A Long Line of Worriers

Sheldon Harnick

DonateI came from a long line of worriers — we’re Jews after all! My parents worried that I’d never make a living as a songwriter and urged me to become a shoe salesman! I didn’t become a shoe salesman but I remain a worrier.

I worry about Israel today, after nearly 50 years as an occupier of another people. The Occupied Territories hardly figure in the public discourse in Israel these days, and yet the occupation won’t go away simply as a result of inattention.

The attitude of right-wing extremist supporters of Israel also worries me greatly. When you tell them that constructing peace is a complex undertaking, that it requires both imagination and pragmatism, they’ll dismiss you by dumbing down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They say things like, "The Muslims want to destroy Israel" or "The Arabs refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state" or "If the Arabs had accepted Israel in 1948, the Palestinians wouldn’t be where they are today."

They say things like, "Israel has no partner for peace," ignoring the Palestinian government's renouncement of violence against Israel. They even have problems with the Palestinians using a non-violent diplomatic path towards peace by turning to the international community for support of their national aspirations.

Extremists here and in Israel will never find a situation in which Israelis and Palestinians can reach an accord and a Palestinian state can peacefully come into existence.

That’s why I’m so worried — and infuriated.

Quote-Overlay200x455The extremist vision distorts reality, writes off the Palestinian dimension, their situation, and instead demands that they be Zionist-singing puppets. Ultra-right-wing Zionists, dedicated to sniffing out the "threat of radical Islam," deny the Palestinians the humanity and the right to self-determination that we Jews demand for Israel.

What helps allay my worry is the vision and pragmatism of Shalom Achshav (Peace Now in Israel). Shalom Achshav and its sister organization, Americans for Peace Now, understand that you must build with the materials at hand — two states for two peoples on one land. Security and freedom from terror for Israel. Sovereignty and dignity for the Palestinians.

But I’m worried about the status quo.

Take for instance the Kalandia crossing. It was established by Israel as a checkpoint along the security barrier for Palestinians traveling from East Jerusalem north to Ramallah and back again. It is described as "acres of concrete block wasteland with its passages constructed in maze formation: narrow, difficult to negotiate and seemingly without exit."

Few people realize that this separation wall and the crossing are actually inside East Jerusalem. And therefore Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, even if they’re not traveling to the West Bank, even if they’re going to work or home, often have to spend hours at the crossing simply to get to another part of the city. This is the so-called undivided capital of Israel — which is undivided only in rhetoric.

JerusalemYou can see a similar division on Shuhada Street in central Hebron. Although this street is in the heart of the city, no Palestinian cars are allowed on it. And Palestinian pedestrians are not allowed to set foot on Shuhada Street. Israelis may travel on it freely, however, and do so while protected by the IDF. Palestinian merchants were forced out and Palestinian homeowners on this street have had their front doors welded shut and must climb over rooftops and down ladders to get out and into their homes.

What in the world is Israel doing?

I don’t consider it "anti-Israel" to point out that Israel’s military is being used as a VIP security entourage while Palestinian families have their homes soldered shut. I don’t believe critics are "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" for denouncing a checkpoint that prevents Palestinians from traveling inside their own city.

Finally, I don’t believe my support for those Israelis who do not wish to associate with West Bank settlements make me a pro-BDS Israel-hater.

Let’s be clear on BDS.

Americans for Peace Now has been careful to distinguish between a legitimate boycott of West Bank products and the BDS campaign that targets all of Israel and expresses virulent anti-Israel sentiment. When a company like Soda Stream moves their manufacturing operations back into Israel proper, which they have done, we should demonstrate our principles by supporting them. This is APN’s position.

The continued expansion of settlements worries me greatly. The building continues on disputed land, despite its cessation being a key Palestinian demand, and despite international law, and despite many Israeli security experts’ view that this is suicidal. I am grateful that Peace Now devotes a large part of its resources to its Settlement Watch program not only because of Palestinian demands but because it’s the only way to preserve a two-state solution. This group investigates, exposes and litigates against Israel’s “land-grab” used to choke off a Palestinian state.

Americans for Peace Now supports the work of Shalom Achshav and Settlement Watch. APN builds relationships with members of Congress and their staffs, and with executive branch officials to educate them about developments in the Middle East and the implications of their policy choices. On university campuses, APN counsels students on steps they can take to improve and enrich the Mideast debate in their community. They offer American, Israeli and Palestinian speakers on campuses and in Jewish communities nationally and internationally.

And on the internet, APN has a vigorous presence actively connecting younger folks and others and offers them a pro-Israel, pro-peace perspective and talking points. To this community, they introduce progressive peace advocates in Israel, and offer them opportunities to take action. APN continues to have a lively presence on Facebook and Twitter and a downloadable “Facts on the Ground” settlements map-app on iTunes.

I recognize the value and importance of APN and I want it to grow. The collapse of the peace process doesn’t mean the world has stopped turning. Israel’s domination of Palestinian lives becomes more entrenched by the day. Settlement building persists. The day continues to approach when, because of the makeup of the population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, Israel will lose its democratic character or Israeli Jews will lose their national self-determination. More than a century of Zionist work will unravel for good.

And so I worry. I’m 91 now, and it’s unlikely that my worrying nature will morph into a sunnier outlook. But I want us to do whatever we can, with APN’s help, to nudge Israel forward to get on the right path again. Worry can sometimes lead us to move mountains.

Indeed, worry and hope are further reasons to support Americans for Peace Now. Together we can raise the level of discourse and let the possibilities soar, while keeping a firm hold on reality. Yes, it is a paradox. But it’s the hope upon which Israel was built: If you will it, it is no dream.

Please support this worthy, tireless organization. Their work allows us to dream. Our tax-deductible donations allow them to grow. Let’s build this together, go beyond our dreams, and make peace a reality.


Sheldon Harnick

P.S. I feel compelled to let you know that that my support of APN did not start nor will it end with this letter. I have been a long-time contributor and even if you are not a rich (wo)man (I couldn’t resist), please do what you can.


playbillBorn and raised in Chicago, Sheldon Harnick began studying the violin while in grammar school. After serving in the U.S. Army for three years, he enrolled in the Northwestern University School of Music, and earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1949. Harnick developed skills as a writer of comedy sketches, songs and parody lyrics, and eventually decided to try his luck as a theatrical lyricist in NYC. The rest is history... In 1959, Fiorello put the team of Harnick and Jerry Boch on the map. Their musical biography of New York City’s legendary mayor earned the Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

In 1964 Bock & Harnick, working with director-choreographer Jerome Robbins and book writer Joseph Stein, created a musical masterpiece that vividly evoked a vanished community while telling a story with universal and timeless appeal. Fiddler On The Roof, based on a series of short stories by Sholom Alecheim, earned the Tony Award, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, and much more.

Sheldon Harnick has been a long-time supporter of Americans for Peace Now.