Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dreaming Of Peace

Can anyone say today that after 60 years of independence Israel has acquired greater skills in learning how to live peacefully with the Palestinians? I think on an individual basis the answer is yes, on a government to government basis it is difficult to discern much progress. Israel is much stronger than in 1947. It has attempted in many different ways and at different times to impose some stability and order to the region. It has won every war, and yet despite overwhelming economic and military power when compared to the Palestinians, Israel has failed to impose its vision.

In time of war it is good to dream of peace. Hopefully there will soon be a cease fire in this current war. At that point life will regain a semblance of normalcy. People will once again return to the ever present topic “What is to be done?” I would like to tell a true story about peace, which in the context of the Middle East is even beyond a utopian dream. I’ll tell it anyway.

My story is about the history of Jews in Chicagoland, as it is called. The area of greater Chicago as well as its population is comparable to Israel’s. Jews number 250,000 in a population of seven million. In the city of Chicago itself the total population is 2.9 million, divided roughly like this: 35% black, 30% white, 5% Asian and 30% Latino. The Jews used to live on the West Side of the city. In the 1940’s and 1950’s there was a massive migration from the American south to Chicago. The Jews abandoned the West Side for the South Side. The shuls became churches; the West Side became a black place, with the exception of some retail stores owned by Jews. Another wave of immigration caused another flight of Jews from the South Side to the North Side and the suburbs. The South side became mostly black. Jews didn’t hold their ground, they just moved away. In the 1967 riots, the blacks burnt down every Jewish store on the West Side. For many, many years there were no stores. No Jewish shopkeeper ever returned to either area. In the ‘80s Indians and Pakistanis began encroaching on the North Side Jewish neighborhood of Rogers Park. The Jews ceded more than half the area, moved west into Lincolnwood, south to Peterson Park, north to Skokie and the far northwestern suburb of Buffalo Grove.

Sounds horrible… migration, after migration, always moving on, never standing their ground. In practice it has turned out the other way around. The Jewish community loves Chicago, is generally prosperous, and is experiencing an influx of Jews from other parts of the country. Relations between the races are generally peaceful; there are no huge problems. If the blacks or some other ethnic minority were to become angry and enraged, they could make life miserable for the white European minority. Somehow Chicagoans have learnt how to live peacefully with each other.

How did they do it? I am no expert, but a few obvious points come to mind. 1) No one tried to get even. There was no retaliation for the riots. Following the lead of the Kerner Commission, every white politician acknowledged there was a problem of racism, and agreed to work towards improving the situation. 2) Over time the considerable financial resources of the city were used to improve the black neighborhoods. 3) Chicago has many events downtown that make life more enjoyable for everyone, including those living in poor neighborhoods. 4) Blacks were appointed to prominent positions in government and the media. For example, Jews and liberals overwhelmingly supported our current black U.S. Senator, Derek Obama. The police commissioner is black. The police force is fully integrated. In suburbs like Evanston with a large black population, the mayor is a black woman. 5) Many idealistic and liberal whites, including many liberal Jews, continued to work all these many years on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden. Doctors, social workers, public heath administrators, lawyers working pro bono and many other professionals created an impression amongst minorities that there were caring and decent whites. 6) In time, the blacks began to perceive themselves as part of the system, a black middle class developed, as well as a high black bourgeoisie. Oprah is just the most prominent example.

I believe it is correct to say a majority of the Jewish people believe the American experience in promoting a multiethnic society is totally irrelevant to Israel. A majority believe the only solution is to be strong and to use all the military force necessary to maintain stability. One has to go to the far left of the political spectrum, Peace Now types and such, before one can find any voices in favor of a different approach.

If all of Israel, which talks about these questions day and night, cannot solve the problem, perhaps it is correct to conclude the time is not yet ripe for a lasting peace.


At 9:30 AM, Blogger LitaLives said...

I would comment, but I feel we are not on the same wevelength (I don't think we're even in the same universe).
Your premise that a comparison can be made between the blacks in Chicago & the Arabs in the Middle East is fundamentally flawed. Although there have been anti-semitic incidents with Blacks, I doubt whether the overwhelming % of blacks want to see the Jews of Chicago dead and buried.
In the Middle East, however, we are repeatedly reminded that the Arabs DO wish the Jews dead & buried (in Israel & elsewhere). Surveys published by PALESTINIAN think tanks repeatedly show that the "street" is overwhelmingly in favor of kidnapping soldiers, sending shahidim to kill innocent civilians, etc.
When do we stop "dreaming of peace" and start thinking REALISTICALLY how to improve the situation (I believe "improve" is the best we can hope for. It appears that peace will not be attainable in our generation.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger LitaLives said...

After I opened saying "i won't comment", i guess i did comment.
I guess i got carried away.

At 3:46 PM, Anonymous jinpa said...

Thomas Friedman has said (I'm paraphrasing) that the dilemma for Israel is that if it were truly a democracy it would cease to be be Jewish, and if it were truly Jewish, it cease to be a democracy.


Post a Comment


Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home