Being a student of Ignatian Spirituality, the spirituality which is at the core of Pope Francis’ approach to the papacy, I was taught early on that Ignatius of Loyola expected us to “presume good will” of people with whom we came into contact. Perhaps it sounds a little naive at first glance and maybe it is but the alternative is to be suspicious of everyone’s motives. This puts us on perpetual guard anytime anyone says anything. So when some one says something or offers to do something we may wonder “What’s their angle? What are they trying to pull over on me?” I try to take what people say and do at face value and believe them unless they are proven wrong. But when they say one thing and then say just the opposite presume good will goes out the window. So it goes with the words of the newly elected Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. On the night before the election he warned citizens to get out and vote because “Arab voters were going to come out in droves.” Israeli-Arabs were going to come out “in droves” to vote. What does that sound like to you? Scare tactics? Racism? Aren’t Israeli-Arabs citizens? Republicans use the same scare tactics to get their base moving in this country. Minorities like Latinos who for the most part vote democratic are used as a fear tactic. Recently new voter requirements have been instituted in states with a high minority population to try and suppress the vote all under the guise of thwarting non-existent “voter fraud.” What does that sound like? Fear mongering? Racism? All citizens have the right to vote. These dog whistle tactics just to get elected should be beneath people running for office. Just recently, Mr. Netanyahu said he regrets his remarks about Arabs.
I see myself as the prime minister of each and every one of you, of all Israeli citizens without differentiating between religions, races and sex,” he added. “I see in all Israeli citizens partners in building the state of Israel, one that is thriving and safe for all Israeli citizens.”
Really? Words have consequences and taken at face value also have meaning. Presuming good will is stretched pretty thin here. When Obama ran for a second term the most frequent refrain from far right groups fed a 24/7 diet of fear and disinformation by Fox News and talk radio said that he was “Communist” or a “Socialist” or that this country would go up in flames if he were elected. Trying to reason with these folks is a fruitless task. They are brainwashed with righteous ignorance. They will believe what they will believe and no amount of logic or reality will change their minds. So you pick your battles and when you are finished pounding your head against a brick wall, you walk away when nothing positive can be accomplished.
So Mr. Netanyahu now expresses regrets. Maybe they are genuine, maybe they are not. But for the time being I’ll take him at his word. He also said just before the election that a Palestinian state would never be formed while he was premier because it would become a base for radical Islam. That, to me, is a more serious and contentious issue. The sons and daughters from Ishmael (God hears in Hebrew) Abraham’s first born son by Hagar will be denied a home because of the radicalization of those people. I wonder why they are “radicalized” in the first place. That fact aside, the question remains, is that anyway to treat a half-brother, the Arab sons and daughters of Abraham? The blood of Ishmael carries the blood of the Semite people and should be treated as such. As Genesis speaks of Ishmael and his descendants:
“I will make your descendants so numerous,” added the LORD’s angel, “that they will be too many to count…He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand
against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; Alongside* all his kindred shall he encamp.” (Genesis 16:10,12)
One of the key words of Genesis is the word “alongside.” I’m sure there are many interpretations of this passage but one that springs to mind is land and proximity. Land alongside their half-brothers and sisters of a common ancestor, Abraham is probably the most simplistic approach. I wonder if Netanyahu’s version of the Torah has that passage. If it does then it seems to be “of good will” to try and accommodate it with less rhetoric and more positive action. In Genesis Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was barren; an embarrassing and shameful situation. Through God, though, she miraculously bears a son in her old age by Abraham whom they call Isaac. But the shame of her former barrenness is physically present everyday in Ishmael as a reminder. She is afraid that the inheritance of the family will go to Ishmael, the first born. From her jealousy she tells Abraham to drive Ishmael and his Egyptian slave mother, Hagar, out into the desert presumably to die.
Sarah noticed the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing with her son Isaac; so she demanded of Abraham: “Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!” (Genesis 21:9-10)
So what now? Yes the covenant between God and Abraham would be sealed with Issac, but what of his half-brother? Even Abraham was unhappy with Sarah’s decision to get rid of Ishmael. But God comforts him.
But God said to Abraham: Do not be distressed about the boy or about your slave woman. Obey Sarah, no matter what she asks of you; for it is through Isaac that descendants will bear your name.
As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also,* since he too is your offspring. (Genesis 21:12-13)
(And to Hagar God says)
Get up, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation.” (Genesis 21:18)
It’s time to make an effort. It will be a long drawn out process and concessions will have to be made. This is true in any agreement. There is no “good” time to start a meaningful and honorable discussion, just a willingness to start, presuming good will on both sides. The alternative is not very pleasant.
and so it goes…