With Thanks to Tom Clancy

Years ago, I recall reading one of the late Tom Clancy’s thrillers, Red Storm Rising. Being the military history and geopolitics nerd I was (and still am) I paid particular attention to the ins and outs of political intrigue at the Politburo level in the (then still extant) Soviet Union. In one passage, the Director of the KGB (Soviet spy agency) described coming to a Politburo meeting to advise on initiating a ‘limited’ war or not to do so. He came to the meeting with three folders in his briefcase. A best case, worst case, and a middling, equivocal case to share with the gathered leaders. Which he shared would depend on what he heard from them, and he always did his best to speak last.

This might seem a particularly cynical approach, but it is founded on solid ground. How so?

First, it presupposes that the man bringing the three folders to the meeting has already developed an objective assessment of the situation, and his preparedness had practical rather than ideological motivations.

Second, it also assumes an understanding that others are not always, or even often, motivated by an objective assessment of the facts. Knowing how others are motivated, and how they assemble a justification for their actions, is a very useful skill.

Third, it is clear that the KGB Director or his staff had done the research and the work to understand the breadth of possibilities and the implications of the preconceived ideas that those attending brought to the table.

I believe that as we navigate these troubled and troubling times, we can learn some lessons from Clancy’s character.

We should strive to identify objective facts and understand them. We are not well served by making unfounded assumptions about anyone’s actions or motivations. We should measure the words and actions of everyone, here and in Israel, among friends and adversaries, understanding their motivations and how they use information.

We should acknowledge that even with the best of intentions, no one - not even you or I - is 100% objective. And that’s OK. What is important is to figure out where our loyalties intersect with our knowledge, and act on that basis. It has also become especially clear to me that several individuals and organizations in the broader Rockland community and across the country are motivated by ideology and loyalty to agendas that can be at odds with Jewish peoplehood as WE define it, and with the robust defense or even the existence of a Jewish State on Jewish ancestral land. Understanding this, we can begin to address and even confront these if necessary.

Lastly, it is our responsibility to do our own work, not be spoon-fed information from one source alone (even if it is friendly). As Sun Tzu wrote 2300 years ago in The Art of War, know your adversary. Don’t just pay attention to the weaknesses of their arguments or the justifications you may see for mayhem and murder. Also pay attention to grievances, to policies and places where Israel or its institutions have fallen short or can do better, and the implications of these shortcomings on the lives of others.

I do my best to inform myself from multiple sources, both within Israel and beyond it. I read news sources across the political spectrum. I pay attention to the writings and statements from the Arab and Muslim world, from those who are as enraged by Hamas as we are, and those who are apologists for them. I know I will never have a 100% objective understanding, but my goal is to be as close to that as possible, and then to apply my loyalties and my lens.

I hope that this is a useful suggestion, and that with it you may see events in as clear a light as you can.

Shabbat Shalom