Sunlit Water

January 16, 2011

Thoughts On Israel

Filed under: Personal,Politics — by teofilo @ 8:27 am

First off, the trip was a fantastic experience.  I encourage anyone who is eligible for Birthright to go ahead and do it.  I was skeptical about it for a long time because of the ideology behind it, and that is definitely a factor in the way the trips work, but the tour organizer I went with, Israel Experts, did a good job of keeping that stuff to a minimum and showing a lot of the diversity of the country.  I can’t vouch for any other tour organizers, and I suspect I would not have enjoyed the trip nearly as much with a different one, but Israel Experts definitely gets my recommendation.  The trip is free, and in my opinion it was definitely worth doing even though I was a bit concerned about it.

That said, there definitely was something to those concerns.  Our guide did a good job of showing us a lot of the country and the issues involved with it, but there was always a slight bias to the way he presented things.  Not so much a far-right bias as perhaps a center-right one that likely represents something close to the opinion of the median voter in Israel, but a bias nonetheless.  We did get to see several of the most contentious areas of Israel, including the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the border with Gaza, which was interesting.  The guide certainly was not trying to hide the diversity of opinions within Israel from us, and he was always careful to acknowledge the existence of alternative opinions on a wide variety of issues even as he downplayed them.  I do think I got a better sense of the issues involved.  There was a  wide range of background knowledge among the trip participants and I think I was among the more knowledgeable, but I still got a lot out of it.

Overall, my opinion on Israel hasn’t changed, but the trip did help me to clarify my thoughts and see what exactly I like and dislike about both the idea and the reality of Israel.  Meeting the young Israelis who accompanied us for half of the trip helped tremendously with this.  They reflected a broad spectrum of backgrounds and political beliefs within Israeli society, much as our trip represented a similar spectrum with respect to American Jewish society.  My basic conclusion from seeing all the sites we saw and talking to the people we met was that Israel is a very interesting country but it’s not my country.  I think this is basically more or less what I thought before, but I hadn’t really conceptualized it in those terms.  It’s true, though.  There’s a lot about Israel that I find fascinating, frustrating, or inspiring, but ultimately it felt like a foreign country rather than one where I could see myself ever feeling at home.  My country is America, and while I was struck by a lot of interesting parallels between Israeli and American history and society, ultimately I felt like I couldn’t really identify personally with Israel and its problems.  The relationship between Israel and the US is such that I can’t really avoid having some opinions on Israel, but I’m not inclined to push those very far and in general I think it’s up to the Israelis to solve their problems.  They know the nature of them better than we do, after all, and we have no shortage of our own problems.

I’ll probably have more to say in the coming days about the specifics of the trip and my reactions to the things we saw, but I thought I should probably get some general impressions down first to start to organize my thoughts.  The trip was a worthwhile but somewhat overwhelming experience, and it’s taking me a while to readjust to normal life after it.

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