On Thursday I was on a train platform headed for Manhattan when I saw a friend of mine ahead of me, a silverhaired woman I had had dinner with back in January, before she went out to Israel. I called out to her and asked her how her trip had been. Oh, we really have to have you over to dinner, she said.
You see, she had asked me over to dinner before her trip, to get my insights. She and her husband were going out with a college tour group, her alma mater. They served roasted chicken and red wine, and I sang for my supper. I explained why the situation is unsustainable-- that nearly half the population between the river and the sea have no rights. And have had no rights for many years. The Arab Spring has changed young people’s view of their future. But what about Palestinians rejecting every deal and responding with terror? the husband had asked me over the bread pudding.
Imagine if immigrants took over our town and forced us out of our homes and wanted to impose a government on us, I said. Well I would be up in the hills with a gun, and so would my friends. He had nodded, accepting the point.
But now she had gone and come back, and we stood on the train platform.
It was really astonishing, she said. We saw many of the universities. Ben Gurion University was especially impressive.
In the desert, I said.
Yes. In the desert. But the buildings are amazing. There is innovation written all over them, literally and figuratively.
It was not a political trip, I said.
Oh no. Cultural, educational. Have you been to Haifa University?
No, I said.
Well it is on this dramatic hillside over the sea and it goes up 30 stories. It is beautiful, you’re overlooking the sea and you can see Lebanon and Syria and all of Israel, and then you look down and there is IBM’s facility. It's IBM's second most important research facility in the world. And it's there for a reason. Because innovation is such a central part of the culture there.
The train came and we sat in separate rows, I had to get to work, and I was downcast. I thought, we're losing. They really are flooding the world with this propaganda about startup nation-- the Brand Israel message the consul is selling on the Upper West Side-- and it's working on our elites. I thought back on my passionate description of the persecution in the occupied territories. But everything I said about human rights meant nothing in the end, up against the brand-name techno-wizardry (a lot of it funded by military aid).