The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
This morning as I passed a bus stop, I saw a crowd of people waiting to get on the bus. My car was positioned in such a way that I was angling to get out of the lane and the bus has sort of cut in front and blocked me so I was forced into patience. There were quite a few people waiting to get on – no, not in a line. Israelis don’t do lines. But what struck me was how everyone sort of held back and let an elderly man slowly get on the bus and no one really seemed to be impatient.
There is, in Israel, a built-in respect for the elderly. I have so many thoughts still kicking around my head about the President’s Conference. Here’s another one.
One of the panels was on Israel’s Security in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring. It featured the following speakers:
–Ambassador Moshe Arens, Israel: former Minister of Defense
–Professor Anthony Cordesman, USA: Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy
–Professor Yehezkel Dror, Israel: Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
–Lt. Gen. (Res.) Dan Halutz, Israel: Former Chief of the General Staff
–Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, Israel
Of these names, I was most familiar with Moshe Arens and Dan Halutz so I decided to attend. I think Moshe Arens is terrific and Dan Halutz an idiot. Yes, I’m being unfair to Halutz, but I believe much of the mess of the Second Lebanon War and many deaths fall on his head, as does some of the so-called Disengagement Plan (which disengaged us from 20+ thriving Jewish communities in Gaza in exchange for engaging us with thousands of rockets). The rest of the panel was unknown or lesser known.
What you had was four men – all Israelis speaking in Hebrew, and one American, Anthony Cordesman.The microphone system was failing and annoying, the room overstuffed with people. At one point, Cordesman was speaking when Professor Yehezkel Dror began to make a comment. Israelis love to debate, to talk – and yes, sometimes to interrupt in the middle of an interesting discussion. It’s a bad habit in the western world, even rude – and while it isn’t loved in Israel, it’s just something that happens and we are relaxed enough to take it in stride. You cut back in, you talk, you communicate. What you never do is embarrass the other person.
Cordesman isn’t Israeli. He turned to Professor Dror and proceeded to rudely take him to task – in front of a few hundred people. Professor Dror apologized, but Cordesman continued his criticism of Dror’s interruption. The audience was silent but many people looked up in surprise. The woman sitting next to me was using earphones because she obviously did not understand Hebrew. I was listening to the discussions – Hebrew and English without any assistance. Seconds after I looked up at Cordesman in surprise at the harsh way in which he spoke, the woman next to me gasped and looked at me. We both agreed – how incredibly rude this Cordesman was.
Later, I looked up Cordesman and found that he was 72 years old; I looked up Professor Dror and found out he was 84. In my book, respect for your elders applies here. The mood in the room seemed different after Cordesman lashed out at Professor Dror. In many ways, I think it was not a reflection of anything that Cordesman said, so much as a violation of something that is ingrained in Israelis. You may not like what an older person says, but they have earned the right to be respected.
I walked out of the room thinking of something else. The bloggers at the conference were given the honor of a private session with President Shimon Peres. I have never liked Peres. I hate his politics. I feel he is terribly weak as a leader and to some extent believe he cared more for his own career than the needs of the people of Israel. He has lost every election he ever ran in and has an abysmal record…until…until he became President of Israel and there, seems to have grown into something so much more than he was.
I still hate his politics; still think he acquiesces too easily to foreign powers. I believe he is old enough, at 88, to be brave and take a chance. I hope, if God graces me to live to Shimon Peres’ age, I hope that I would be more bold. I would have given the Medal of Freedom to Jonathan Pollard. I would have stood up and thanked Obama and said until all Jews are free, no Jew is truly free, that whatever crime Jonathan Pollard did, the time has come.
As I sat listening to the bloggers’ questions – it seemed as if most of the people in the room were dazzled enough to ask soft questions; I think one of the women even flirted with Peres; her body language annoying. I couldn’t sit there quietly. I wanted two things out of that meeting. I wanted someone to say something about the 65 rockets that had hit Israel the day before…as we were just sitting around at his conference; and I wanted someone to say something about Jonathan Pollard. Someone stood up and mentioned the rockets and we got the quote we wanted, “If they do not stop firing rockets at us,” said the President of the State of Israel, “we will have to stop them.”
I smiled. One topic down…one more that needed to be mentioned. I posted to Twitter – “someone ask him about Jonathan Pollard” – and someone wrote back, “why don’t you?” And so I did. But unlike Cordesman, I afforded Shimon Peres respect – not for what he has done in his life, certainly not for his politics, but because he is an 88-year-old man, and Jews respect their elders. He gave me a politician’s answer; I expected no more.
On the bus ride home that evening, a young woman got up and gave her seat to an older woman. I leaned over and said to her in Hebrew “kol hakavod” (rough translation – all honor; or good for you). She looked at me like I was crazy – but smiled anyway. Of course you give your seat, of course you address a president and an older man with honor. This is Israel after all, Mr. Cordesman, this is Israel.
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