Andersen: Mintz a reasonable critic
Being shouted down with derision is far less effective than being taken aside and advised of missteps by a reasonable critic. After two weeks of being targeted by harangues from an attack network about my columns on Israel and the Palestinians, a clear and respectful voice has reached out.
Last week, a seasoned journalist in the valley called to offer insight on the controversy I stirred. “It comes with the territory,” said this Pulitzer Prize-winning former Middle East correspondent.
He told me that debate in Israel over all aspects of the state is far more open than it is in the U.S., where concerted attacks routinely try to quash dissenting views. “I was attacked for years, and they tried to get me fired. It’s the price you pay for writing anything critical, no matter how warranted it might be.”
How refreshing, then, to hear from a reasoned voice — critical to be sure — but without the shrill note of hostility.
Rabbi Mendel Mintz, of Aspen, wrote in an email that the pushback I received was not because I was “critical or harsh on Israel, but that you only showed one side of the story.”
I explained to him that I went to Israel without a political agenda, just as an open-eyed traveler with journalistic instincts and humanitarian sensibilities. I read what I could beforehand and, with what I saw and learned from Israelis, pieced together an admittedly partial understanding.
“Israel is the only democracy in that part of the world where Jews, Arabs and all religions can vote and have a voice in politics. While no one likes to rule over other people, Israel has bent over backward with generous offer after generous offer to make peace work,” Mintz advised.
Mintz took exception to my use of the word “apartheid,” a quote from John Kerry. “You can expect people will be angry and take it personally, especially when they see missiles coming in from Gaza and terrorist bombings.” he wrote. The Palestinian regime, he said, “sees no value in women, raises children to hate and kill and so forth.”
Mintz recounted that when the Israelis left Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005, they also left greenhouses that could have enriched the Palestinian economy. Instead, the greenhouses were looted or destroyed shortly after the withdrawal.
“So, to many Israelis, they believe that they gave and gave and made every effort only to have more deaths, bombings and the like, which understandably led them to question the ‘peace’ process.”
The walls came up around Palestinian territories “because Israelis were sick of their kids being blown up for going to a disco or pizzeria,” Mintz said. He described a young woman he brought to Aspen as part of Ski-to-Live who had lost part of her head in a suicide bombing while waiting in line to enter a Tel Aviv disco.
“My point is simple,” he wrote. “Sure, Israel is not perfect, and they can do things better, but to suggest apartheid, to suggest Israel is at fault, is akin to saying poor Germany in 1945. Look at the poverty, the death, the pain when we all know the cause of that.”
Mintz offered clear and simple advice. “I think had you written more of the background and given both sides as to why we are where we are today people would take it less personally. I’m all for criticizing Israel as long as it’s consistent.”
I’m grateful to Mintz. He didn’t take my remarks personally. He didn’t barrage me with abuse and venom. He didn’t fume and seethe silently without engaging dissent as a democratic strength.
While views on Israel and the Palestinians are many and conflicting, Mintz entered into the topic with clarity, purpose and manners. He was polite and effective. We plan to meet in the future and share our views in a constructive, civil dialogue.
The walls he mentioned in Israel are physical divisions, but there are other walls, the internal ones, that no bulldozer can tear down. These are the walls that divide “us” and “them.” They can only be torn down by reasoned engagement.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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