I’ve never felt so close to politics. Literally: close. My office is at 41st and 3rd, the UN at 42nd and 1st. I noticed the enhanced police presence on my way to work for the entire week of September 20th. I suffered from the traffic chaos, crowded commutes and blocked streets. I fielded provocative questions from students, Hillel directors and co-workers that I did not know how to adequately answer. New York’s streets felt hot, bursting at each corner from the excitement and confusion of the General Assembly and the uncertainty of what would happen next.
I tried to wade through the thousands of articles that popped up in my Google Reader, NYTimes alerts, Facebook feeds and other assorted social media outlets in order to make sense of what was happening outside my cubicle’s window. More than any other sentiment, I felt inundated by the myriad opinions being thrown around. Most of the Jewish writers expressed enmity toward Abbas’ call for Statehood, and harped on the UN’s complicated past toward Israel and the Jewish nation. Skepticism, and even suspicion, pervaded these articles. At moments, there were hints of other attitudes. Perhaps the call for Statehood would motivate grass-roots non-violent movements! Perhaps Abbas should be praised for turning to international institutions instead of promoting terrorism! Perhaps this is a comparable political decision to our own appeal for Statehood in 1947! Yet even in these moments of hesitant acceptance, the discussion continued to flip-flop (see: this issue of Shma in the conversation between Steven Bayme and Ronald W. Zweig) and I remained confused. Who has the answers about what happened on September 23rd?
The variety of opinions about the Unilateral Declaration of Independence at the UN last month divides down another line as well. In my campus work with Jewish college students, I found myself accessing a disparate group of opinions than any I read in the opinion sections. This younger generation tends to lean more toward a sympathetic opinion of the plight of the Palestinian people. They took Abbas at his word, genuinely seeking a path toward peace and statehood after the collapse of peace-talks and negotiations with Israel. They did not focus on the UN’s anti-Israel past; they shifted toward a potentially more pro-peace future.
More than any other dichotomy in discussion about the UN, the schism between opinions in students and adults has been the most provocative for me. While not universally true, I find that students’ political opinions are not shaped at all by fear. They (we) live in a post-1967 Israel bubble, in which there is no worry about Israel’s ability to defend itself against a potential existential threat. They (we) view Israel in a Palestinian-prism, and focus on the two-state solution above all other options and all other issues. Older Israel supporters, those who are more influenced by a pre-1967 narrative, seem to us as overly clouded in fear. They see the politics through the lens of threats, annihilation, and anti-Semitism. I felt this panic in September, not only on the crowded streets of New York, but in writers’ words and publications.
September 23rd passed, and other issues took precedence. The holidays are over, and the UN is back to business as usual. Most of all though- Gilad Shalit was returned to his family. It is my hope that this similarly controversial decision will overpower September’s rippling remnants of dread with a new sentiment: the significance of a home.email print