I got back earlier this week after spending 10 days in Israel, where my company is based. These 10 days were great for us as a company, although they were incredibly full. I spent 10-12 hours every day “locked” in conference rooms. Outside of hummus, falafel and Israeli salads being the lunch option every day, I could’ve been in a conference room in any hotel or office building anywhere in the world. There was also jet lag and a cool side trip (on my one “free” day) to the Palestinian Territories, Judean desert and the Dead Sea with colleagues who also happen to be good friends.
If you’ve never been to Israel, it is an amazing place. Dichotomies between old and new, religious and secular, Jew and Palestinian. The whole country is strikingly beautiful: watch this video, it might surprise you; Tel Aviv would shock most who’ve never been there simply by how cosmopolitan it is – the equal of any big European city for food, nightlife, beaches and joie de vivre; Jerusalem is the one place in the world that literally brings me to tears, with its history, symbolism and tension all contained in a 1 kilometer square space, either the distance of a long Tour De France sprint, or my aggregate riding distance for 2016.
And when I’m in Tel Aviv, it’s always in the back of my mind that I am only 132 miles from Beirut, 132 from Damascus and 567 from Baghdad. The world is indeed very small.
It was also an odd week, for a few reasons:
First, I am a huge sports fan, so it was kind of odd to miss two weeks of the NFL playoffs. I wasn’t interested enough in any of the games to get up to watch them starting at 1:40 AM in Israel. Now we are heading into the Super Bowl and I am not very excited, partly because I am not as invested in the game as normal, after not watching any of the lead-up. Even though we live outside Atlanta, I’m not a Falcons’ fan, and that bandwagon has yet to entice me to jump on board.
Second, I was out of the country during the peaceful transition of power between former-President Obama and now-President Trump. I make no secret of the fact that I am no fan of Trump, so the prospect of the ‘new order’ scared me (and still does). I decided to use my time there (when I had time) to try to understand how the Israeli people I interacted with feel about Trump, about the Obama administration’s decision to not veto the U.N. resolution regarding settlements, about the idea of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and about the world, in general.
I literally did not interact about Trump with a single Israeli who supports him or his positions. Not one. It’s an unscientific survey with a small sample size, but the constant reaction was a polite version of “what are you guys doing over there?”.
The narrative here in the States is that Trump’s vocal support for Israel’s government positions on topics like settlements makes him the choice of Israelis. I am not sure that’s true, based on those I talked to (who, in fairness were largely younger and in Tel Aviv, as noted a very cosmopolitan place). I do think there is a significant disconnect between the policies of the government and the desires of the people (much as we have here in the US, maybe now more than ever).
I asked one person about Jared Kushner and his anointing by his father-in-law as the peacemaker for the region. He just laughed in answer.
I asked another person about the proposed moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. She said “we have a bowl filled with enough gasoline to blow us all up, and it never evaporates. We also have a lot of matches, and we try real hard to keep the matches and the gasoline apart. Why would we want someone else to reorganize our garage and put the gasoline and the matches in the same place, where even an accidental match strike could cause the whole bowl of gasoline to explode?”.
That said, there was near-unanimous unhappiness about the U.N. Resolution on settlements and the Obama administration’s decision to not veto it. Of course I am sure those on the other side of the green line would feel quite different. Foreign policy isn’t easy, friends. I hope @POTUS has someone in his circle who can help him understand that.
Lastly, part of the time I was in Israel, my wife and her cousin were in Washington D.C., joining the Women’s March. I am so proud of her for going and peacefully protesting in support of things she believes in. That right is the essence of what makes our country special. I was terrified the entire time she was there, because I worried about those who disagree with her in the current ugly climate. It turned out my fears were unfounded, she was never threatened, never encountered ugliness at all. Maybe we do have a chance? She is energized about what to do next, and to make sure the momentum doesn’t falter.
And then I got home. Back to the comforts of my life. And with more time on my hands than I had while traveling, a chance to check out all I had “missed” on social media. What used to be a nice diversion and easy way to stay in touch with far flung family and friends was once again revealed to be an ugly, disharmonious cacophony of noise, from both sides.
My first blog a few weeks ago was my attempt to remove myself from that fray. I swear that I try hard, but I’m apparently unable to resist the back and forth conflict on Facebook. I feel as though I am either walking on eggshells, or faced with a barrage of vitriol. My tolerance is gone. It went where simple civility must have preceded it.
I made a promise to myself to not engage, and I keep failing. I somehow keep thinking my reasonable arguments will succeed, forgetting that you can’t reason with the unreasonable. Discussions just devolve into arguments – with nobody ever changing their mind. Arguing for argument’s sake, fueled by false equivalency, “alternative facts” and entrenched positions framed only by adherence to the gospel of the “media” of one’s choice.
I now have a new mantra: My life is like a battery.
Eventually batteries run out of energy. That happens faster with corrosion. I am getting rid of as much corrosion as I can, in order to lengthen my useful life.
I am not running or hiding, I am recharging.