Day 2 –
I am an optimist. I really am. So when David Brog told me that he was glad I was here and that he wished there were more center- left Zionists who came to support Israel, I thought he meant it. Maybe that was the worst mistake I made throughout the whole conference, to believe for a second that there was room for me and my opinions here within this organization.
So there I was, at the Christians United for Israel conference in DC. I wasn’t a Christian, and I didn’t feel united with any of the staunch Republicans and supporters of Israel’s far right. The only thing I thought I had in common was the Israel issue, but their Israel and mine were quite different in essence, since their Israel was a fiction created by dogma and mine was based on a real living experience.
“Wow, what was it like, to serve in the IDF? Do you know Krav Maga?” was a constant question. They reminded me of my dear old friend Trooper Horton’s slightly lax jaw, the half risen eyebrow and general astonishment in their eyes when they found out I was an actual veteran of the IDF. But I was happy to keep getting that question, because this time I had a better answer, and these guys weren’t state officials. I couldn’t get enough of the twitch-like fashion in which their inspired, awe stricken look turned into horror every single time. “It sucked” I would tell them, “It really sucked, can you imagine being told what to do, what to wear, every single day for three long years? And then there’s the whole occupying another nation thing, which kinda sucks too.” But I was authentic, and some (not all, but some) of these kids went to college to be critical thinkers, so they wanted to hear everything, including my story too. I started to get a following, and to be approached fairly often. People starting coming to me to confirm the facts in the recent lecture and why it was wrong, or at least extremely biased. “We heard that Mr. Brog said we shouldn’t have paid for your scholarship, but we think it’s great you’re here” Whitney from Kansas told me, with her three bleach blonde friends nodding vigorously in the background. I was the dude in business casual with dreads, I was the dude who talked back to the ED of CUFI on opening night, I was the dude who was really from Israel and served in the IDF. Everything was in place and now it was time to start fighting back.
“Hey, we hear that you’re from Israel, can we sit down and talk to you?” I was approached by a man who seemed to be Middle Eastern with tattoos in Aramaic I had noticed the day before on the elevator. “Well of course, let’s go sit down over there.” He was accompanied by two younger African students and another American. They told me that they had heard me standing up to David Brog, and presenting a well informed opinion about the option of a peaceful resolution in the Middle East based on a two state solution. Steven, the big Middle Eastern guy told me that he was an Iraqi Christian, and introduced the guys sitting with him from Kenya, Nigeria and the American from some obscure mid-western city. They told me that they loved what I was saying and were hoping to reach out and try to conceive a more moderate organization that will emphasize the acknowledgment of the “other side” and promote a more peaceful message than the warrior like stance that CUFI has in defense of Israel. We sat down and exchanged opinions and ideas for an hour or so about how there must be more interfaith dialogue and disagreed about the demonization of Muslims that CUFI was presenting as part of its pro-Israel narrative.
I was on the move, and I began my first conscious political move I had ever made. I was coordinating the skeptics at the conference. The students were divided into the ones who came because it was free, but were highly skeptical about this kind of organization, and the others who have completely given their lives to Christ and are of the staunch, AIPAC style supporters with a religious zeal. The latter group was hopeless, my interactions with them ended with me preaching about the necessity to understand and reach out, to which they regurgitated the CUFI material. “But Israel has given enough” and “Israel had suffered so much”, there was no one to talk to there. But the former group could be organized and I was destined to be their ring leader – I decided that I should be the voice of sanity, of moderation.
Before the second session started I talked to a girl who told me she was also going to “The failures of the UN to fulfill its duties”. She told me she thought the UN was evil and just a stupid organization. I asked whether she thought that world peace was a bad idea, and how it could be achieved in any other way but through such an organization. She shrugged in a “I don’t know” kind of response, and was immediately labeled “religious zealot – no hope” by yours truly. Ami Horowitz, a Jewish guy from Brooklyn had made a movie about the UN and shared his haphazard conclusions with the crowd. He had no idea that he was playing into their preconceived bias that indeed the UN was not only stupid but actually evil. It has been identified by several Christian prophecy writers, aka pre-millennial dispensationalists, as the beast from Revelations, and recognized as the forces of the north that will destroy Israel. To be truthful, I’m pretty sure most of the college students didn’t know this either, but there was definitely a highly skeptical attitude towards the UN in the crowd. It was merged by American execptionalism, bible prophecies and neo-con anti liberal sentiment that was preached in every Republican assembly and pulpit these people had attended in their lives.
But the pseudo intellectuals and politicized debates took a back seat when the evening arrived. It was time for an emotional outburst of love for Israel, which can be justified by the one most horrific act in history that makes everything okay – the Holocaust. Irving Roth is of the dying breed of holocaust survivors who can still stand in front of a crowd, at 83, and tell a magnificent story. He shared the horrors he had survived, and laid down the emotional ground work for Israel’s right to exist. The teary eyes were accompanied by a stifled whimper when the proud Christian crowd understood that the people who committed these horrendous crimes were of the same faith. They all felt guilty for what had been done, but Irving Roth gave them an outlet for redemption. “We are in 1938 again, and Iran is the new Germany,” his head bowed and glazed eyes pierced through the crowd in face of the potential terror the Jews were facing in Israel once again. “Radical Islam is trying to tear Israel and the US apart, but I know that because of you Israel will survive!” In a unanimous act, as if they were prepared their whole life for this moment, everyone stood and applaud. They were given a mission, to save the Jews. They had had their pastor and their politician, their ma and pop and their Jesus tell them before. But now it was a man who had been to hell on earth tell them that Israel was in peril, and that they must act to save it. And once again, not a word of apology, not a word of recognition that there was a little bit more to it; it was that simple – if you wanted to save the world, you must support Israel.
That standing ovation marked the beginning of end for me. My hopes of being a leader of the rebellion faded more quickly than I had expected. The rhetoric I encountered throughout that day could have come from any Likud, Lieberman or Mafdal party representative. The narrative of supporting Israel was entrenched with hatred. “We are in a clash of civilizations!” was repeatedly drilled into our heads, reviving Samuel Huntington from the grave. “Israel has the covenantal right to all of Israel!” Rabbi Riskin, the Rabbi of Efrat roared into the microphone to which the crowd bellowed back enthusiastically and the sounds of a shofar echoed the crowd’s vigorous applause. I was facing forces a lot more powerful than my so called authenticity. From that point on my battle was not one of hope from the people at the conference, but an inner struggle to still believe in people, in peace, and in moderation.
Not quite sure who won yet.