November 13, 2018

Caroline Glick and me

You know you’ve made it in the Jewish world when you get to speak to 1,000 Hadassah women at their national convention. 

For its annual convention in Atlanta last week, Hadassah asked me to converse onstage with columnist and author Caroline Glick, a discussion moderated by journalist Linda Scherzer. In addition to the live audience, a video camera would livestream and archive it for web viewers. 

The women’s Zionist organization has been sponsoring conversations on the subject of Zionism: What is it? How’s it doing? Where is it going?  

“It’s not a debate,” an organizer warned me the week before. “It’s a dialogue.”

Really, a dialogue? I have been reading and virulently disagreeing with Glick’s writing for years. I’ve printed her columns — inclusion is what we do here at the Journal — but I’d never spoken to her. I imagined we’d jump down each other’s throats in about 30 seconds.

Then we met. She is diminutive, with short auburn hair, a tightly drawn mouth and dark eyes. We shook hands and made small talk about mutual friends. I knew she had asked some of them how to score points off me, and I’d asked them the same about her.

After just a minute of fake nicey-nice chit-chat, there was an awkward pause. Glick said, “Your, um, pants.” She blushed.

I looked down at my black wool suit slacks and — the horror, the horror! About half of the toothpaste I’d spit out of my mouth that morning had ended up as a series of large white splatters covering my crotch. It was bad. It was Jackson Pollock-meets-“There’s Something About Mary” bad.  We were two minutes from showtime. 

I ran backstage, grabbed a water bottle from a tech guy, poured it on a nearby rag, gave my pants a few wipes, and, presto, Crest-free.

The lights were already dimming when I raced back into the convention hall. And when I thanked Glick, I realized I could no longer possibly see her as just a ferocious kneejerk right-winger. The lion had pulled the thorn from Androcles. I had nothing but gratitude for this woman who saved me from total embarrassment.

So when Glick launched into a long indictment of the Democratic Party as being overrun with the anti-Israel sentiments of the “left,” I pushed back firmly — but gently. If “left” means Democrat, I pointed out, the standard-bearer of that party is Hillary Clinton, who is hardly anti-Israel, nor is the party’s platform. Even their new progressive hero, Bernie Sanders, made clear his support for Israel. 

I agreed with her that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is anti-peace and a stalking horse for straight-up Israel bashing. But I did point out that the best way to deprive it of more mainstream support is to fight the status quo of the occupation. Most people cannot abide by a situation in which millions of Palestinians are deprived of their democratic rights by a democratic nation. They support Israel but cannot support Israel-as-oppressor. Simple.

The solution, I admitted, is not so simple. And that’s where things got a little heated.

Last year, Glick published a book, “The Israeli Solution,” which advocates for a so-called one-state solution to the conflict. That is, Israel would annex the West Bank and Palestinians would have the option of becoming Israeli citizens. 

After she outlined her idea, I took a deep breath. I started by praising Glick for the effort. Mainstream Jews once thought Theodor Herzl was nuts when he proposed political Zionism, and now he is seen as a Jewish savior. Who knows, I said, maybe Caroline Glick is the new Herzl. The important thing is that a moribund peace process needs new ideas, for better or worse.

But, I added, the one-state solution is the worst possible idea. My reasons? One, why would Israel want to make people whom Glick describes as born and bred Israel- and Jew-haters citizens of a Jewish state? Two, Israel is already struggling to incorporate Charedim and Arab Israelis into its economy and educational systems. How could it possibly absorb 2 or 3 million Palestinians? 

“There are way too many Arabs and Jews who are uneducated and unemployed, before even one Palestinian receives Israeli citizenship,” I said, quoting Dan Ben-David of the Shoresh Institution.

Three, experts disagree on the actual population numbers — wouldn’t it be smart to have a census we can all rely on before even arguing such an idea?

And finally, the only one-state solution I can think of in the Middle East is Syria — and that hasn’t worked out so well. If states with Shiite and Sunni Muslims implode, imagine a state of Arabs and Jews.

What was my solution? Actress Gwyneth Paltrow had just been honored at Hadassah’s gala the night before. She’d once famously described her separation from husband Chris Martin as “a conscious uncoupling.” That, I said, is what the Israelis and Palestinians need — a conscious uncoupling. 

Before I could finish, Glick interrupted me. Then I jumped in on her. I wouldn’t say it got heated, just spirited. The debate style these days is to attack not just the ideas, but the person. That didn’t happen this time. Because you never know when that person will be for one critical moment maybe not Israel’s savior, but your own.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.