Israel has been heralded in the West as the only democracy in the Middle East. As we celebrate Mandela’s legacy of freedom and human dignity, I wish to hold up his simple yet compelling principle of “One man, one vote” as a mirror for resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Under the democratic principle of “One man, one vote” anyone who is a subject of the state should enjoy the political rights inherent in this principle. In the case of Israel, the government is organized as a democracy, but the subjects of the state are skewed by the fact that not all of its subjects are citizens. In fact, Israel has strategically chosen to draw lines or identify its subjects as part of a demographic game to keep its Jewish citizens as a demographic majority and at the forefront of its national identity. This game, however, is inconsistent with Mandela’s principle of “One man, one vote” because it excludes people who are subject to the state from participating in the political process, and by default defining its future.

Whereas Israel’s Jewish citizens enjoy full rights and protection under Israeli law, including Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, and according the Law of Return any Jew in the world is eligible for Israeli citizenship, Israel’s non-Jewish citizens – primarily Palestinians – are subject to discrimination in virtually all areas of public and private life. Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are formally subject to the Palestinian Authority, but the Palestinian Authority answers to the state of Israel. Refugees living in Israel proper, the West Bank and Gaza, or in exile remain in an ambiguous status since Israel bars them from returning to their homes or lands. Thus, even though the government of Israel is organized as a democracy, it is neither a democracy for all of its citizens, nor for all of its subjects.

Mandela’s principle is useful in this context because it levels the playing field for both Palestinians and Israelis. It removes the current Israeli state practice of privileging one group – Jewish Israelis – over others, most notably the native Palestinian population. Like in Apartheid South Africa, Palestinians who voice their dissent over this discrepancy – be it by peaceful or violent means – are further marginalized, incarcerated, or assassinated. Mandela’s principle reminds us that such practices are not only irreprehensible, but they will never result in peace and security for either side.

I fully understand both the desire to have a safe haven for Jews, and Jewish fear of sharing political power with adversaries. At the same time, I feel a moral responsibility to prevent one injustice – the Holocaust – from perpetuating another – the uprooting and subjugation of the Palestinians. Palestinians have the right to live in their homeland. If Jews want a safe haven for the Jews, it’s about time they recognize the Palestinians, not as a demographic problem, but as their only ticket to peace and security. It is up to the Israelis to prove to the Palestinians that they can be good partners in peace and good neighbors. It is the Israelis who must help Palestinians envision how they are part of their future.

The population of White South Africans at the time of Mandela’s release from prison was roughly 10% of the population. Clearly the White South Africans had no demographic advantage and understandably feared sharing power with the majority Black South African population. And yet by embracing the principle of “One man, one vote” and engaging in an open process of truth and reconciliation, all South Africans were able to come together to form a new government and pave the way for a shared future that safeguarded the cultural and political rights of everyone. They had the courage to look back and acknowledge the injustices of the past, so they could move forward in the spirit of human dignity.

I am sure both sides can list any number of reasons why they cannot trust the other side. Any adversaries are well armed with their arsenal of reasons. And yet if both sides dare to look into the mirror of Mandela’s principle of “One man, one vote” they will see its moral imperative to create a nation where everyone enjoys freedom of speech and equal protection under the law. As long as the state of Israel and the governments that support it apply different standards to its Jewish and non-Jewish subjects, Mandela’s mirror will remain shattered.

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As I reflect on Nelson Mandela’s passing today, I am reminded that I have spent my life wanting to make a difference, wanting to change the world, make it better place. There was a time in my life when it felt easy. All it took was to understand what didn’t seem fair and work to change it. I thought I could end the Cold War, free Palestine and South Africa, end all human suffering the world over. Why not? It was the right thing to do. How could anyone not want all people and living things to have dignity?

It was time that taught me not everyone sees the world that way. Not everyone wants the best for everyone. Some people think they are better than others. In fact, their livelihood depends on their perspective. They have so much invested in exploitation they can’t imagine letting go of the privilege they have, on which they believe they depend. Others benefit and don’t even know it. Or they hide behind the banner that it’s not their fault.

The challenge of change, of making this world a better place feels larger than ever. This game of privilege has gone way beyond threatening how we live, but life itself. To me the reasons for change have never been more compelling, but the change needed has grown in scope to the point that I can’t help but feel overwhelmed.

As the magnitude of change grows, so does my paralysis. I find myself wondering how I could ever make a difference. How could I even make a dent? But then I remember that I still have is hope. Hope is what has kept me going, made me believe change was possible in the first place. Hope is what brings tears to my eyes when I see change take place like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the freeing of Nelson Mandela from prison.

As I heard the news today, I am reminded of not only my commitment to making this world a better place, but the fact that people can and have made a difference. Nelson Mandela has always been someone I admire and respect for his commitment to making this world a better place, for his resilience in making a difference, for never giving up hope that change is possible.

Some change is long overdue, like freedom in Tibet and Palestine, some new challenges we have yet to know or fully understand like what it will take to save our planet. As I look to the future, I keep my childlike eyes wide open to spot what doesn’t seem fair and talk about it until there is no room for injustice, no tolerance for exploitation.

It is my own desire for dignity that tells me there is no dignity in subjugation, not of each other, of life, of our world. In my heart I know we can do better. In my mind I know we all deserve better. We don’t have to be Nelson Mandela to do the right thing, to make a difference. We simply have to have the commitment, compassion, and humility he had to think beyond ourselves.

In gratitude, thank you Nelson Mandela, for your lifelong commitment to being human. You are an inspiration to us all.

If I connect with spirit I find my voice.

In my voice I find my calling.

In my calling I make a difference.

In making a difference I live.

In living I find connection.

In connection I find meaning.

In meaning I am at peace.

At peace I set my spirit free.

It must be the regularity of it. If nothing else I know I can get up, walk into the kitchen, and assuming I have coffee beans and milk I can make my morning coffee. I know how to do it. Many mornings, perhaps most mornings, I start there. I accomplish making my coffee. If I am out of honey I fall back on sugar, suspend my arrogance in preferring brown or golden sweeteners. I add cocoa or chocolate syrup and a dash of Cayenne. This is truly my morning coffee. When I get it just right, I appreciate every sip as the day looms in the background.

My morning coffee gives me pause, to contemplate for a few moments the “What’s next?” of my day. Some mornings it’s the “What’s next?” of my life. Those mornings feel particularly heavy and make me savor each sip a little longer. Suddenly I feel myself utterly gasping for breath in my mind when I realize I have taken my last sip. “What’s next?” may be as simple as paying bills, making a call, but often it looms larger and the choices seem to crowd my mind exponentially with choices. The voice of these choices often manifests itself as “shoulds” even if they are “coulds” or “I wants.”

Sometimes I consider making a second round of my morning coffee, hoping it will make it easier to decide, to move on to “What’s next?” But the times I have tried that route I have found myself no clearer in thought or purpose than before. In fact, more likely I am feeling the overconsumption of caffeine and lamenting the reduced sense of mental clarity. Physically and mentally I am more challenged than before and must reconcile with myself that meager attempt at achieving clarity by procrastination.

When my morning ritual proves unfruitful or feels too much like a senseless habit, I ask myself if I even feel like coffee this morning. Now and then I break out of this routine with an emphatic “No!” and entertain the idea of having something else, of asking myself, “What do I want?” Stripped of the crutch of routine I have to think about it. Tea? Juice? A smoothie? Fruit? Perhaps nothing at all at the moment. These endless possibilities start popping up in my brain and I am suddenly laden with the weight of that question, not simply the task of making my morning coffee.

The last few days I have been in that mode of saying “No” to my morning coffee, of putting myself in that uncomfortable position of asking what I want, of making a choice, of interrupting same-old-same-old and leaping into something different, something new, something else. Saying “No” immediately seems to awaken the self-critic who blurts out, “Why do I have to make things so complicated?” But then I find if I ignore the critic and instead honor my “No” I experience a freshness in having to know, having to think, having to choose that feels invigorating. It feels like movement, like creativity, like maybe I can do things a little differently, a little better, if I give myself the space to think about it.

And so my morning coffee sacrifices itself, at least until I know that’s what I want. As long as my morning coffee is a choice, not simply a habit, the world is wide open. Interrupting that same-old-same-old seems vital, a way of reassessing where I am, how I’m feeling, what I really want. Suddenly I am not dreading “What’s next?” but actually opening myself up to the question with a sense of possibility, not in an oppressive “I can’t choose” kind of way, but with a sense of calm and kindness. A different voice that is reassuring, that is my friend in knowing what I want, one that will be cheering me on to go after it. Thus, by not simply downing my morning coffee as a matter of course, I am opening myself to living with passion and purpose. I am feeling on task and on target. I am knowing and seeing and doing what feels right, makes sense, all because I gave myself the chance to say “No” to my morning coffee.

I suppose my morning coffee could be anything, tea, yoga, rising early, sleeping in, a shot of whiskey. The what doesn’t really matter, it is the pause “No” allows, the space it generates. By interrupting habit, I stand face to face with the question “What do I really want?” and have a shot at bringing that passion into my day, into my life.

So even though habits can streamline actions, they can also create an autopilot scenario where every action is as predetermined as brushing teeth. I realize I must count my habits wisely. Now and then it wouldn’t hurt to interrupt that smooth flow and see what wisdom lies in those ripples once I dare to stir up the waters of my routine. And if that stirring brings me right back to my morning coffee, then by all means I shall make it and enjoy it, every sip. And when I reach the bottom of my cup and the question of “What’s next?” remains, maybe now I will be able to answer that question…

Northern Lights, Above
Dancing in the Star-filled Sky
Me, One with Spirit

Here I lie awake
Under the star-filled night sky
Letting go of day

Moments come and go
Moonlight witnesses my life
Now and forever