My bandmate Matt Byars forwarded me your email. I appreciate the question. Since I wrote the song, I'm happy to be able to respond.
The song is neither anti- or pro-Israel, which probably sounds like a cop-out. Maybe it is. Like so much of what I write, the words are fairly impressionistic and largely built around the sound of words in a melodic context. That's how I write. It's what I like. The song itself -- and certainly the title -- points to the emotionally, historically, politically, and racially-garbled discourse about Israel in my country. The answer to any question like "What do you think about Israel?" or "What do you think about the Middle East conflict" often winds up having less to do with Israel or Palestine than the answerer's own hopes, fears, and motivations.
In the U.S., it is incredibly difficult here to have a rational, nuanced conversation about Israel. This seems especially so within the Jewish community, which, I fear, often takes a very black-and-white view of the matter. As an American, a Jewish American of Belarusian descent, I understand this, but I also believe it impairs our ability to relate, as people, to one another. That's all that's really important to me. People relating to other people. Remember that? I don't think the question is ever 'Are you pro- or anti-Israel?' No one I know believes that Israel shouldn't exist in peace. One can (and should) believe in the dignity and human rights for all people and be strongly "pro-Israel" while one can believe in the notion that only one people is worthy of God's favor and all others, Jews included, are ticketed for hell and still be strongly "pro-Israel." So pro-/anti- is completely without meaning. The questions, for me, are usually this: Is the Israeli government good for Israel? Is it good for Jews all over the world? Is it good for free people all over the world? Is it good for me?
The answers are important, but the questions are a prerequisite and few Americans, Jewish or otherwise, ever reach them. People here don't talk about Israel; they use Israel as a symbol for pain, resentment, and anger over the Holocaust and a history of persection or distrust or dislike of Arabs or desire for oil or desire for the end-of-the-world and the Rapture or desire for political advantage . . . Straight talk, from either side of the debate, is usually shouted down before it can take root. When answers aren't easy, people are more likely to answer easy questions that aren't asked. That's what we have in the U.S.
There are principled people on both sides of the Middle East debate, I'm sure, but it's hard to see that. I make no apologies for being critical of Israeli policies viz the Palestinian Question, but I'd hardly call myself a "radical progessive." Radical progressives would probably dismiss me as a lightweight or a weekend radical (untrue because Tuesdays and Fridays are my most radical days). You might think of me as a radical progressive because I read Haaretz, but, really, I'm just Michael. Me. I like people. I believe in the grey area. I believe in the existence and charter of Israel, but I do so, I hope, honestly and with some understanding of how things came to be as they are. The beauty and sanctity of Israel, like that of America, is steeped in some really ugly stuff as well as some shimmering glorious ideals. It's grey. That's OK, but let's call it. I believe that victims of persecution are twice burdened: once by the persecution, again by the anguish of seeing anyone else subjected to abuse. To the extent any of us are victims -- directly or historically -- we have a responsibility, because of our understanding of what it's like to suffer such treatment, to, at the very least, refrain from doing the same to anyone else. Not an arguable point; it's just what I believe.
I'm not sure how that defines me, but I have been called much worse than "radical progressive." I have read knee-jerk reactions of those on my "side" of the Question that embarrass me and set the discussion back. I also have family members who refer to Arabs in terms indistinguishable from how Jews were characterized by the Third Reich. In my country, we have people who want, among other things, a free and fair Israel and the independence and safety of all Jewish people called antisemitic or my favorite mean-nothing term, "self-hating Jew," (talk about a racist term!) by other Jews as well as by non-Jewish, religious Right politicians who see a "spiritual" opportunity in the Middle East conflict hoping Jews flush themselves along with every other non-believer down the eternal toilet. We're a very long way from reaching any principled answers here.
All of which is to say that the title "Thank You For Talking to Me About Israel" is melancholy sarcasm -- no one here really talks about Israel, not in any open, warm, rational way. Mostly, the term sounded really ace with that particular melody. I'm shallow: sorry. Now, as for your nasty sneer about our . . . er, music ....
Thank you for your inquiry.
I guess the "sneer" was my other question:
is this music?
which is always a legitimate question.
But thanks, Michael. That was very important. The parameters and content of public discourse, on all sides, need to be constantly reviewed, debated and challenged. As well as researched and checked against truth, historical and contemporary.
And a follow-up:
Thanks! And I used "sneer" in a joking way. It was a last minute throw-in thought. I appreciate the inquiry, truly! Michael