Flip-flops and flip-flopping

I am amazed at the polarization in US politics and quite frankly disappointed that the debate deals less with values and ideas, and more with disqualifying and slandering of the other side.

US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
“It’s called flip-flop kinetics,” the pharmacist explained, showing me a sustained-release antihistamine. I was seeking relief from allergies that struck during my two-and-a-half week trip to the United States.
I was combining business and pleasure, east and west, family and friends, lectures and meetings, consulting and visiting.
In Washington, I gave a lecture on leadership and a productive discussion developed on key factors in the success, or failure, of organizations. It was great to reconnect to old partners and friends, in our new civilian capacities.
I was honored to be hosted at the Massachusetts State House for a discussion on current events and cooperation opportunities between Israel and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Massachusetts is teaming with innovation and initiative. I believe that we have many similarities and joint interests, and should broaden our collaboration.
I was exposed to the programs and resources invested in supporting veterans. Listening to the secretary of veterans’ affairs passionately describe his vision and mission was inspiring. As a member of the IDF Veteran Organization’s External Relations Committee, I bring back a strong recommendation for dialogue and cooperation.
In a heartwarming visit to the Trinity Evangelical Church in North Reading, Massachusetts, I spoke before a group preparing for a trip to Israel. I gave an overview on life in Israel and our challenges, both external and internal. I enjoyed the responses of “Hallelujah!” and “Praise the Lord!”
In El Paso, Texas, I met wonderful people. Besides experiencing openness and friendship, I learned an important lesson about honest, hard work and the joy of building and creating.
A Pakistani Muslim, an Israeli Jew and an American Christian met in a bar. This is not the beginning of a joke, but a description of friends I joined in Los Angeles. I enjoyed the lively discussion and analysis of world affairs, by some of the smartest people I have ever met.
At the University of Southern California, I felt over-dressed while touring the beautiful campus. I don’t think I ever saw so many people wearing flip-flops.
At the USC Shoah Foundation, I was in awe of the dedication with which the valuable testimonies of Holocaust survivors are preserved and made accessible to educators and the public.
In evaluating organizations and programs with international ties, I found that a lack of deep cultural understanding burdens and even hinders successful cooperation. There also still seems to be a tendency to compartmentalize instead of join forces and share, even when striving to achieve common goals. I also witnessed reliance on remote communication instead of talking, exchanging liaisons and working together.
While speaking to various communities and organizations, I was frequently asked the open-ended question: “What do you think about Iran?” or the more direct: “When are you going to do it?” I did my best to cover the threat, probabilities, capabilities, moral justification and most important – timing. I argued that Israel and the US share the same vision of prevention and both ultimately don’t want to see Israel as the main actor.
After Iran, the second-most common question was about the US presidential elections. It ranged from “Don’t you think reelecting Obama will be disastrous for Israel?” to “Isn’t it true that security relations peaked under the Obama administration?” I couldn’t and wouldn’t state my political leaning, although I have opinions on the various issues being debated, from abortion and gay rights to the appropriate strategy for the Middle East.
I am amazed at the polarization in US politics and quite frankly disappointed that the debate deals less with values and ideas, and more with disqualifying and slandering of the other side.
A hot topic during my visit was accusations of inconsistency, or “flip-flopping,” on key issues. I believe that reevaluating and changing your mind is a positive and admirable quality, and that flip-flopping, zigzagging, U-turning and back-flipping are not always bad, except of course if it’s used by a politician to appease and please different audiences.
Back to day-to-day life and cultural differences.
Driving in Los Angeles during rush hour is no fun, but still better than in Israel. Apparently, simple cultural norms, such as keeping a distance and maintaining your lane, contribute to a more relaxed experience, and fewer accidents. I heard only one car honk during the entire trip.
From coast to coast, Americans were friendly, kind and patient. I knew that “How ya doin’?” wasn’t always really personal and caring, but I enjoyed it.
When store clerks in California asked, “How was your weekend?” I decided not to elaborate, and made do with “Great, and yours?”
I was touched and thankful for good friends who opened their hearts and their homes. A special treat was meeting dear relatives, some of whom I haven’t met in 20 years.
As usual, I was angry and envious to find lower prices and a better variety than in Israel, especially when most of the products are manufactured closer to Israel than the US.
I’m stating the obvious, but I was again amazed to see too much alcohol, too much junk food, too many additives and mega-sizes. Even a standard drink can is 7.5 percent bigger than in Israel.
At the airport heading home, an Israeli official assisted me by bending the rules on overweight luggage, and even showed me how to avoid the supervisor. I was beginning to feel at home.
I partook in the ritual of taking off shoes at security, and envied the guy in front of me who thoughtfully wore flip-flops.
Landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, I was happy to be home, but quickly flip-flopped when people pushed by me to disembark the aircraft and overrun me in line for passport control.
A close friend once told me: “I love the US when I’m in Israel, and love Israel when I’m in the US.”
The writer is a former Israel Air Force pilot and founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd., that provides multidisciplinary consulting with an emphasis on bridging cultural gaps.
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