Mar 23, 2009 04:30 AM
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Dow Marmur
I fear that the government being formed by Benjamin Netanyahu will be bad for Israel. He's a failed prime minister (1996-99) and, though said to have learned a lot since then, the company he'll keep in the coalition, and his own economic and social policies, may be harmful to the country.
But I don't share the alarmist view that the new government of Israel will jeopardize the peace process with the Palestinians. After all, it was Menachem Begin, the hard-line right-wing Israeli prime minister, who in 1979 made peace with Egypt. And there's no evidence that the obstacles for making peace are primarily put there by Israel. It's by no means clear that a new Palestinian unity government, should it ever be formed, will be open to constructive solutions.
Peace will come not because politicians talk it but because people will it. In a democracy, governments negotiate details but the electorate determines direction. Opinion polls consistently show that a substantial majority of Palestinians and Israelis want peace. Ultimately, no political machinations can defy the consensus.
Sooner or later the elected representatives will have to respond, not with symbolic gestures but through tangible results. That's what happened in Northern Ireland and that's what will happen in the Middle East. Of course, there will be setbacks, like recently in Ireland, but the final outcome shouldn't be in doubt.
That's how things changed after World War II when, for example, it seemed unthinkable that Germans and Jews, and Poles and Jews, could co-operate for the good of all. Politicians mouthed slogans, but ordinary folk made it possible to move beyond the traumas.
Having been among those who in the 1960s made grassroots efforts to bring Jews and Germans together, even though only two decades earlier German Nazis had caused the murder of 6 million Jews, including most of my relatives, and having worked for similar reconciliation between Jews and Catholics in my native Poland, I've seen how very modest beginnings can yield remarkable results.
Some 40 years ago I met a German pastor at a conference in Holland. He wanted to expose young members of his congregation to Jews and Judaism but that wasn't possible at the time, neither in his own country nor in Israel. Members of the synagogue in suburban London I then served responded by inviting him and his students to live with us for a time to get to know each other. The widely publicized project caused something of a sensation and led to protests but, in the end, it became an inspired harbinger of things to come. Within a generation what we had done became commonplace.
Today groups of Germans and Israelis visit each other often and the exchanges between Poland and Israel are deep and mutually beneficial. Germany and Poland are Israel's most ardent supporters in the European Union and role models for Israelis and Palestinians in efforts to come closer to each other. Not that anti-Semitism has vanished from either country, or that Jewish hurt and hatred have evaporated, but a consensus has developed that's turning crippling enmity into wholesome coexistence.
Despite obvious differences, the same can happen in the Middle East. Though the organizations that promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis aren't yet a decisive political force, the fact that they exist at all bodes well for the future.
Loyalty and commitment to my people and my faith, coupled with personal experience, makes me an inveterate "peacenik." It's the main source of my optimism.

Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus at Toronto's Holy Blossom Temple. His column appears every other wee