I’m naive.

But not a Thomas Friedman “America can have a successful third party” naive. His naivete played out on his much larger world stage. Mine has stayed more localized. It didn’t drive my non-existent book sales.

Last July, the well known New York Times columnist was in between his various saving the world assignments (and pre-book tour) when he proclaimed that America’s political problems were so deep than we needed a new political start-up, called Americans Elect, to right America’s ship.

Friedman wrote, “Write it down: What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in. Watch out.”

I’ve watched.

They’re pretty much out. The “two party duopoly” is there for a reason: Stasis is powerful. Change is hard.

Which brings me back to my own naivete in believing I could easily go where few Jews have gone before—organize a diverse group of Jewish pro-Israel supporters to discuss their different views on supporting Israel, maintain civility, and try to find enough common ground that we could agree on limited goals.

So, on a weekday evening, quite unlike other weekday evenings, I reclined (and also passed on the bitter herbs, but that story is in my special holiday blog) and emailed an invitation to 45 pro-Israel Jews. By the next morning that single invite had birthed well more than the usual 2:1 opinions to Jews ratio of replies— including opinionated replies from several people who weren’t invited, but heard about this possible anti-Israel gathering from their reliable email sources, which, as in most cases, tend to be one or two friends of a friend of a friend. (Or Caroline Glick.)

The the email invitation went viral, at least within a relatively small “anti-meeting” closed loop who, based on their strong convictions, saw the meeting as something that needed to be stopped. And try to stop the meeting they did. Impassioned emails and phone calls to community leaders and those who had replied “yes” were followed by “thank yous” to those who had replied “no.”

Suddenly, my vision of AIPAC, AJC, ADL and J Street supporters, and members of the American political party duopoly, sitting side by side with Orthodox and secular Jews, all strategizing in a comfortable, communal setting, got a bit cloudy.

Before we discuss the thunderstorms that followed the invite,why not read the actual invitation so you can better decide whether the anti-meeting clouds deserved to be seeded?

The key portion of the actual invitation:

What are the possible topics?

These could include: whether Jewish criticism of Israel is kosher, treif, or a
little of both depending on the circumstances and intent; whether the
Arab Spring is good or bad for Israel; implications of the Palestinian
right to return to Israel and how this might be managed to preserve
Israel’s Jewish character; implications of a possible Hamas-Fatah
reconciliation and different views on ways Israel should respond; the
motives behind the BDS movement and how the Jewish
community and Israel could respond more effectively; implications of
changing Israeli demographics (particularly the ultra-Orthodox
influence) on future Diaspora support; how Israel’s coalition
political structure affects policy decisions and the opportunity for
peace; the wisdom of new or expanded settlement construction inside
and outside major settlement blocs; Israeli democratic and civil
rights versus its Arab neighbors and what does this suggest short and
long term for Israel; whether peace is ever possible between Israel
and the Palestinians and what a “yes” or “no” answer suggests; how
America and/or Israel should deal with Iran; Jewish
attachment (particularly youthful) to Israel and what can be done to
possibly increase that; how Israel can best preserve America’s support; and many other possible topics that the group wants to

In the meetings we can discuss the issue, different perspectives, and
then decide on possible next steps if the topic is one that suggests
possible next steps.

Harmless? Not to those who saw the meeting as an effort to support the rough equivalent of Friedman’s Americans Elect—in this case, a pro-Israel independent party movement that would possibly weaken Israel’s support within the Jewish community. Not to those who saw the meeting as a joyless gathering of retrograde militaristic bomb throwers whose solutions have not worked for seven decades. And definitely not harmless if you thought the organizers—ah, that would include me—had hidden motives.

A simple “yes” or “no” response request became a series of repetitive email points and counterpoints, free from the annoying fact-checking glare of Snopes, with a few personal email battles thrown in. One person declined because he said he loved Israel and didn’t want to do anything that could harm her. Another person declined because she said she loved Israel and didn’t want to consort with people who viewed the meeting as an attempt to harm Israel. One person even accepted because she wanted to meet people that still thought like the two people described. Then two people suggested having a meeting to set up a discussion about having the meeting. (Which struck me as more reasonable than the request to identify what food would be provided before a commitment could be made.)

Yet, we did have over 50% of a very diverse group say “yes,” so we seem to be off to a better organizing start than Americans Elect—at least until Friedman curses our group with an enthusiastic endorsement.

Interim lessons learned? “Bcc” beats “cc” for discouraging and impeding pre-meeting campaigning. “Delete” and not “reply all” works best to prevent angry counterattacks. And that ringing device, that my daughters now only associate with texting, works supremely best for ending and resolving touchy issues.

Most important lessons learned? Your “pro” may be my “anti” and vice versa, but America’s pro-Israel Jewish community has divergent thoughts and forms its own coalitions, just as Israelis do. Yet we are ultimately all on the same team.

While there will always be points of difference that separate us, they do not have to divide us. We have a choice to make. We can choose to focus on our points of agreement and make progress or we can engage in ad hominem attacks and scare tactics and get nowhere. That understanding, which I believe our attendees have, will help our group remaining focused on our shared goals.

Stay tuned. The first chapter of the real story has yet to be written. If this was easy, then the reward would not be as great. (But I am okay with easier….)

Click below for the last two articles in this pro-Israel series:



Bookmark and Share