Beyond right and wrong
The Left and the Right have become entrenched in historical debates, and Micah Goodman wants them to move forward
When he started writing Catch-67: The Left, The Right and the Legacy of the Six-Day War, Micah Goodman wanted to articulate the best argument possible for each side. That way, when the other side read the book, they might pause and say, “Oh, here is something I hadn’t thought about,” said Goodman in a recent interview. He wanted to help the conversation grow and help Israelis on both sides find common ground with the others’ views. This is the essence of this exciting new book, which seeks to bridge the gap of 50 years of argument in Israeli politics over what should be done next in the peace process.
“I’m a student of ideas, not politics,” Goodman said. His book first found success and praise across the political spectrum in Hebrew, and has now been translated into English by Eylon Levy. He wanted to reintroduce the public to great thinkers of Zionist history, from Berl Katznelson to Rav Abraham Isaac Kook.
“I thought that understanding the ideas behind the conversation can help us,” he said. Politics is about labels – we can heal the conversation by going beyond that and learning about the ideas that underpin the State of Israel.
Goodman was born in Jerusalem to American parents.
“I studied American politics and philosophy,” he said. “I wanted to be a person who could address both crowds [American and Israeli]. Hebrew is easier for me, but I feel more comfortable in English.”
In Catch-67, he seeks to lay out some of the important ideas that led to the creation of the Jewish state and look at the arguments that have developed about the peace process. Then he works to reorient the reader to think about how a lack of peace can still lead to change on the ground, change that might lead to positive developments for Israel and the Palestinians.
Goodman takes some inspiration for his book from the Talmud.
“I think the Jewish tradition is a great tradition of having great conversations, so how do you react to someone who holds a worldview that is opposite?” he asked. “One way is anxiety and the other curiosity.”
The Talmud trains your mind to handle difference and realize that a reaction to a different worldview is not just to reject it, he said. The problem with our world is that we are becoming more tribal in our way of thinking and mass media – including social media giants – are encouraging us to move into intellectual ghettos. When it comes to politics, this is true in Israel, the US and elsewhere.
“Social media is sabotaging our ability to listen to each other,” he said. However, Catch-67 does not seek to bridge all the gaps in politics. It is primarily about a Jewish and Israeli conversation.
“I try to say, don’t have expectations that this is about the conflict... I do try to analyze some positions of the Palestinians, but not with depth, the purpose is to make my readers more intelligent about Israel and Israelis and a great window is to understand the internal debate, it’s about the Israeli conversation.”
Toward that end, the book looks at some choices regarding what might come next. Can Israel end the conflict with the Palestinians or will it manage the conflict forever?
“I think it’s important to recognize this is a false dichotomy,” he says. There is an unspoken alliance between the peace movement and the settler movement, he argues. “The peace movement freezes things and the settlers do the same.”
How does that make sense? Goodman asks us to think of it like discussing car accidents. If your goal is zero car accidents, you won’t get there, but if you can reduce them 50%, that’s a good thing.
“We should treat the conflict with less drama,” he said, “and think about real steps on the ground.” That means reducing the size of the conflict. That might mean reducing the number of checkpoints Palestinians have to go through by making an interconnected road system for them across their areas of the West Bank.
“Let’s reorganize the conflict,” so that while we can’t get to a perfect conclusion, we can still make things better for everyone involved. “Let’s stop speaking about ending the conflict, which means managing the status quo.” If we can move beyond that discussion, then we can have a more healthy conversation and a more healthy political system.
Goodman’s book is an excellent example of seeking to move the conversation forward. With the status quo in the West Bank likely to continue, with no Palestinian state emerging and no Israeli annexation, the best that might come out of it, for Israelis at least, is to stop imagining that this situation has a magic wand solution. Many Israelis instinctively seem to know that by now. An English-language audience, rooted in the failed concepts of the past, needs to be introduced to this concept.
MICAH GOODMAN: Let’s stop speaking about ending the conflict, and talk about taking steps to move forward.
CATCH 67 By Micah Goodman Yale University Press 264 pages; $26