Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What present to get for a BDS friend?

Bored kids seeking to experience self-righteous indignation and then pretending that that indignation is useful to anyone. I'm sure we all know at least one person who fits that description. I have quite a few friends who do.

Now, the problem is, what do you do when their birthdays come around?

Yesterday, we had a little get-together for a close friend's birthday. Now to be totally fair, this friend isn't really active in the Palestinian arena of her organization, she concentrates mostly on developing countries in Africa (good on her!).  However, this doesn't stop her from randomly posting her organization's messages about the Arab-Israeli conflict on facebook, and to have simplistic four-word opinions such as "Palestinians live under oppression" or "Jewish settlers prevent peace" or even "Israel is exaggerating. Again". While she doesn't actively seek to BDS (She has no idea that all of the herbs she buys at the supermarket are from Israel), she knows her organization does a lot of propaganda for it, and she agrees with their reasons to do so.

She's not a bad person, though she does have some very enlightened thoughts such as that Jews wear funny little hats and that they don't integrate well, and they're really obsessive about their kitchens. (She babysat to a religious family once, and thought it was okay to bring her frozen lasagna and heat it in their oven. Let's simply say that hilarity did not ensue, and that the oven spent a week disassembled in the garden.)

Again, to be really fair, it's understandable that with what the medias here show of the conflict, it's almost impossible to have a different opinion, and it takes a great mind to be able to question oneself and search beyond the available platitudes.

I digress.

Her organization is very active in boycotting all things Israel, including open hearings and debates if they include anyone from Israel "with an agenda". They are definitely not in the business of understanding. Few people who proselytize about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict believe there is any value in listening to the other side.

I could have given her a little set of Ahava creams, or a basket filled with bamba, bissli and other Israeli calories, or perhaps an Israeli music CD (who doesn't love Idan Raichel?). But would she have felt differently about Israel's policies after feeling her super soft hands? Doubtful. I want something that will get her thinking, something that will start a debate. I don't need to convince people and to have everyone agree with me, but I do want their horizons to spread beyond their comfort level. Progress is made when ideas clash together. Or something.

Getting her a heavy duty geo-political book about the situation, or some historical analysis wouldn't be quite right. I'd obviously pick for something "from my side", and she'd be very wary reading it (if she ever would). I decided to give her an illustrated book called "How to understand Israel in 60 days (or less)" by Sarah Glidden.

It's the story of Sarah, a young American Jew, who goes to Israel for the first time, expecting it to fit her preconceived notions of it. It didn't. The tension in the story is based on the fact that progressive Sarah, like many of her cohorts, is critical of the State of Israel, particularly its treatment of the Palestinians. But what she sees is a reality much different from what she believed. Not all of it is good, which is probably the book's strongest point. It doesn't have all the answers. Heck, it doesn't even have all the questions. But she does question herself, and in that she does a grand job. It takes a very strong personality to say "I was wrong, I learned something new."

There are a few points in the book on which I wish she would have dug deeper, but on the whole I feel it's a very nice starting point for a more civilized discussion than random shouting of slogans. I hope that after reading this book my friend will see that there are no easy answers, and that not everything can be divided into "good" and "bad". Just because the loudest voices she hears seem to be so certain doesn't mean that they're right. It just means that they're the loudest.

I hope that after reading it, we'll have some interesting conversations where she'll be more open to hear my thoughts (right now, I can't possibly be objective because I'm Israeli and therefore too involved).

Hasbara doesn't always have to be directed at the masses, this type of hasbara is one person at a time. The book is available in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch. I'm sure you all know a person who could benefit from a book like this as a light introduction to the subject. Don't wait and make a lovely gift to your favorite BDS friend today!

No comments: