The Middle Game

This month's JCRC Study Tour for Elected Officials at the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem

From JCRC Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell:

A game of chess is played in three phases. The opening moves set the stage for the drama to come. Most of the direct action comes in the middle game, where pieces are traded and sacrifices are made. By the end game, little remains. Only a few pieces are left as they try to outmaneuver each other and secure a victory. Successful chess players are able to coordinate their armies during all three phases of the game, creating harmony out of different pieces and their unique abilities.

In Israel’s current political moment, no one seems to have a clear vision for the end game. And, as a result, everyone is playing their own middle game. There is no strategic or tactical cohesion. People across political and social divides are worried that any move they make will only deepen existing fault lines. In this moment, I see only one way to move forward with coordination and cohesion: to focus on the moments that bring people together, regardless of their circumstances or their differences.

While in Israel last week, I saw how people were wearied by the inevitability of a third election in 12 months, taking place in March 2020. I mourned from a distance as more Jews were murdered in the third mass killing targeting our community since last October. And I watched with trepidation as Britain’s Jews were left without a political home, feeling both betrayed by antisemitism in the Labour party and anxious about being used as a scapegoat for both the election results and a variety of other issues. Many of our speakers last week presented us with an immediate next step, but no one was prepared to offer a comprehensive vision of the future.

At the same time, I was moved throughout the week by people in Israel who are creating new bonds despite their differences. I saw my friend Noor, who has blossomed from a skeptic into an activist. With his partners and friends at Roots, he is working every day to heal the divides between Israelis and Palestinians. Noor is waging an uphill battle, fighting against the voices among both his Jewish and Palestinian neighbors that call for complete separation from the other. In my visits with Noor over the past three years, I have seen how his ability to share his message has grown in effectiveness and complexity, and I am inspired.

I met Asmeret, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, at Kuchinate. Asmeret is a single mother raising three children while balancing the challenges that come from living in a foreign country with limited opportunities. Not only does she provide for herself and her family, she has become a manager at Kuchinate and now actively helps others improve their own circumstances. In speaking with us she shared a message of patience, love, and compassion.

We also saw our old friend Nadav Tamir, formerly Israel’s Consul General to New England. Now working at the Peres Center for Peace in Innovation, Nadav insists that peace must be made from the bottom-up as well as the top down. He is also certain that the things that make Israel great do not belong to Israel alone, and that the wonders of Israeli innovation must be shared with Israel’s neighbors equally and to the benefit of all.

There is much to be done. I learned recently that the Good Friday Accords were signed 12 years after the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) was established, and that the IFI and EU have invested roughly three billion Euros in peacebuilding projects in Ireland. This is more than 15 times what the EU and USAID have invested in Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, severely limiting the opportunities for trust-building and reconciliation between the parties. Israelis, Palestinians, asylum seekers, and others have much that they can do on their own. But we also heard many times this week that American aid and leadership are necessary components of creating a shared future. We have to do it together.

Looking at the events of this week, I wonder when the fractures became so deep, and how we have arrived at this point without fully realizing what brought us here. Our end game must be one where these rifts are healed. To get there, we will need a middle strategy that emphasizes recognition in the face of division; an approach that will lead to an end game with as many options as possible. While we can never know the future with certainty, we pursue this approach with faith in people like Noor, Asmeret, Nadav, and the thousands like them building something together despite the obvious complications.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,

Eli