The Middle East is a fascinating place. It is far from boring, often exciting, and sometimes frightening. Various Zionists who claim authorship over modern Israel considered alternatives in British East Africa, Argentina, and parts of the US. A sense of history, plus an opportunity as colonialism was at a crisis, brought us to where we are.Israelis have expressed various sentiments about the American-Israeli Steven Sotlof. Friends have described a young idealist attracted to human rights for Arabs as well as to Israel, who studied at an Israeli college and acquired citizenship but may not have planned to live here. He went to points of conflict in Egypt, Libya, and finally Syria as a freelancer, without whatever protection might be provided by affiliation with a major newspaper or television network. He's been described as an adventurer and compared to Indiana Jones. The Prime Minister expressed his sympathy for the family of a man who represented the best of democratic values. The Prime Minister also expressed his sympathy for the family of Joan Rivers, describing her as a talented woman proud of her Jewish heritage, who used her sharp tongue most recently in defense of Operation Protective Edge.
Menacham Begin's early surrender in what might have become a civil war instilled a level of comity along with political dispute, that has produced a noisy democracy, but one that has thrived.
Our cousins are in worse shape. Palestinians have not passed through an experience like Begin's retreat after Altalena that might have allowed them to developed a society based on argument and reason, but not internal warfare.
Perhaps they suffer from not have suffered a Holocaust. Or maybe Islam truly is a fatal condition for anyone aspiring to regimes that are democratic and humane.
There is more work for the tooth fairy. One Palestinian demand is that western countries remove the citizenship of American, British, French and other western Jews who came to Israel and enlisted in the IDF. Another is that Israel agree to remove all settlements from over the 1967 line within three years as a condition for renewing peace talks.
Even worse is the plight of Muslims within striking distance of Daish, al Quaida, Boko Haman, Hamas, and numerous other varieties of fanatics.
Perhaps there is a good side to the barbarism. If the billion Muslims pose a threat to the better elements of western civilization, it might be a problem that solves itself. Many of the faithful spend their time cursing and killing one another for perceived imperfections in their Islam.
We should worry about the side effects of their uncivil wars. Israel has turned to beefing up its defenses on the northern front, just after the IDF may have produced a few years of quiet on the southern front. Western governments are wondering how they can juggle their concerns with citizenship and civil rights alongside the prospect that war-training Muslims will return with aspirations to establish Sharia in their homelands. Those same governments are pondering how, if at all, to help crush the barbarism where it thrives in the Middle East and Africa, without also shoring up undesirable governments like that of Assad or whatever is current in Iraq.
It has been popular to ridicule Barack Obama for pondering a lack of strategy about how to deal with Daish, and waiting for the assembling of an international coalition. David Cameron expressed somewhat more successfully the quandary of a western leader with extreme distaste for the purposes and actions of Islamic barbarism, but assigns the greater burdens of dealing with them to the societies most directly threatened, and which gave birth to their fanaticism.
Obama has now announced the creation of a multi-nation coalition, but it has not decided what it will do.
The task is daunting. Who can be sure which are the greatest enemies and the most likely to be allies among organizations, tribes, families, regional warlords and unpleasant central governments that are fluid in joining and waging war against one another.
It is easiest to provide munitions and other material, air bombardment, and a few troops to protect the installations most vital. In the case of the US, that may mean nothing more than a few hundred marines sent to guard the embassy.
Among the moral outrages are pictures of western journalists, seemingly calm while about to be beheaded and Arab prisoners walking to be shot. They conjure up lines of Jews from the trains to the death camps. Were the journalists and prisoners calmed with a story like that told to Jews, that they were being relocated and would first be given a shower?
Relatively few of the Jews rebelled and used their numbers to overcome and kill some of their guards. Our family has a postcard written by a close relative on her way to Terezienstadt that hints at what she expected, but in language that passed censorship. Is there a numbing realization of hopelessness and resignation to a death that is inevitable? Do the Muslim fighters taken prisoner feel that death will bring them to the paradise described by their own variety of Islam?
Israelis refer to Arabs as our cousins. There is some merit to the term, insofar as we share genetic roots. There are Arab families descended from Jews who chose Islam centuries ago rather than something less pleasant. Like individuals with similar histories in Spain and Portugal, some continue to practice remnants of Jewish ritual, such as candles and a family meal Friday evening, and pass on knowledge of having been Jews.
That being said, it is important to note the family differences. We Jews contain infinite varieties of perspective on matters of religion, politics, and much else. It may have something to do with having wide literacy for at least two and one half millennia. Our traditions are to argue, often bitterly. The current scene features Naftali Bennett and his followers, Tsipi Livni and her's, as well as Uri Avinery, David Grossman, and Amos Oz, all claiming to represent the essence of Zionism. We have our crazies. It is significant that we have locked away Yigal Amir, rather than executed him. Courts have allowed him to marry, to enjoy conjugal visits, and produce an offspring.
We argue about that, too. But unlike our cousins, few of us are inclined to kill Jews who dare think the unthinkable.
Tell the Presbyterians. It may help them to learn tolerance.