A Rabbi and a Saudi Prince sit for a talk

On October 29th I visited the Middle East Security Forum at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, hosted by Rabbi David Wolpe and Israel Policy Forum.

At first I was wary of going, and my conservative friends found it too liberal to go to.  As I sat through the first parts of the forum I couldn’t help but feel they were right.  Every speaker seemed to have the same liberal talking points about how Israel must make concessions, Israel must both give Palestinians independence and be responsible for their welfare, etc.

Which alone is bad enough, but as I spoke to others in the audience I found we shared a conservative – I call it protective – attitude towards Israel that seemed totally at odds with the speakers.  So what was the point of all this?

Then I witnessed Rabbi Wolpe’s talk with Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud.

Wolpe was well aware of the conservative bent of his audience.  And yet he was able to bring them to the table to patiently listen to a man who to many represented the enemy.  And while Prince Turki advanced Arab positions that seemed to make the audience want to hurl tomatoes at him, he still came.

This was no small feat.  Among other things, it represented the first time he set foot in a synagogue, publicly spoke to a Rabbi, or looked at at Torah scroll.  This is a reversal of at least a century of Arab policy, which refuses to recognize not just Israel, but the Jewish faith.

And he didn’t stop there.  He offered hints of diplomacy.  A gem I took home with me was “diplomacy is the art of saying yes when you mean maybe, and maybe when you mean no.”  Which had far reaching implications given the context.

It made me philosophical.  And I don’t say that word lightly.

We love to sneer at politicians as a bunch of liars.  But are they maintaining the very lie that sustains us?  Do we need to entertain the lie lest we devolve into an ideological bloodletting?  I had this inkling that this was the status of Middle East politics, and that the talking points of those that came before this talk are just the pretty words that hold up a lie – a lie that holds a tenuous peace.

And yet Wolpe’s talk with Prince Turki showed not only a self-consciousness to that lie, but a hope that we may soon be able to get past that lie and actually arrive at a sustainable diplomatic climate in the Middle East.  And by soon I mean in all our lifetimes.

Many people worry in these turbulent times, finding only uncertainty in them.  But if we look beneath the surface, we see tensions that have been boiling for decades that are finally coming to the surface to resolve themselves.  Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors is one such tension.

This is why I’m confident that the future is bright for that entire region.  But only with the proper leadership, one that is no longer clinging to yesterday’s lies.