Friday, January 08, 2010

If This Is What It Takes To Create Jewish-Arab Dialogue, We're In Trouble

Back in December, Ethan Bronner wrote an article in The New York Times entitled A Mideast Bond, Stitched of Pain and Healing, which I wrote about here.

Apparently the idea of Jews and Arabs bonding is so popular that The New York Times tried it again: Princeton Players Are Divided by Heritage, United by Basketball. It's a nice theme: how 2 girls--Niveen Rasheed, who is Palestinian-American and Lauren Polansky, who is Jewish--with different heritages from cultures that are caught in a conflict with each other can get along and be friends.

But there is something wrong here.

On the one hand is Rasheed's Palestinian background:
Rasheed’s parents are Palestinians, born and raised in the West Bank, and one of her sisters is part of the Palestinian diplomatic corps at the United Nations.

“It’s a big part of our family’s culture,” Rasheed said after a practice last week, adding: “You would think with all those factors I’d have in the back of my mind that L. P. is Jewish. But the way I was raised was that you should not have personal grudges against someone for their background.”

... Rasheed is more politically aware than Polansky. She has relatives living in the West Bank, follows developments in the Middle East on Arabic- and English-language television and says her family takes part in pro-Palestinian protests. Until she became so immersed in basketball that it was hard to find free time, Rasheed made several visits to the West Bank.

Rasheed family members find fault with the Israeli government but say they try not to let that affect how they treat or view individuals who are Jewish.

“We believe that peaceful solutions are the best for anything,” Rasheed’s mother, Hanan, said in a telephone interview from her home in Danville, Calif. “Living in America, you live in a melting pot. We’ve taught our children to be open-minded. The kids never came home and said, ‘Oh, I have a Christian friend or a Jewish friend.’ We love Lauren. She is a charming young lady and very sweet. Niveen loves her because they have so much in common. That’s how she picks her friends. It just happens that she happens to be Jewish.”

Looking for opportunities that were not available in his homeland, Rasheed’s father, Robert, came to the United States in 1967 after the Arab-Israeli War when he was 17 and lived with cousins in Oakland. He later played soccer at the University of Wyoming and went into real estate. Hanan Rasheed came to the United States in 1973.

On the other hand is Polansky's Jewish background:
Polansky’s father, Jon, who died in 2005, was Jewish, and her mother, Cynthia, from South Africa, is Catholic. Polansky was raised as a Jew, and she said her focus growing up was on her education, basketball and friends.

“Niveen is my teammate and my friend,” Polansky said. “None of that political stuff that is going on on the other side of the world is that important to me. It has never affected our friendship.”

Yup, that's it. What makes Polansky Jewish is that one parent was Jewish--and since her mother is Catholic, Polansky is only Jewish in a 'journalistic' sense. It makes for good copy.

The resulting message of the article comes across as a lesson of how Jews and Arabs can get along: as long as Jews don't make a big deal of their religion, history, culture--and of course, Israel.

No Thanks. The only reason there is no conflict is that only one side is actually in the game. Polansky of course is free to feel no attachment to Israel, but her example is irrelevant, and not a little misleading.

On the other hand, it does reinforce the lesson being pressed on both sides of the Atlantic that extra sensitivity to Islam and making concessions to it can avoid those riots and Islamist terrorist attacks.

Can there be peace if both sides are proud of their culture and who they are?

It better be.

[Hat tip: Jonathan Tobin]

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