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Bi-Partisan Venues are Uncomfortable, American, and Jewish

03/09/2020 02:38:16 PM


The AIPAC Convention was remarkable. Where else can Democrats and Republicans play in the same sand box?  

Bipartisanship was the theme from the central stage, and many of the breakout panels were bipartisan in composition. The urgency of bipartisan support for a strong US-Israel alliance was emphasized to an unprecedented degree because its future is uncertain. Many Democratic speakers were on the defensive because of antisemitic statements from a few new Congresswomen, and some Republicans were sharpening the wedge to leverage pro-Israel voters away from the party whose liberal wing casts Israel as an obstacle to peace.

Some speakers did kick sand at their political adversaries, but we attendees never jeered at anyone on stage. We were duly instructed by the AIPAC leadership and were duly compliant. We clapped and cheered; we stood; we grimaced; we cringed and we squirmed; but we showed no disrespect to those speaking or to our 18,000 neighbors seated around us.

Discomfort is the price of admission to a forum that's bipartisan. Senator Bernie Sanders thinks that members of the Trump administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu's government, who were at AIPAC in full force, "express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights."

Therefore, he absented himself from the Conference. How sad that the Senator's ideological purity test excludes convening with those who are pragmatic enough to band together over an issue where there is ideological overlap! The Senator's constricted vision does not bode well for his ability to create coalitions within his own party to push through his ambitious legislative agenda.

I am unsure which "basic" rights Senator Sanders believes speakers at AIPAC oppose for the Palestinians, but his rhetoric suggests that he considers many Republicans to oppose basic rights for Americans. Yet, he has not boycotted the United States Senate. 

The Talmud, the original Jewish sandbox, divided the world into three. First of all, there were folks we should pull out of a pit if we find them stranded there; then there were those we'd pass by and not expend the effort; and, finally, there were those whom we'd push in. The Talmud was written at a time when the opposition was in power. But the Talmud didn't advocate pushing all the opposition into a pit. It reserved that distinction for folks who were truly threatening. Not every adversary is an enemy. Senator Sanders seems to have lost the ability to make that not-so-subtle distinction.

AIPAC demonstrated that we can disagree about policy issues without throwing each other into a pit. Where else in this country do we see such a healthy and vibrant expression of political discourse? My yarmulke is off to AIPAC for providing a venue that facilitates what is best about American politics.

Senator Sander's politics are not my interest. What I find dangerous is the compartmentalization of communities of discourse. The Trump administration's abandonment of regular press briefings is a troubling symptom of the disengagement from the healthy rough and tumble of our political process. I find Senator Sanders' disengagement similarly pernicious.  

There were a few different parties vying to be the primary opposition party during the earliest period recorded in the Talmud. Two such parties were founded by Hillel and Shammai. Hillel and his party triumphed. In a moment of self-reflection, the Talmud explains why: unlike Shammai, Hillel learned and taught the arguments of his opponent. In a handful of instances, Hillel was even persuaded by his adversary's argument, and Hillel changed his position.

The Talmud prefers Hillel over Shammai not because the Hillelites were smarter but because they were open-minded enough to acknowledge their own fallibility. Bipartisan venues are not meant to be comfortable. But, how else can we advance our mutual interests if we refuse to engage our adversaries? We might even learn something in the process. 

Sun, June 16 2024 10 Sivan 5784