In a recent op-ed column, Thomas Friedman celebrates Israel's bright and shining future by
extolling Israel's new generation of venture capitalists: "...this country has a culture that nurtures and rewards individual imagination--one with no respect for limits or hierarchies, or fear of failure." I read his words and gasp at his tunnel vision. What is the enforced daily suffering of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and Palestinian-Israeli citizens, what are the cascading restrictions on the possiblities of life for Arab-Israelis other then a failure of the imagination. Friedman must know the communities just beyond the green line--I am no one and I saw the despair, the anger, the gray wall covered with the graffiti of resistance. Freidman is a man of power--he talks with the powerful, he writes books about what the whole world should do, about the shape of the future and yet he cannot lift his head high enough to see the children who scrabble in the dust, who live on the outskirts of their own homes, who must move off their own streets when the settlers want to go to market with their machine guns over their shoulders. He knows what makes this romance of entrepreneurship so possible--billions of dollars of American military aid. Freidman, man of the world, seems to see no connections between these "student innovators" he so champions and the dispossessed surrounding them. What kind of smartness is this, what kind of world is this--the imposed disparities are too great, for any celebration. This is success built on another's peoples' suffering--and it does not have to be. Jews are smart--so they have always said--our smartness was how we survived when the gates closed on us. Now in this strange land, so freighted with prehistory, we close the gates on others and say how wonderful we are.
In a follow-up article, Freidman calls support for the boycott of Israel "rank anti-semiticism." He lauds the fact that a few Arab names were included in the graduation ceremony of a major Israeli university--think--since when did having students of other backgrounds become something so unusual that it singles out a univeristy as something special--like the white colleges who accepted one or two black students in the old days. He doesn't tell his readers that any instruction in Arabic is illegal, that some Israeli universities work very hard to keep their number of Arabic Israeli students at a minimum. Or how much does he get paid for his speeches at these gatherings. Yes, the imagination grows and asks good questions when it is valued, when so much is dedicated to nourishing it--then think of soldiers holding a gun to your head and asking to see your papers because you want to walk down another street. This too engages the imagination--first in humiliation and then in rage. Perhaps one or two of those Israeli young people so busy developing their individual imagination will look in another direction and start thinking about the injustices that make their success so possible and like so many Jews before them, hold their country to another vision, one of just inclusion and a national celebration of the possibilities of all of its citizens.