Optimism is such a wonderful and promising attitude in life. I couldn’t help but appreciate this as my family and I found ourselves trekking down the icy South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon, breathing in the cool refreshing air, submerging ourselves in the colorful cliffs all around us. One hundred feet down the trail I saw my first California condor as it was soaring above us. In three seconds the condor was gone, disappearing in one of the canyon’s crevices to our right. Not willing to give up on my first condor (and the opening for an optimistic post), I ran up the trail in search of it but it was gone. Still, coming back down the trail I had a grin the width of the Grand Canyon itself. And understandably so: how often does a bird watcher get to enjoy a lifer the size of Donald Trump’s ego? My kids, trying to balance my sense of over-elevation so none of us would skid down the icy trail, remarked that never in their lives had they seen me so outwardly jubilant (too young they were to remember my jubilation at their births).
Sadly, every Grand Canyon visit comes to an end and with it also the elevation and hope for optimism. No one piece of news from Israel did it for me. It was not the continuing Palestinian terrorist stabbings in the streets combined with the predictably populist declarations by Israeli politicians; not the attempt of the Minister of Education to take over the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and chip away academic freedom; not the one-sided and partial mobilization of the supposedly neutral legal system for approving the home demolitions of Palestinian terrorists but not of Jewish terrorists; not the government targeting the financial donations from overseas coming to organizations identified with the left but not of those identified with the right; not the crackdown against online incitement when expressed by Palestinians but not when similarly shameful views are expressed by Jews; not even the poverty indicators soaring ever higher. None of these scares and depresses me in and of itself so much as the general mindset with which Israelis accede to it all. Apathy and resignation now reign supreme.
The Israeli mindset has became of late a convoluted variation of the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. When John Rawls came up with the idea of the veil of ignorance, he conceived of it as a hypothetical situation in which people have no way of knowing their preferences, abilities, or socio-economic positions in society, thus making agreement on unbiased principles for a just society easier as nobody can make informed decisions based on self-interest. In the Israeli case, the veil of ignorance is not a structure imposed from the outside, but an active effort to ignore one’s own preferences, hopes, and dreams in order to pretend that all is well and normal. It is the subsequent acquiescence to the abnormality and injustice of the existing Israeli situation for which Israelis are responsible. Terrorism in the streets and the wrongdoings of the occupation are not entirely ignored, but they are pushed to the background to the greatest possible extent. For many, any causal relationship between the two is something to be wished away. Notwithstanding objective realities, Israelis are a happy nation. Beyond the veil of ignorance there are no hopes and dreams, and therefore misery turns to happiness, the abnormal becomes the normal, and the downward spiraling road appears inevitable. It is this mindset behind the veil of ignorance and its resultant resignation to Israel’s descent into places unknown that really deprives me of my quest for some optimism.
But I keep on trying, which is why I am off with the family to Joshua Tree National Park to see the greater roadrunner. Not such a rare or beautiful bird, but surely one who happily survived a lifelong campaign of terror inflicted by Wile E. Coyote. And maybe the roadrunner’s happy survival will revive my hope for optimism, making it go “meep meep.”