June 27, 2012

Confessions of an Election Day volunteer

Election day is a microcosm of the whole race, and our own individual decisions can reflect what we know and what we value.

I love helping out on campaigns. I'm not talking about collecting the big checks or taking out the full-page ads from behind a comfy desk. I mean going out and getting voters to turn out, one by one. Picking up and dropping off volunteers, especially the union stalwarts who just show up -- no matter what. Knocking on doors and reminding people. And even dealing with the hard-working kings for a day, the election day field organizers (having been one myself on occasion). Senior Hill staffers and college students all popping in to do whatever it takes, with rank and privilege irrelevant. Well, ALMOST irrelevant.

Back in 1988, I spent several weeks on my first New Hampshire Primary campaign. Very long days, late-night beers, and frigid nights sleeping on a succession of floors and sofas in the homes of local supporters. Waking up every day long before dawn, feeling soooo cold. Brrrrr! Fun, and fulfilling, right down to pouring wiper fluid across the windshield just to get some visibility. Going door-to-door in waist-high snow, and driving around on streets with a permanent layer of unmelting, compacted snow. Real enthusiasm, and seemingly endless energy. But we get older and -- just possibly -- wiser.

June 13, 2012

Israel shouldn't risk for peace? So say so

Those who don't want peace will never have a shortage of statistics and anecdotes to cite in support of their rejectionism. Israel's most vocal antagonists appear politically primitive, often tribal in their allegiances, fractious, racist, absolutist, and wantonly violent. Those who reject meaningful negotiations against such a backdrop feel justified in not taking the risk. But every choice carries a risk, and continuing along the same path day after day -- and settlement after settlement, unpleasant necessity after... is equally a choice, and with real risks. Own it.

My Republican friends like to talk about being responsible for one's choices, so OK. If the "facts on the ground" are so challenging and dispiriting -- and if one is unwilling to recognize even minor blame on Israel's side -- then opponents of the peace process should be clear about their position: There should be no negotiations. Israel's current government has not been clear, at least not in English and not to Washington. The good news for the wide spectrum of Israelis who have come back around to opposing or fearing any negotiations with the Palestinians, is that many months ago U.S. President Obama gave up on any serious effort to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders back to the table.

June 5, 2012

Is Obama REALLY pro-Israel... Now? Now? Now?

Yet another Jewish group has met with President Obama, and again the messaging is focused on his record and commitment to Israel's security. This despite the fact that analysts and Israeli leaders agree -- publicly and privately -- that Obama has been an excellent champion for Israel's security, on all fronts.

By repeatedly reassuring ourselves that this President isn't planning to abandon Israel, American Jewish media and community leaders reinforce the basic insecurity of a large and vocal minority of Jews (and a majority of Israelis) -- if he really were pro-Israel, we wouldn't need to be reminded... Also, the fact that we need to keep hearing the President say it, and to report that he said it, sends an additional message to the world: All we want to hear is the recitation of the same old formula.

Before my career went local, I used to participate in very small and extended discussions with another world leader. He always included a Mideast advisor, and he always opened by discussing the latest developments regarding Israel. We would always thank him, and then switch the conversation to some other international concern. I came to understand that, of all the official Jews he got to meet, we were probably the only ones who weren't there to beat him over the head about Israel. We were happy to support his constructive relationship with Israel, but I also had an understanding with my Israeli colleagues, who are expert diplomats -- unless they specifically asked me to intervene on their behalf, I would leave it to them to represent Israel's interests. They did oblige me from time to time, and they seemed very pleased to have a Jewish group that did not see itself as Israel's first and last line of defense. After all, Israel is a sovereign state. And American Jews are not one-dimensional.

At the White House, as well, we should be able to cover Israel as needed, but focus on what we as Americans can be doing to help the President -- any President -- achieve his (and eventually, her) goals in the national interest. Unless there are well-founded fears as to his leanings and intentions, it may be best to avoid sowing further doubts by trumpeting the boiler-plate assurances.

We doth protest too much.