Preschool diplomacy

Over the weekend, a small number of Israelis gathered for to protest any would-be war against Iran, rallying around the slogan "I love Iran." The eponymous campaign has grown over the past week or two with a Facebook page, crafty video clips, and a logo featuring fun bright colors and a prominent heart (the concept of which was pilfered from New York City''s famed marketing campaign).


As an anti-war protest the Saturday rally is completely understandable, even if one doesn''t agree with its most basic premises. But people at the rally weren''t just expressing a resistance to armed conflict. They were, and still are, saying they love Iran.


Can this really be true? Israelis, of all people, love the country that the U.S. State Department, and plenty of national governments around the world, consider to be the world''s number one state sponsor of terror? Israelis love the country that orchestrated terror attacks against Israelis in Thailand, Georgia, and India as recently as this past February?


No doubt, members of the campaign are careful to specify that their love is intended for the people of Iran -- and not the government. It''s not less of an absurd position, it''s just a little less stupid. After all, what gives them reason to love an entire people, or to express this love if it''s not actually felt?


The campaign has been styled as public diplomacy, but that''s precisely what it''s not. Public diplomacy requires some kind of substantive interaction, one which acknowledges the reality of conflict and, from that basis, tries to create a  dialog. Platitudes are not only incapable of carrying dialog, but actually stand in its way.


The "I love Iran" campaign is the form of diplomacy found in a preschool -- as when two toddlers crying and screaming at each other over some insult are forced together by Teacher, who holds both their hands and gently but firmly tells them to apologize and give each other a hug. "Now say ''I love you'' and go play," we can almost hear Teacher say.


The "I love Iran" people are surely trying to be the adults in the room, but in doing so they have to make believe  that the two parties in question are toddlers who simply disagree for no real reason. This requires quite a mental leap -- over decades of revolutionary Iranian policy, political thought and theology, all of which expressly call for the elimination of the "Zionist entity."


One way this mental leap is made is by focusing on the current ruling governments in Israel and Iran as self-interested, obscurantist, and extremist. While the I-love-Iranners have no love lost for Benjamin Netanyahu, they also strain to pretend that the strategy to prevent a nuclear Iran at all costs did not clearly begin with the prime minister that everyone loves to love, Yitzhak Rabin.


On the other hand, the I-love-Iranners claim that while it''s true Ahmadinejad doesn''t love Israel, Iranian moderates -- practical conservatives is the euphemism when talking about Iran -- might not be opposed to loving Israel quite so much as the current president. Practical conservatives like Ahmadinejad''s predecessor, Rafsanjani, who openly called for the use of nukes against Israel, are counted among those who might one day love us back.


What''s of note here is the equivalence. In order to say "I love you" to an entire people, to all of a huge country, you''d have to assume that that country never really intended harm to you or yours. You''d have to assume that it''s all just one big misunderstanding and that we''re as much in the wrong as they. And now that we''re contrite it''s best not go to bed angry.


This is where the real delusion lies: in thinking that there isn''t now, never was and never will be malicious intent on the part of Iran. After all, the Iranians are just people. They love us. We should love them. Even if their entire political echelon is currently and openly dedicated to our destruction. It''s just a little misunderstanding, that''s all.


Ashley Rindsberg is the author of Tel Aviv Stories.