Something to learn


It bothers me when I hear someone quick to pull the trigger of name-calling.

“So and so, she’s a real lefty.” I once heard one of my relatives describe another as a “pinko.”

That turned into a discussion around the Thanksgiving dinner table gone terribly awry.

But then there’s the relative I have who “is as right as Attila the Hun.”

Sometimes, these prejudicial comments are made even about news networks. I have relatives who have asked that I not watch Fox TV while I’m visiting their homes. Yet in my home, we watch all points of view, and despite the hollering that seems to happen on talk radio, I go for all sides, assuming I can find them.

Two years ago when I first came to Washington Jewish Week, I ran into similar situations. People tried to be helpful by discouraging me from attending certain banquets because they were either too left- or too right-wing.

Truth is, I want to hear whatever side a person or organization is taking, especially in the Jewish community. That leads me to the event I attended last Wednesday night. EMET stands for the Endowment for Middle East Truth. When its founder Sarah Stern invited me last year to attend the annual banquet (this year was EMET’s seventh), I thought it would be an opportunity to hear a different side with different opinions on Middle East terrorism. When I told a few friends and colleagues where I was going on the evening of the banquet, they asked me if I was “going over to the other side?”

The answer I gave was that I was going in with my mind open as I do for any such event.

Titles of some of the past EMET seminars include The Challenges of Middle East Peace-Making under the Shadow of the Iranian Threat or Are 20th Century Rules of Warfare Germain to 21st Century Conflicts.

This year, it was Rays of Light in the Darkness.

The lineup of speakers included Reza Khalili, a former CIA operative who served in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards. He is also the author of a book called A Time to Betray. Because his life is in danger from Iranian threats, he spoke to the 300-strong audience via Skype, keeping his face disguised.

Another speaker was Bret Stephens, the highly regarded Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist and deputy editor.

Before the speakers talked to us, EMET took time to honor the memory of the late Rep. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the U.S. Congress. EMET also honored Tom Cruz, the freshman U.S. senator from Texas, and Jeff Duncan, a Republican representing South Carolina in Congress. Duncan was the author of H.R. 3783, the measure called the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act.”

It doesn’t take long for the uninitiated to learn that this event, held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the District, isn’t for the purpose of being politically correct. Last year, my first EMET banquet, I heard plenty of criticism of the Obama administration when it came to Israel. And I heard plenty more this year as well.

What I am hearing, though, are warnings. And whether one chooses to agree or disagree with the warnings is a decision I hope is made on gaining information. There are, however, no ill intentions. The warnings that Reza Khalili gave us were that we as a people need to take these threats of Iran towards Israel and the U.S. seriously, dead seriously. He included North Korea in the mix as well saying that these nations with nuclear arms will know no boundary and that Iran “must be stopped from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

“Millions of people,” he added, “would die if Iran isn’t stopped.”

Stephens, meanwhile, told the audience that “big things” are at stake in a “little country” such as Israel. It is nothing less than the assault of Israel’s barbaric enemies against civility, said Stephens.

Nothing that either speaker said made someone a right-winger or a left-winger, I don’t believe. If it made someone who thinks differently a little more informed, then Sarah Stern was successful with her EMET program.

And I didn’t agree with everything I heard. But I wasn’t made to feel anything other than appreciative that the information was made available, and that so many people in attendance who aren’t Jewish care so much about Israel.

So I believe enough with the name-calling. And more of our time needs to be spent listening to others who we know have different points of view.

Who knows, we might all have something to learn here.

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