AIPAC and the meaning of love

How do we show our love for the things we hold dear?

How do we express this love when things get complicated?

Israel is a complicated country. Despite all of its amazing accomplishments in the face of relentless hostility, despite its courage, its resiliency, its vibrant culture, it still manages to attract serious opposition and even anger among many American Jews who claim to love the Jewish state. The key reason for this anger is well-known: Israel’s inability to make peace with the Palestinians.

Over the past 48 hours, I’ve seen two radically different approaches to loving Israel.

The first is the love I felt at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where 18,000 people came to network, listen to speeches, learn more about Israel, present their ideas, lobby Congress, and, essentially, find a safe space to show their love for the Jewish state.

Outside the main conference hall, I saw a whole other approach –demonstrators on the street, many of them angry, protesting AIPAC’s support of Israel.

In an ideal world, I’m sure these demonstrators would like nothing better than to see AIPAC join their protest against Israel. In fact, I’m sure they’d love to see all Jewish organizations follow their approach and bash Israel for failing to make peace with the Palestinians.

For the protestors, this failure is all-consuming. Yes, the conflict is complicated. Yes, the Palestinians have refused several offers in the past to end the occupation. Yes, Israel has made its share of mistakes. Yes, right now, with the region in violent turmoil, it could be disastrous for everybody — including the Palestinians — if Israel abandoned the West Bank and terror groups would walk in and wreak more havoc.

Yes, but.

A failure is still a failure. The bottom line for these anti-AIPAC demonstrators is that Israel has failed to make peace with the Palestinians, and that is simply unacceptable.

My question for the demonstrators, then, is this: Since you claim to be pro-Israel, how else do you show your love for Israel besides protest?

I get the tough love thing. I get that you want Israel to do as you wish, because it would be better for Israel and the Palestinians. I get that you’re tired of waiting. I get all that, and I also get that protest is a great Jewish value and that it’s part of the Jewish tradition.

I’m just curious: Is this your only way of engaging with Israel?

I’m especially interested because, when I love someone who does something I think is wrong, I always make sure to remind them how much I love them, how I value the things they do right, and how I value our relationship. For their own good, I will show some “tough,” but I always show some “love.”

I’ve seen your “tough” on Israel, but where are you hiding the love?

Are you looking for a safe space?

Alternate perceptions and #TheDress

At the end of February, I encountered #TheDress, the week’s highest trending hashtag on Twitter. I saw #WhiteandGold, wondering whether those who saw #BlueandBlack were in on a worldwide prank. Like many, I simply could not fathom how others could see otherwise. 

The identification of the dress became an Internet obsession, trending more than Jihadi John’s recently discovered identity. Questions about the dress preoccupied me for days. The dress had to have one color reality, and if my eyes were wrong this time, I wondered how many times my eyes had previously betrayed me. Was this photographic subjectivity the first of its kind? These questions must have haunted millions, as tweets about the dress quickly surpassed 10 million in the first week. For many, the dress provoked an existential crisis regarding the nature of perception and reality.

Several days after I saw the dress, I was in Washington D.C. for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Palestinian who worked as an undercover informant for Israel’s internal security service, told his story during a plenary session.  As the son of the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab’s hatred for Jews was ingrained in him from an early age.  In keeping with family tradition, he had planned to stab innocent Israeli civilians to death. 

His plot was thwarted when he was arrested. In prison, he witnessed Hamas members torturing their own people suspected of being Israeli collaborators. In contrast, the Israelis interrogated Mosab in a humane manner. After internalizing this discrepancy and confronting the truth, Mosab became an informant for Israel.

Mosab explained why he decided to divulge his story, even if it meant never being able to return home:  “to help an entire Palestinian and Israeli generation to see things for what they are. Sometimes we trust our perceptual ability, but apparently our senses are very deceptive and there’s always a different truth beneath what seems or appears.” 

At that moment, it hit me. The enigmatic dress actually exemplified what Mosab was describing.  Something that at first seems so clear can actually be subjective. As a young teenager, Mosab was willing to murder innocent life for Hamas. But just a few years later, he would save Jewish lives and ultimately those of his Arab brothers and sisters, because he was able to see the real Hamas.

I won’t pretend to understand how one person can see blue and the other white. People simply have differing perceptions and it doesn’t take an Internet craze for complicated political situations to illustrate the point. However, there must be an objective nature of the essence of something as tangible as a dress. After the Internet community begged for explanations of the dress, the question was answered just days later by scientists who explained the difference in perception. After all, the color of the dress was not subjective; it was objectively blue and black.

With the dress, misperceiving reality was harmless. But in Mosab’s case, the truth is vital. Sometimes, it may seem just as difficult to truly understand the nature of the conflict, especially with so many falsehoods and photoshopping created by many Palestinians to persuade people of what is, by showing what is not. The more people see a doctored version of reality, the more they negate true reality in order to reconcile the two. 

This is why it is difficult for people to view Hamas as the true aggressor; because the Palestinians are often portrayed as powerless compared to the state of Israel. It is true, Mosab explained, that the Palestinian people suffer. However, he said, it takes true understanding of reality to see that Hamas, not Israel, is at fault for Palestinian suffering.

The relationship between Hamas, its people, and Israel is more complicated than white and gold or blue and black.  But any honest redress of grievances requires that Hamas show its true colors.

Eliana Rudee is a Fellow with the Salomon Center. She is a Core18 Fellow and a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She published her thesis in Perceptions and Strategic Concerns of Gender in Terrorism. Follow her @ellierudee.

Hamas response to Obama speech: Still won’t recognize Israel

Hamas condemned President Obama’s AIPAC speech, saying it will not recognize Israel despite the United States president’s demand.

The Obama administration is “not a friend to the people of the region,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Ma’an Palestinian news service.

Abu Zuhri said Obama’s continued support of Israel showed that the U.S. is biased, and will “support the occupation at the expense of the freedom of the Palestinian people.”

“The US administration will fail, just as all others have in the past, in forcing Hamas to recognize the occupation,” Abu Zuhri said.

In his response to Obama’s speech, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told journalists in Jordan, where he is currently on a diplomatic visit, that “Hamas is part of Palestinian society, and will take part in the democratic game as opposition.”

He said the new Palestinian unity government, whose composition still has not been announced, will conduct future peace negotiations with Israel.