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Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Woman President

The cynic in me sneered at the excitement over nominating a woman as a presidential candidate in a country as advanced as America. After all, women have ruled powerful monarchies at least since the 16th century. More recently women had been elected heads of state in Brazil, England, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Latvia and Lithuania, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, and more.

But the woman in me - a naturalized American citizen, the mother of a daughter, and the grandmother of an eleven-year-old granddaughter (and an eight-year-old-grandson), was extremely proud and emotional when Hillary Clinton accepted her party’s nomination on Thursday night; as emotional as I was eight years ago when an African-American won the Democratic Party presidential nomination in a country with a shameful racist history.  

When Chelsea spoke about her mother, few mothers who listened to her, I believe, did not think about their relationship with their own daughters, and few daughters did not think about their relationship with their mothers.  For all who watched or listened the occasion was certainly momentous. Whether Hillary will win the presidential elections or not – and I hope she will – she paved the way for future generations of women to follow her path. Either way, the prospect of a first American female president is an exciting premise.

While the media has been covering the presidential elections incessantly, it has failed to press Donald Trump on various issues, the list of which is too long to include here.  Just read the now classic work of Allison Graham, The Essence of Decision, or Michael Brecher’s numerous studies of decision making, from Decision in Crisis to Crises in World Politics, to understand the complexities of the decision-making process, especially in times of turmoil. Even with the best of advisers a head of state or commander-in-chief must have a keen understand of the intricacies of the world around them, all of it, including the global, regional and domestic environments, past, present and predictable. They must have that knowledge from political, military, economic, social and cultural aspects, all at once. Only with that wisdom, along with the finest advisers, they can choose the best among alternative approaches.  A “gut” decision can never do on vital foreign policy issues.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The New Buzz in Israel


If you want to know the populist sentiment in Israelis about the country’s politics, talk to cab drivers. Since the mid 1990s, when I traveled in Israel with a Fulbright scholarship working on my post doctorate, my conversations with taxi drivers have been a useful tool in determining the prevailing attitude about the “situation,” a key term Israelis use to refer to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.

I have just returned from a two-week stay in Israel. I had arrived there only hours before two Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israelis in a popular Tel Aviv café. I learned about the vicious attack while sitting in an outdoor beach restaurant, enjoying a crisp, sweet watermelon when concerned relatives called to ask where I was. Naturally, there was sadness and anger in the city that never sleeps, but not fear. Life went on and cab drivers continued to echo the country’s mood.

So when a day or two later, one of the drivers expressed to me his dissatisfaction with the country’s leadership, I wondered whether he preferred a far-right government, more extreme than the one currently headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is the most right wing government Israel has ever had in its history, reflecting the radicalization the country has been undergoing. But when the driver told me that the recent designating of Avigdor Lieberman as Defense Minister was a too dangerous threshold, and that he did not want his son in the army under the leadership of the new defense minister, I sensed that the political atmosphere of the State may be shifting. Incrementally perhaps, but a change may be possible.

Soon after, when I entered a taxi in which the radio was tuned to a talk show about the danger Israel’s democracy is facing when the freedom of the State’s civil society is curbed and the Supreme Court is unreasonably under attack, I smiled with satisfaction. No because I knew the driver agreed with what he heard, but because he was listening intensely.

Yet again, when another driver told me that the time for a two state solution with the Palestinians is now, I felt a sliver of hope, even though I didn’t get into a discussion with him about what kind of a Palestinian state he had in mind. Was it a state with a meaningful sovereign status, or a mini dependent state that can hardly exist on its own, the one PM Netanyahu has had in mind since his first round in office in 1996.

Then, on June 17, Ehud Barak, former prime minster and defense minster, and Moshe Yaalon, the defense minister who Netanyahu had just replaced with Libernman, attacked the sitting prime minster in a way no other politicians has had. And the buzz began.
“There’s change in the air,” you hear people saying wherever you go. Most sound hopeful.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Open Mic

Last night, New York City Women’s National Book Association (WNBA-NYC) held its annual Open Mic at the charming Cornelia Street Café. Talented writers read from their novels, non-fiction creative writing, essays, and poetry. Each had seven minutes to present her writing. Lucky to be among them, I read excerpts from Chapter Fifteen of my upcoming memoir NO LAUGHYER IN WINTER, which got its name from my mother’s seasonal depressions, but it tells a great deal more. This is what I read:

…Our farewell was swift and painful. Yigal got in the Jeep that came to pick him up and quickly drove away. I blamed the nausea that came over me on my pregnancy rather than fear. A few hours later the phone rang.
“Hi Zivonet,” Yigal said cheerfully, adding a note of affection to my name, as if to let me know that he was well. “What’s up?”
“All is well, Yigal,” I said.
“And the young one?”
I put my hand on my stomach, as if I could touch the life that was sprouting within me. “We’ll wait for you. What’s going on with you?”
He laughed, trying to turn a blunder into something amusing. “You won’t believe it,” he said. “I forgot my Uzi at home.”
“You’re joking!”
“It’s a fact. I know it sounds silly…”
He asked me to deliver the weapon to a nearby intersection, where his unit would be passing through on its way south.
“I’ll be there,” I promised, sincerely happy to have another chance to see him before he left for the front.
*
What a sight I must have been: a young, pregnant woman (all-be-it not yet showing), climbing out of a white Studebaker to wait for a military vehicle full of soldiers, holding an Uzi in my hands.
Yigal looked composed and attractive as he jumped out of the military truck wearing his field uniform. Once again we said our good-byes, this time more intensely. While the truck was waiting, we hugged and kissed, glued to one another for a long time, unwilling to separate. He put his hand on my stomach and held it there as if he wanted to protect his unborn child. I was stirred.
“Don’t worry, girl,” he said to me, with his reassuring smile. “Everything will be OK.”
Was he as anxious and frightened as I was, in spite of his calm appearance? Did he feel, as I did, the looming sensation that perhaps his soft touch on my belly would be sealed in our memory as the last sane moment before the earth started to tremble beneath us? I felt that it was not my heart alone that beat louder and faster when he whispered in my ear, “You’ll always be my one and only.”
No one on the truck complained or rushed us, but it was time for him to go.
I stood motionless for a long time, watching the truck become smaller and smaller and finally disappearing in the distance. I felt as if I were shrinking rather than the departing truck, that I was withering while the distance between us was widening. I thought I heard an animal howling in the distance. It was a frightening sound in the middle of a bright sunny day. I still wonder whether what I felt was a premonition or ordinary fear under extraordinary circumstances.
*
… In the early morning of June 5, 1967, what would come to be called the Six Day War broke out, with an Israeli preemptive air attack that instantly changed the balance of forces that Israel’s Arab neighbors had sought. Suddenly, the siege on Israel ended; the army now focused on its enemies’ ground forces. As soldiers fought soldiers and steel battled steel, the rest of us, worried about our loved ones at the frontlines, fretfully followed every scrap of news from the bloody battlefields.
*
… As the country rejoiced I waited to hear from Yigal. Like other civilians who were left in the rear, out of contact with their loved ones, I was terrified about his situation. But I was also hopeful: that a Herculean man like Yigal could not be hurt; that our life would resume the way we had planned it; that my pregnancy would develop without complications; that we would raise our child together. For that, Yigal had to return home, whole or wounded. I pictured him missing a limb, or two. But I did not care, as long as he was alive.
When on Friday, the fifth day of the war, I still had not heard from him, I called his brigade headquarters. If I was anxious before the call, the hesitation I detected in the voice of the secretary after she heard my name alarmed me even more.
“Please hold,” she said. “I’ll check where he is.”
I could hardly breathe. Think about the baby, I reminded myself. Breathe, breathe.
“According to the information we have, Captain Yigal Goren is fine,” she said when she returned, after what seemed to me an eternity. But she barely convinced me.
“Are you sure?” I asked her, over and over. The nagging feeling I had had ever since Yigal and I said our second good-bye crept over me again, beginning with the thought that there had to be a reason we had been given that chance to see each other once more. I sensed that even if the war were to end triumphantly, not everyone would rejoice. That one of those excluded would be me. That I would never see Yigal again.
The secretary tried to ease my mind. “You know, it’s not unusual in wartime to be unable to communicate. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll hear from him soon.”
She was right. A few hours after that conversation my Aunt Esther called me. Her husband, Yaakov, my father’s youngest brother, had bumped into Yigal a day earlier in the Sinai Desert. Each promised to call home if they could and send the other’s regards.
My aunt transmitted his message. “Yigal wants you to know that he’s doing well and that you needn’t worry about him. Just take care of yourself. He thinks of you and the baby.”
“You know, Esther,” I said, a bit calmer than I had been before her call. “Till now I had no idea where Yigal’s brigade was situated.”
“Yaki said Yigal looks well,” my aunt continued.
Her call lifted my mood. But by the time I had received it, unbeknownst to my aunt or me, Yigal no longer looked well.

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Friday, April 1, 2016

On Books and Fear

The subject of how should America treat its Muslim population has been manipulated not only by the bigoted Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, but also by the media. Either way, in that discussion it is easy to forget that that particular segment of the rich multicultural mix that makes the American population – Muslims, whether American born or naturalized citizens – is composed mostly of ordinary human beings. They leave home for work to support the families they raise and return at the end of the day to live their ordinary lives and dream their ordinary dreams about their children’s education, their health, and their success if life.

Surely, among them there are those few, overtaken by an extremist ideology and posing a threat to other Americans, including members of their own religious and ethnic groups. Surely, most terrorist acts in many parts of the world originate in the Islamic Middle East. Surely, the U.S. and the world have to deal with the scourge of Islamic terrorism and fascism.

But we also have to look into the eyes of ordinary Muslims and tell them that we recognize their fear living in a society that stereotypes them and often blames them for the loud, cruel and unacceptable deeds of the few amongst them.

In my classes at college I have numerous Muslim students, some of whom are too shy or too uneasy to share their anxiety with their fellow students. Others are willing to engage in an open discussion on what bothers them about being singled out in the election campaign.

When I asked them in a class on the Middle East whether they mind to share their feelings about Ted Cruz’s idea to monitor Muslim neighborhoods, some were eager to talk.

“My mother threw this book in the garbage, the minute she saw it,” one student told us, referring to a book on ISIS, “she was scramming and howling.”
 “Mom, I need it for class,” the student told us she had told her mother when she retrieved the book from the garbage can.

“I don’t care. I don’t want it here. Get read of it.”

The mother was too scared to have the book at home, lest her family will be “caught” and blamed for being sympathetic to ISIS, or worse.  

Once what concerned me when I chose books for my courses was their high cost. Never did it enter my mind that a student may be fearful to own one.

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