. . . Wednesday November 24, 2004

The Idiots Among Us

This morning, Fred Rosenbaum (the co-author of the biography of my dad, a Jewish partisan who fought back during WWII) spent an hour on Forum with Michael Krasny on the Bay Area’s NPR affiliate.

(If you missed it, you can see my original post on the publishing of my dad’s story in the post Swimming on Shabbat.)

The interview was excellent and helped to get out the often untold story of those Jews (and others) who fought back during the Holocaust period.

Then came the callers. And, of course, the topic switched from my dad’s story to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. See, there are certain segments of the far left who oversimplify every conflict in history. Anything that involves Jews is immediately shifted to a discussion of how terrible Israel is.

At one point, Fred Rosenbaum explained (quite calmly) that to compare the Holocaust to Israel’s behavior in recent years is not only absurd, it’s obscene.

Seems obvious enough. And yet there were follow-up callers who actually disagreed with that assessment.

The exchanges, in addition to taking time away from the discussion of my dad’s life (which can fill plenty more than an hour of radio time), were interesting and upsetting on a few levels.

First, it should be noted that some of the most extreme anti-semitism in America today is coming from the far left (especially upsetting to those of us in the moderate left) and even from university campuses where the just fight against Apartheid in the 1980s was somehow seamlessly replaced by an anti-Israel sentiment. This trend is both stupid and dangerous. And while one can be opposed to some Israeli policies (and that describes many of Israel’s residents) without being anti-semitic, that is the exception, not the rule. My dad’s family was killed during the Holocaust. He escaped to a Polish forest, joined a band of partisans, and fought the Nazis and helped the allies in many key ways. Then he came to America and built a life and an incredibly successful business out of nothing (no language, no money, no connections, no education, no family).

How does a conversation about that turn into a conversation about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Liberalism when not accompanied by intelligence or at least common sense is really a troubling state. When the knee jerks, it usually lands in our own crotch.

Second, this exchange reminded me that we all need to keep our powder dry when it comes to listening to radio shows. This particular radio show is very much in the NPR style of things: Calm discussions on interesting and intellectual topics.

But the callers can be extreme and irritating. That makes sense. More often than not, it is the extremism and need to irritate that drives callers to start dialing. Often, our political discourse in this country is reduced to the extreme callers and pundits from one side ripping into the extreme callers and pundits from the other side.

As I tried to point out in my post election piece, How the Middle Sold Out, it’s important that we don’t cede the dialogue to these segments of the population (regardless of the entertainment value).

Today, ten minutes of airtime that should’ve been spent discussing my dad’s life and its lessons for all of humanity were wasted on an unrelated tangent. When it comes to political discourse in this country, often carried out on less calm and thoughtful shows, we’re lucky if we get ten minutes of the good stuff.

Concentration is important!