These inconvenient truths don’t fit the growing narrative of supposed Israeli intolerance in “Netanyahu’s Israel” which allows so many Europeans and Americans to forget their own societies’ racism and exaggerate Israeli intolerance.
Last week, one perdu-event was the Israel premier of a lovely documentary East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, depicting the Israeli-Palestinian music-making and bonding the singer-peacemaker David Broza facilitated in Jerusalem two years ago. One friend saw me and blurted out, “What are you doing here?” True, most of the attendees were to my Left, looking primed for a Meretz meeting. True, the film overlooks Palestinian anti-normalization. But my anti-terrorism makes me pro-civil liberties (and vice versa). I can be anti-Islamist and anti-Hamas yet respect Arabs. I can yearn for warm individual intercommunal interactions while resisting the fanatics’ toxic groupthink. And I defy anyone to watch that movie and not break out into periodic smiles as Jews and Palestinians make magic through music.
Wherever we stand politically, we need movies like that – and bonding moments that Hand-in-Hand and Israel’s Center for Excellence provide. We should exit our fortresses, engage with each other, respect one another. That human bonding is what the terrorists fear – so that’s what we democrats should deliver.The author is professor of history at McGill University and a Visiting Professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
His latest book, Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, just received the 2014 J.I.
Segal Non-fiction Award on a Jewish Theme.
Watch the new Moynihan’s Moment video!