A good friend — well to the left of me politically — remarked the other day that he couldn’t believe we’re supporting Israel in the war with Hamas.
I’m embarrassed to say I went into a rant. My only excuse is that it touched on one of my biggest complaints about political debate in our country today: We have no sense of nuance. No tolerance for complexity. No taste for difficult problem-solving. We prefer easy answers and knee-jerk finger-pointing.
What’s happening in the Middle East is a great example. Yes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, including Israeli expansion into Palestinian territory, increased tensions in this region, making conflict more likely. There is no defense for his short-sighted leadership and astounding intelligence failure.
But that doesn’t mean Israel doesn’t have every right to respond forcefully to the horrible atrocities by the Hamas terrorists and that we shouldn’t support Israelis’ efforts to defend themselves. They are entirely justified in trying to rescue the hostages who were carried away and to destroy Hamas’ ability to threaten Israel further.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t sympathize with the awful plight of ordinary Palestinians, now and in the decades leading up to these events. Every effort should be made to minimize the toll on their civilian population, something President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have been working for behind the scenes.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be casualties as long as Hamas insists on using civilians as human shields. The only alternative for Israel — not responding militarily to what has happened — isn’t really an alternative at all. Put the United States and U.S. civilian casualties and hostages in their place and honestly tell me we wouldn’t insist on retaliating.
Saying you support Israel does not mean you support Netanyahu and his oppressive policies or a disregard for civilian lives. Saying you support Palestinians does not mean you support Hamas or other terrorists. And the verbal and physical intimidation of American Jews and Muslims accomplishes nothing to further any worthwhile cause. It just perpetuates this awful cycle of hate.
Once the war has ended, we’ll still need to help address the conflicts that set the stage for these events, which are decades and even centuries in the making. Former President Barack Obama, whose preference for nuanced dialogue sometimes frustrated Democrats and Republicans who preferred easier answers, was typically measured when he discussed the situation in a recent interview with “Pod Save America.”
This column was well under way when I saw a clip from that interview. As so often has been the case when I hear him speak, I found myself longing for his brand of presidential leadership.
“If there’s any chance of us being able to act constructively to do something,” he said, “it will require an admission of complexity and maintaining what on the surface may seem contradictory ideas that what Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it. And what is also true is that the occupation and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.”
He pointed out, “All of this is taking place against the backdrop of decades of failure to achieve a durable peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. One that is based on genuine security for Israel, a recognition of its right to exist, and a peace that is based on an end of the occupation and the creation of a viable state and self-determination for the Palestinian people.”
He concluded, “If you want to solve the problem, then you have to take in the whole truth.”
I wish our society’s preference for half-truth and simplistic demonizing were confined to views on conflict on the Middle East, but of course, it isn’t. Not that long ago, there were politicians of both parties who sought a comprehensive approach to our complex immigration issues, and they were making progress.
Try that now if you’re a Republican politician. You’ll be vilified. Better to use our southern border as a political cudgel to batter opponents and scare voters. Promise to build the wall. Threaten to send troops into Mexico. Round up immigrants and fly them somewhere cold and far away. Good theater. Terrible leadership.
It’s the same story with so many difficult issues today. We’re great at tweeting and sound bites. Bad at constructive dialogue and problem-solving. I wrote about our schools the other day, and they remain our best chance of preparing future generations to be better at critical thinking than we are.
Among other things, that will require real history, not the sanitized version many of us received or that schools in some states are reverting to. It also will require skilled teachers who can engage students in broadening their vision of our country and our world. This week’s election results, in which Moms for Liberty followers were rejected in so many local school districts, suggested many voters agree.
Yes, I want my young grandsons to learn the basics of math, reading and writing. But I fervently hope their education also will prepare them to examine problems from all sides, with compassion and nuance, instead of settling for easy answers from a narrow selection of flawed sources.
Until they grow up, we’re stuck with adults like us. We need to do better.
Bill White can be reached at email@example.com. His Twitter handle is whitebil.
https://www.mcall.com/2023/11/11/bill-white-one-of-the-biggest-lessons-of-the-last-week-and-month-we-need-to-learn-to-talk-to-each-other/ We need to learn to talk to each other