Chaos can and has been an effective strategy to disrupt the status quo. However, more often than not, it results in worsening the situation. Our government has come to a grinding halt because Republicans have chosen confrontation and retribution over governing. The Civil Rights Movement that disrupted the status quo in southern states brought chaos and then changed an order that severely marginalized African Americans. We are still enthralled in that struggle. It gets ugly when chaotic leaders resort to violence to accomplish their ambitions. All hell has broken loose in Israel with Hamas’s carnage wreaked on Israeli civilians. As President Biden stated, it was evil, and there was no justification for the sickening actions of the perpetrators.
These past few days have been depressing and debilitating for me. As an empath, my heart wrenches when I think of the terror and trauma of the Israeli women, men, and children gunned down in their towns and villages. I cannot fully imagine the terror the hostages are experiencing and the unspeakable dread of the families and friends they were taken from. At the same time, my heart aches as I await news about the carnage Palestinian civilians will suffer as Israel begins the awful process of rooting out the cancerous villains on its borders.
I watched a virtual forum on the bloodshed in Israel sponsored by the Institute of Global Politics (IGP) at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) that featured former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Professor of International and Public Affairs at SIPA. Other Middle East and Israeli experts joined her to assess Israel’s next moves as they amass more than 300,000 reservists on the border with Gaza. Called up for a ground invasion in response to the terrorist attack, panelists contemplated how the coming war could be limited in lives lost and the dreadful prospects of escalation.
The ongoing oppression of Palestinians is as real as racism is in the United States, and many people would like to avoid discussing it and seek real solutions. Hamas’s despicable acts will do nothing to address the oppression; they will only bring further devastation to the lives of Palestinians. Ultimately, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu will be held accountable for his leadership during these perilous times. The colossal failure of Israel’s vaunted intelligence network is his responsibility. Hardline policies that undermined efforts to find a peaceful “two-state” solution will be questioned, the Palestinians’ failure to effectively negotiate notwithstanding.
Born on Cinco de Mayo in 1950, two years after the birth of the state of Israel, I have watched these events play out over several decades. Although I have never visited Israel, as the son of a Baptist pastor, I grew up believing Jews were God’s chosen people. My first and only encounter with Prime Minister Netanyahu was during an annual Brooklyn Salutes Israel event I was assigned to coordinate by then Borough President Howard Golden. I received permission to produce the first Brooklyn Salutes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in January 1986 to commemorate the national holiday in his honor, an event that continues to this day. Golden was so impressed with the program I produced that he asked me to coordinate the Brooklyn Salutes Israel program with Netanyahu as the keynote speaker.
I was torn as there was tension between Blacks and Jews in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. Many of my friends thought I should decline. I did not. I was not impressed with the young Mr. Netanyahu. I remember him standing alone backstage, surrounded by bodyguards, waiting to speak. He seemed robotic, and I do not remember anything about his message. However, I had the opportunity to work with Itzhak Perlman and to watch and listen to his magical command of the violin, which I will never forget.
The Columbia University SIPA panelists spoke of several remarkable developments from chaotic events and how few would have predicted the relationships that now exist between the U.S. and Japan, Germany, and Vietnam. They cautioned that much would depend on how Israel responds—that America’s emotional response to 9/11 resulted in unnecessary and protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My heart goes out to my Jewish friends, among whom I call Sam Freedman, Irv Garfinkel, Terry Mizrahi, and Mimi Abramovitz dear friends. I pray with the Israeli and Palestinian people that healing can result from this chaos.