Good Thomas Friedman column in the NY Times today about the Israel-Palestinian debacle. Here’s a good bit:
I’m not here to defend Israel’s bad behavior. Just the opposite. I’ve long argued that Israel’s colonial settlements in the West Bank are suicidal for Israel as a Jewish democracy. I don’t think Israel’s friends can make that point often enough or loud enough.
But there are two kinds of criticism. Constructive criticism starts by making clear: “I know what world you are living in.” I know the Middle East is a place where Sunnis massacre Shiites in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognize Israel. I know all of that. But Israel’s behavior, at times, only makes matters worse — for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they’re living in, and then criticize, they’ll listen.
Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behavior, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided — after Israel unilaterally left Gaza — to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?
That’s a great point. We must understand that each side has valid perceptions and stop trying to make one side the “good guys” and one side the “bad guys.”
We should follow this advice on some U.S. policy debates as well. Arizonans who support a crackdown on illegal immigration aren’t all racists — and neither are all of the tea partiers. On the other side of the spectrum, President Obama isn’t a closet communist bent on turning the United States into a second incarnation of the Soviet Union. These examples represent extreme caricatures created by opponents. Sometimes it’s easier to stereotype people who don’t agree with us than to take the time to understand why they perceive the world differently than we do.