Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election Countdown "A to Z" (I is for Israel)

Israel, 2008 (c) Raymond Roker

I is for Israel

Both Obama and McCain are vying to win America's 51st state. (No, not Puerto Rico.)

Why Israel?

To quote Facebook, it's complicated.

The geopolitical answer is that this tiny nation stands as our staunchest ally in the region and owes its existence, in part, to the United States. Israel is a microcosm of the world's pressing issues, packed into a tiny parcel of the most contested land on the planet. But it's a thin desert strip that Jews, Israelis, and their advocates insist must survive intact. I happen to agree.

Like the U.S., Israel's a democratic nation struggling to coexist with the re-emerging Islamic world, and coming to terms with the fact that it will have to do exactly that. It's also grappling with host of modern conundrums such as immigration, nationalism, poverty, human rights, ecological concerns and social policy battles. On the positive side, its art, music, theater, culinary, software and biomedical fields are thriving. In many ways, Israel is a younger America (by about 170 years) and it's pushing hard to get things right, after only six decades.

Personally, my interest in the country piqued while visiting there earlier this year. I wrote an essay about my trip in the Huffington Post (note: any mention of Israel brings out strong opinions, just check the comments section). Before my visit, I viewed the country like most Americans, as only a blur of carnage and infinite anger and anguish on both sides. I spent a week traveling throughout the country, reconciling what I thought I knew with the much more complicated reality of what I actually discovered. It was awe inspiring.

If it still isn't clear: I'm pro Israel (call me a progressive Zionist, if you want). And I'm super pro Obama. (Wow, I should do my own Sarah Silverman video.) When I saw the great video (below) on a friend's blog, I immediately loved the way it summed up the case for Obama, as well as Israel.

The cynic sees Israel only as an aggressor, whose altar American politicians go to kowtow. And politicians typically overplay their hawkish rhetoric to guarantee not being branded unfriendly to her cause. That's unfortunate. Most of the pro-peace voices like the New Israel Fund (who I traveled with) and J Street lose media shelf space to hardened conservative lobbyists like AIPAC. Also, like in America, support for Israel has echoed some of the xenophobia of a post 9/11 world. This election could be a turning point towards a new, more progressive outlook.

Neither candidate should win on simply an Israel-at-any-cost platform. Hopefully, they will have shown the wisdom and the innovation to work for a lasting peace in the entire region—while still vigorously defending Israel's right to exist. Because regardless of where you stand, the tenet holds true that as goes Israel, so goes the Middle East.

My Israel trip images are here.

No comments: