Be­yond right and wrong

The Left and the Right have be­come en­trenched in his­tor­i­cal de­bates, and Micah Good­man wants them to move for­ward

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • SETH J. FRANTZMAN

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

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