by Herbert J. Weiner

The recent crisis in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas caps the invasion of Ukraine, wars in Northern Africa and its continent, conflict in Southeast Asia, the rise in anti-Semitism and racism, increase in crime and shootings, political and economic polarization, the rise in authoritarian governments and the threat to democracy, even Scandinavia, a region of social democracy.

Is it any wonder that the present conflict between Israel and Hamas has occurred?

And, with domestic incidents of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia throughout the world, notably in universities, no one despite the distance from the Middle East, is free of this horrid conflict. This would include division of attitudes within families and between friends, precluding dialog and constructive exchange.

Is it possible that the seeds of this state of affairs were planted decades ago?

This paper attempts to answer that question at some length with the reader’s endurance being appreciated. We begin with the postwar period, exploring the previous 60 years.

The postwar years, while consisting of an affluent middle class, were not ideal. There was the Red Scare with fear of Russian military invasion; anti-Semitism; racism; homophobia; sexism; untreated mental illness; poverty and the fear of nuclear annihilation. As long as one conformed, one, for the most part, was safe. And some unfortunate individuals had to struggle to conform, to be part of the American Dream.

The 60s broke much of the conformity, evidenced by the casual dress at worksites which even the most conservative wear to this day. Workers and superiors are called by their first names. Civil rights made great progress, the festive, largely peaceful demonstrations helped end the war in Vietnam, women were beginning to protest against oppressive sexism and Stonewall fueled the fight for human rights with the LBGTQ community.

But in the 70s, the counter-revolution against progressive movements, forces and programs began. The unions began to make concessions to management, stagflation was plaguing the economy, wages were falling behind, the rightwing was infiltrating the Establishment and détente was eclipsed with the beginning of a new conservative period in the Cold War. We supported Osama Bin Laden against the Soviet Union with tragic results years later.

In the 80s, high interest rates paralyzed the economy for a period of time, Reaganomics took hold of economic thinking with the beginning of extreme polarizations of wealth, our living standard was plummeting, the arms race continued until peace began to be brokered between ourselves and the Soviet Union. This was also the beginning of neoliberalism’s influence in the Democratic Party where centrism replaced the policies of the New Deal. Unions were either taken for granted or ignored and business more favored by the Democratic Party. In the late 80s, Communism was collapsing, being replaced by the market system and the expectation of political democracy. The latter hope, sadly, was not fulfilled. But the Cold War, at the end of the decade was winding down dramatically to the applause of neoliberals and neoconservatives, praising the market system and the rule of private property. This was also reflected abroad with the rise of Tony Blair in the United Kingdom. He, to the delight of Margaret Thacher, transformed the Labour Party into a capitalist body, largely ending the hope of democratic socialism in the UK. Needless to say, he flew to Washington to take lessons from Bill Clinton.

In the 90s, the Soviet Union was dissolved with the adoption of the market system by it and its former satellites. Poverty was massively spread with the dissolution of the safety net. Organized crime flourished in Russia with gangster capitalism. Oligarchs developed with the sale of state industries. And Bill Clinton welcomed Boris Yeltsin to the point of approving his shelling of Russian Parliament. With our propaganda agencies, we supported the breakaway governments of the former Soviet Union; many were repressive. We flexed our muscles as a unipolar world power with the war in Kuwait which, with our massive military strength and might, was a walkover and false reassurance of American power. In the latter years of the decade, we supported the extreme rightwing faction of the Albanian Kosovars who formed an autonomous territory within Yugoslavia. Domestically, the serial shootings began with the tragedy of Columbine setting the stage. The shootings reflected the lack of concern with problems of bullying which impacted on severely disturbed individuals who armed themselves and planned these disastrous events with the understanding that they would kill as many as possible before taking their own lives. In addition to schools, these events would also occur at the worksite.

The beginning of the century was marked with 9/11. The fracturing of communities was underlined by the inattention given to the perpetrators of this attack who blended into their environment without the notice of others. Intelligence reports, predicting the danger, were ignored. And, Osama Bin Laden, whom we previously supported against the Soviet Union, was the mastermind of this onslaught. The response to this attack was the massive bombing and attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan which were wasteful, unproductive and destructive. The United States and a “coalition of the willing” invaded Iraq on grounds of finding weapons of mass destruction which had no basis. But it did result in PTSD in deployed troops. Some, affected by trauma, resorted to serial shootings. These could have been prevented with mental health interventions, but the resources for doing so were limited. This was the beginning of shootings that have almost become a daily fact of life at the present time. In 2008, the worse recession occurred with the meltdown of the world economy, caused by the default of buyers in the expensive, unaffordable housing market. There was a faulty safety net that could not address the massive unemployment that occurred as a result. Major brokerage firms collapsed and some were reabsorbed by the banking industry. In actual fact, the end of separation of saving banks from investment firms under the Glass Steagall Act contributed to the crisis, because banks brought risky securities that were based on loans for home purchases. When the buyers defaulted and home payments dried up, the economy contracted. Government bailouts rescued investors and corporations but not the average person who was the victim of the crashed economy. The economic crisis, coupled with interventions abroad greatly depressed the quality of life and alienated the average citizen who felt that there was no control over one’s life. This was the foundation of desperation and the need for security which many saw political figures as addressing. Obama was able to do this to some degree. But wages did not grow on his watch. There were deportations in his Presidency and drone warfare which consisted of civilian casualties.

In Obama’s term of office, there was alienation and a depressed living standard which Hillary Clinton did not address, running on a platform of identity politics which addressed major groups as women, gays, immigrants and minorities but not wages and the depressed living standard of the country. Trump pretended to address the latter and tapped the economic pain of workers affected by outsourcing. Apparently, Hillary took labor’s support for granted which resulted in her loss. She reflected Bill Clinton’s ideology without his charm, resulting in Obama voters changing their votes to Donald Trump who exuded poor hatred and pretended to meet the alienation, rage and desperation that still exists today.

Biden, to his credit, did address the needs of labor and to a degree has made economic improvements. But he still adheres to the Establishment as reflected in his policies in the Ukraine and Asia. The social, political and economic polarities with violence and lawlessness are a major challenge for all in public office. At the local level, there is homelessness, drug abuse, increased crime, unaffordable housing and a culture of selfishness and greed with San Francisco being an example. Corporations and individuals have invaded the city, made their pile of cash and left for other regions of the country as Dallas, Austin and Nashville. The needs of rural areas are underserved which constitute angry voters who will support conservative and extreme right wing politicians.

In the midst of the polarization and alienation that has increased over the last 50 years, minorities and vulnerable groups and individuals can be scapegoats. Hate can piggy back on legitimate criticism and disguise itself. It can be exacerbated by international, national and local events. The problem of anti-Semitism on college campuses is not new. It has been festering for some time which the present crisis in the Middle East has brought out in bold relief. The fissures in our nation preclude intelligent, thoughtful dialog. The ignorance of the past fuels the attack on Jews and Muslims.

The settlers are as fanatical as Hamas, desiring the extension of Israel at the price of Gaza, the West Bank and Arab states. Hamas is just as rigid with its desire to instill its theological beliefs and domination in the Middle East. This is also paralleled domestically with Jewish and pro-Palestinian groups attacking each other. This is not restricted to this country but is world wide.

The casualty of this polarity is truth which has been displaced by hate and ignorance. Do Jews understand that AIPAC supports political candidates who were involved in the January 6th insurrection? There are some Holocaust survivors who oppose Israel’s foreign and military policies. And what of the late Ruth Dayan who criticized Israel’s government and had Palestinian friends? What of the peace forces and Israel’s leftists who feel abandoned by those outside their country? Does the left know that, in World War II, the Arabs supported the Nazis and Jerusalem supported the Allies? Is the left aware that the Soviet Union and the United States endorsed the birth of Israel? Israel, until the mid 60s, was the darling and Cuba of the left where some of our leftists spent time on the Kibbutz. Slowly, this allegiance evaporated and attitudes toward that nation are now reversed.

In Arabian and Persian countries, women are oppressed in the clothing that they must wear, the faces that must be concealed and the clitorectomies that deny them sexual pleasure. Homosexuals and other sexual minorities face ostracization, even death. As noted above, in the Second World, Arab nations were pro-Nazi. And there is collusion with the oil companies in addition to being part of the capitalist world order. Do Arab states, other than Jordan, accept Palestinians as citizens? Ofcourse, we must support our brothers and sisters who are victims of such oppression. But supporting Hamas is another story.

And what about Hamas? Does anyone really understand the nature of the organization, the attitudes of their members, the conditions that encouraged individuals to join and the actual nature of their support? Do they all think alike? Only by understanding our enemy can we defeat them. And, if we do get a two state solution, won’t that take the wind out of their sails? Hamas has exploited the grievances of Palestinians and even appealed to them by providing medical care and other social services. If the needs of Palestinians were met by a peaceful settlement, Hamas would lose much, if not all, of its appeal.

Eventually, there will be a temporary resolution of this conflict, paid for with too many lives on both sides. A settlement must reached, because the underlying tensions that exploded in these tragic events will remain. To my distress, a more dangerous group than Hamas may evolve like a mutating virus.

To fully understand the above issues that I have raised, we need a dialog from all sides which is sadly lacking in the present situation. Understandably, we don’t wish to see Israel destroyed. The price of its existence has been dearly paid for with oppression of centuries and, notably, the Holocaust. But miscalculations of Israel can result in its self destruction. That is why it cannot pursue the present policies that it is following. And what Israel does affects us. Because of this, this conflict is world wide with global anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We are all involved in this, whether we like it or not.

What is needed is dialog between all sides, so lacking on our colleges and universities. Marine General Jim Mattis has set the standard with his sentiment that he would like to see parties express their disagreements but then go down for friendly conversations at the soda fountain. Despite our conflicts, we also have agreements. Personally, I know conservatives whom I would trust in dark alleys in dangerous parts of the world. A former security man at my synagogue was a Republican with whom I could exchange ideas. Can’t we do this at this troubled time? Instead of the armed camp, can’t we have a camp of respectful differences in order to survive these terrible times?

This has particular relevance for Jews and Arabs. In Dearborn, Michigan, Jews and Arabs have collaborated politically and have also been business partners. In France, Jews and Arabs have marched together. In Haifa, Jews and Arabs have played cards together. In the Middle East, Jews and Arabs have been friends. King Abdullah of Jordan, a critical friend of Israel, likes us. And, at least one Jordanian had Jewish playmates as a child. Personally, I have found Palestinians to be civilized and intelligent. These examples do not rule out hope for peace between Jews, Arabs and Palestinians.

In closing, I plead for us to bring out our best in order to eclipse the worst of our human existence. Where there is life, there is hope.

Thank you for your audience for this lengthy paper.