Thursday, February 21, 2008

Concerning Boycotts

During visits to family in the hospital, I have often sought out the help of the hospital chaplain. Practical discussions revolving around kosher food and the logistics of sabbath observance in a hospital setting often drift to more personal matters.
Sometimes,I spoke with clergymen of other faiths who were making there rounds in the halls. We spoke not as coreligionists, but as fellow humans facing sickness and looming mortality in our lives and those of our loved ones.
One chaplain was a muslim imam. There was a strained quality to our cordiality. He could not bring himself to utter the name of Israel. His vehemence seemed out of place in the context of an otherwise easy going personality.
One day, I was waiting with my family for visiting hours to start so I could visit my mother. We were eating a picnic lunch in front of the hospital. The imam came by. He sat down with us, and I offered him to sit and join us. It was quite hot and I had made large quantities of pink lemonade.
"No thank you." he replied. "I'm diabetic".
My face lit up. I shared a common illness with him, one that turns simple eating and drinking into something more measured and premeditated. The tone of our conversation shifted. Having a common disease can be like sharing a common relative.
We talked about adapting our cuisine to the dietary requirements of a diabetic. There was considerable overlap in our respective diets. We compared notes about how various foods affected our sugar levels.
People coming to that hospital were facing serious and in many cases terminal illnesses. It tended to melt away ethnic and political differences as the common denominator of serious illness brought out our common humanity.
Was our transcendance of ethnic and political disagreements going to change the world? People have been visiting the sick and exchanging kind words with strangers for centuries that have remained blighted with war and civil strife. I am not wildly optimistic about a fleeting perception of common humanity taking deeper roots in our collective awareness.
When I read about movements to boycott Israeli academics and to cut off scholarly cooperation with Israeli universities, it reminds me of how a common cause can blur deep seated differences. Medical researchers, agricultural specialists, all work together with indifference to politics.
At any given time there are scores of local conflicts around the globe. The common cause of individual laymen struggling with illness and researchers looking for cures to society's afflictions serves as a counter balance to seemingly intractable strife.
Demonistation is often a preparation for war. It is much easier to strike at an adversary if you push away any thought of common humanity. I understand the strategy of those who wish to boycott Israel Some would even let their citizens die rather than allow Israeli's to join rescue teams during natural disasters such as during an earthquake in Iran. Yes, there is a chilling logic to their madness. And it is very sad.
Copyright 2008 Magdeburger Joe

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