The Limits of Forgiveness

As a Jew in the midst of the 10 Days of Awe between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, I take on the practice of surveying my relationships and looking to improve them. The process of repentance begins with an honest self-assessment, moves to one's relationships with others, and then culminates in a day of humble atonement before God. Currently, I'm working on the relationships part: reaching out to old friends, clearing up misunderstandings and letting go of grudges.

Just as I am trying to open my heart, a figure from my college days keeps appearing before me on media outlets. In 1992-93, I studied in Jerusalem in a program for American students at the Hebrew University. As it turned out, a cousin whom I didn't know well attended the same program. Thrilled by the family connection, our mothers offered their credit cards for a weekly meal out. During our after dinner conversations, I met his roommate, a right-winger working on Likud campaigns. I was studying Israeli protest writers and tempering the Israel presented in the official lines of the program with visits to anti-occupation and environmental organizations in Palestinian East Jerusalem. It soon became tradition for my cousin's roommate and me to engage in heated argument for hours following the family dinner. Where I saw great possibilities in the recent electoral victories of Yitzhak Rabin and Bill Clinton, his roommate felt the stirring of a new right-wing movement that would be powerful enough to crush any efforts of peacemaking for a long, long time. Soon, I dubbed the roommate Nemesis. I identified my nemesis rather publicly so that I could tell friends that I ate dinner with Cousin Michael and then fought with Nemesis. They knew exactly to whom I referred.

I next encountered Nemesis 10 years later on television as the "Occupation Authority Spokesman for Paul Bremer in Iraq." There was Dan Senor with little experience to speak of botching the reconstruction of a formerly secular, oil-rich state. During the same 10 years, I had lived again in Israel and in Palestine and added formal and colloquial Arabic to my fluent Hebrew.

When in Charles Ferguson's excellent film about the U.S. in Iraq, "No End in Sight," a picture of Dan Senor appears over the words "knows no Arabic," I called out loud, "but I know Arabic!" I felt great regret, not only that I had so little political power, but also that Dan's predictions of right-wing fortresses against Middle East peace were now so violently fulfilled. I protested the Iraq War, welcomed Barack Obama's opposition to it and began research on the history of oil pipelines in Iraq. I thought about Nemesis very rarely.

My opposition was roused again in the summer when Dan reappeared as the national security adviser to Mitt Romney and the planner of the Romney-Netanyahu-Sheldon Adelson summer party to channel aggression toward Iran, Arabs and anyone hoping for a time without American wars. The irresponsibility of such hawkishness is almost beyond words. Here are a group of excessively wealthy and sheltered men who would run roughshod over a delicate pre-nuclear situation and drag Israel and the United States into a military conflagration with Iran. Such preemptive actions would surely lead to irreparable damage and spilled blood among the Jews and the Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The strongly centralized and repressive Iran could drag its people into an extended war as it did during its eight year contest with Iraq. What this would mean for the standing of the United States in the Muslim world after the Arab Spring is chilling. Although it is hard to imagine how anything worse could transpire in Syria, an Israeli-Iranian standoff would surely provide a thick smoke screen. This is exactly the fire that diplomacy should put out rather than stoke. This is why ideologues should not serve as diplomats.

As he serves as a senior adviser to Paul Ryan, Senor's war mongering is finally attracting some negative press. His questionable credentials are finally being questioned and the dangerous implications of his neo-conservative talking points are exposed. I am discovering in this later incarnation of my college nemesis the limits of forgiveness. I cannot condone what Senor did in Iraq and can do nothing but protest with all of my being what Senor and his clients would do in Israel, Egypt and Iran.

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