On the Road to Jerusalem: A Current Affairs Conversation with an Israeli Taxi Driver
Gidi is a handsome, 53-year-old Israeli taxi driver whose grandfather made aliyah from Iraq in the 1920s. Loquacious and charming, Gidi gave me to a 50-minute Hebrew monologue on the situation in Israel in light of the Iran agreement, the recent Palestinian stabbings of innocent Israelis, his views of the American government’s involvement, and his frustration in light of current realities.
Gidi is smart and well informed, a practical, no-nonsense man who believes in a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – but he sees no way to get there because of the Palestinian propensity to blame Israel for all its problems and take no responsibility for themselves or their children.
I didn’t raise the issue of Israelis’ co-responsibility for the logjam because I wanted to hear his views. I just listened – a lot!
While driving up the mountain to Jerusalem, Gidi became so exasperated by the recent stories of Palestinian-on-Israeli violence that he took both hands off the wheel and gesticulated angrily about the immoral character of these terrorists. Thankfully, he grabbed the wheel just before I begged him to watch out for the cars careening alongside us.
But he was right on so many counts.
Something is very wrong within a society that glorifies shaheeds (martyrs) and leaves Palestinian children with no alternative for hero worship but people who want to murder Israelis on the streets. The refusal of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to prepare the Palestinian population for peace with Israel in a two-state solution and to educate its children effectively about the humanity of Israelis is a serious failure of the PA.
Gidi, as a Middle Eastern man, says he cannot understand President Obama’s belief in the efficacy of negotiation vis-à-vis Iran. He praised Russia's Vladimir Putin as an aggressive actor.
Though I agreed that fundamentalist groups are bitter enemies of the Jewish people and the west, I argued that the alternative to the Iran negotiations (no negotiations) would have led immediately to Iranian nuclear capability. Gidi, though, doesn’t trust the Iranians as far as he can spit. He shook his head as I spoke, as if to say, “My American friend, you don’t understand!” I repeated back to him Reagan’s old adage, “Don’t trust – verify!”
I explained that I believe that President Obama would have, as a last resort, attacked Iranian nuclear sites if no agreement had come about, or should Iran move quickly to build a bomb, but Gidi didn’t believe me. I told him that President Obama is not a pacifist and had used military force in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (remember Osama bin Laden?), and Libya.
And then I reminded Gidi (as if he needed reminding, having fought in Lebanon and served two years in Hebron) that war always brings unintended consequences. He agreed, and so I asked him what he thought would happen if either Israel or the United States attacked Iran, given that Hezbollah has built an extensive tunnel system into Israel and has 100,000 Iranian missiles aimed at the heart of Tel Aviv.
He agreed that there would be war but that Israel would prevail. I asked, “At what cost? And isn’t negotiation that brings effective results always better than war?”
Only in Israel could I expect to have such a conversation with a taxi driver – and that is part of what I love about this country.
Finally, Gidi asked me what I’m doing in Israel, and I explained that I am a delegate of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) at the World Zionist Congress, which began yesterday in Jerusalem.
He asked, “So what will come from 500 Jews talking?”
This my first time at the World Zionist Congress , but I told him that the Congress is about the important heart-to-heart connection that exists between world Jewry and the state of Israel, and about Jews from everywhere in the world helping to strengthen Israel and preserve its Jewish character and democracy.
He added, “And it’s about money! Isn’t it?”
Gidi is a smart guy. Yes, there is a lot of money at stake for the different world Zionist groups in Israel. ARZA, with 56 seats, has the largest delegation from the United States – combined with the additional 22 delegates of our allies in ARZENU, the umbrella organization of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists worldwide. We hope not only to promote Israel’s democratic and progressive liberal values, but also to gain greater influence on key committees and a greater share of the financial pie for our progressive religious and social justice movement in Israel, which still receives no funds from the Israeli government.
Delegates have been advised not to ride buses or to walk alone in Jerusalem, given last week's knife attacks, and though I am personally comfortable doing so, I promised my wife and sons I would take taxis. It will, I hope, give me opportunities to meet more drivers like Gidi.
This week’s Torah portion, by the way, is parashat Lech L’cha, in which God instructs Abram to leave his home and go forth to a new land that God will show him.
Lech L’cha, go forth: Indeed, that is exactly what we hope to do here during the World Zionist Congress.