On May 9, I attended Gili Getz’s one-man show, “The Forbidden Conversation.” It had been announced by the Pittsburgh J Street chapter as a “personal journey into the past and future, exploring the difficult [sic] of talking openly about Israel.” Another J Street announcement of the event had described it as “a deeply personal one-man performance that explores the challenges of having a conversation about Israel in the American Jewish community.”
I am not a J Street member — quite the opposite. I view J Street as misguided and destructive, attempting to shape Israel in its own progressive image, rejecting Israel’s nationhood by trying to impose on the Jewish state a political will that contradicts the choice of the Israeli people. Nevertheless, when alerted to the play, I was interested: The current political polarization has regrettably affected the support of Israel that used to be bipartisan but now is increasingly abandoned by progressives and identified with conservatives.
Anything that can strengthen that vital support should be welcome. No doubt, a constructive conversation, difficult as it might be, is a necessary condition for that, and the ways to solve the difficulties must be sought.
If that was the play’s goal, it remained beyond the author’s reach. The 40-minute act was a jumbled combination of a political talk and an account of exchanges between the author and his father on the situation between Israel and “Palestinians,” adorned with some dramatic elements like pauses and occasional emphatic phrase repetition. The artistic anemia of the show aside, the conversation of which the author speaks is much more problematic than is reflected in the title of the play. A forbidden (by whom?) conversation could be at some point permitted. The one that is discussed comes off as hopeless rather than forbidden; that is likely why his father no longer wants it.
A conversation is meaningful when both opponents’ points of view contain elements of truth and thus can reach a compromise, or when opponents agree on the position of one of them — hopefully, one that is right while the other is wrong. Too often it is forgotten that the latter situation is entirely possible, and a compromise not always is, particularly when irreconcilable principles are concerned. In that situation — as when a clear distinction between good and evil can be drawn — a compromise may be deadly.
Nonetheless, it is the compromise that the author seems to desire, while the situation in its origins, its history and its immutability of Arab war on Israel — misnamed the “Arab-Israeli conflict” — is of the category the prophet Isaiah warned about: “Woe to those who say of the evil that it is good and of the good that it is evil; who present darkness as light and light as darkness, who present bitter as sweet and sweet as bitter.”
I do not believe Gili Getz is knowingly on the side of evil. But when the choice is between Israel as the Jewish state and those who deny Israel and the Jews the right to exist, between good and evil, his is no good. Perhaps Getz is unaware of this reality. But then the main problem of Getz’s play — and this is why the conversation is hopeless — is that he not only lacks the wherewithal to make an informed judgment; he is also ideologically impervious to the necessary information, hidden from no one.
His intentions are perfectly good, just of the kind that pave the nasty road. It comes of the presentation that the author is a progressive Israeli for whom the aspirations and methods of Israel and “Palestinians” are entirely symmetric. In contrast, his father, who repatriated to Israel from Soviet Latvia after being a refusenik there, is ostensibly what the majority of former Soviet Jews are: Zionists with clear understandings of the distinctions between the two sides’ goals and actions.
In contrast to Gili and his J Street audience, with some of whom I talked in the discussion part of the event, his father’s views are apparently well-informed by his knowledge of Soviet propaganda. That propaganda created both the myth of “Palestinians,” and the progressive views concerning them, to be picked up by the gullible fellow-traveler masses in the West. To be sure, there were no “Palestinians” when the short-lived pro-Israel/anti-Arab position had been adopted by Stalin. It had lasted only until he understood that his political preference for Israel to what he had considered retrograde Arabs was erroneous: Israel aligned not with the socialist camp as he hoped despite his vicious antisemitism, but with the “imperialists.” The anti-Israel Soviet stance further developed to turn local Arabs into the “Palestinian nation”, Jews into the new Nazis, and Zionism into racism rather than a national self-determination movement.
The former Soviet stance remains the foundation of the progressive perspective on Israel as the outpost of capitalist aggression against Arabs, the oppressive regime illegally occupying lands stolen from the native “Palestinians” in addition to those that were given to the Jews by an over-generous world as compensation for the Holocaust. It is that Soviet position, ultimately an expression of the Soviet anti-Semitic communist ideology, that was used to transform Israel in the minds of almost invariably left-leaning Western intellectuals from a tiny democratic country fighting for its survival against its genocidal neighbors into a bloody monster.
It is this perspective, an ideology barring Getz’s and his J Street audience’s access to any information to the contrary, that creates in their minds symmetry between Israel and Jew-hating terror regimes. It bars access even to their own memory, which would tell them how Israel’s own ethnic self-cleansing of Gaza has resulted in thousands of Hamas rockets rather than peace. That was the result that had been predicted by everybody who could remember another attempt to make peace with a genocidal Jew-hating regime — in Munich, 80 years ago. It could also remind them of what that attempt eventually brought about.
But, as I found out to my regret, that memory had faded too: None of my J Street opponents remembered that the day we gathered for “The Forbidden Conversation” was the anniversary of the victory over the Nazis. It was only fitting: Santayana said well what happens to those who cannot remember the past. PJC
Michael Vanyukov, Ph.D., is a professor of pharmaceutical sciences, psychiatry and human genetics at the University of Pittsburgh.