"In Democracy He Trusts" - Article from the "J" - San Francisco
S.F. native sees opening of Arab society as vital to Israel
by joe eskenazi
Natan Sharansky and Aryeh Green bumped into each other at a virtually abandoned Israeli beachside hotel nearly 20 years ago.
The famed Russian dissident loved to swim in the ocean — but he was a weak swimmer. And Green, a San Francisco-born, U.C. Berkeley-educated Israeli, was a former lifeguard.
Fast-forwarding to the present, Sharansky is Israel’s minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs. And Green is one of his top advisers and a key figure in Sharansky’s Yisrael B’Aliya political party.
Green, who dropped in on his hometown last week for a series of speeches, finds himself straddling a number of competing beliefs. The kippah-wearing dual citizen and former rabbinical student describes himself as a “lifelong lefty.” And yet, his party caters largely to Russian emigres who, to put it extremely mildly, are not.
What’s more, he and his liberal Berkeley friends are having a harder and harder time talking about Israeli-Arab relations.
Green, 41, an affable man with rapid diction that seems to have been ever so slightly influenced by his British-born wife, is fond of Soviet physicist and social activist Andrei Sakharov’s observation that democracies rarely make war upon one another.
Israel is a democracy. Its neighbors are not.
“I bought hook, line and sinker into this as I helped write the [party] platform. The only guarantor of Israeli peace and security is the opening of Arab society,” he said.
“The real solution to this kind of problem is not going to be resolved by handing back this territory or that territory. It can only be resolved by reaching the position where two societies learn to live with each other and accept each other’s right to exist. And that’s only going to happen when Arab society becomes open, free and democratic … with rights for religious and sexual minorities.”
Yet, after four years of terrorist warfare and incitement in the Arab media, Green believes his fellow Israelis are not in the right place, emotionally or otherwise, to accommodate even a willing Arab peace partner. That will have to change.
“Israeli society is not at the point yet where it can look at the Palestinians, the Arabs, and desire friendship and a relationship,” he said.
“Israeli society does get up every morning and reach for that kind of relationship. I don’t want to be misconstrued and say that Israeli society is racist and we all hate Arabs. But liberal, multicultural love for the other should be the basis of relations with our neighbors and that is something we have to work towards.”
So, in many ways, Green sees the departure of Yasser Arafat — “being rid of all the baggage he carries as the terrorist father of violent Palestinian struggle for independence” — as a chance to move toward a more liberal, democratic Palestinian government.
“That is my hope. What do I expect? Chaos,” he said, glumly.
“We’re talking about the possible ‘Lebanization’ of at least Gaza if not all the Palestinian-administered territory. I’m not sure how long it’s going to last, but it’s not going to be a short time.”
And, even without the possible ensuing chaos, conditions in the territories are incredibly depressing for Green. As a soldier during the first intifada, he describes Palestinian-Israeli interactions as “almost a game, a lethal game.”
“There was a resentment of the Israeli presence in the territories. So they’d throw rocks at us. They wanted us out of their lives. I’m not passing judgment. They’d throw the rocks. We’d shoot rubber bullets above their heads. They’d run away. We’d come back,” he said.
“Now, they have guns and rockets and they want to kill us.”
Green blames Arafat and the Arab media for turning the 12-year-old rock-thrower of 1990 into the 26-year-old suicide bomber of today.
It’s a hard time for Green to remain optimistic, but he always has Sakharov’s mantra to give him hope.
“Democracies do not make war with democracies,” he said with a nod. “Democracies do not make war with democracies.”
Copyright J, the Jewish news weekly of Northern California