Family and politics rarely mix – especially when a liberal like me comes from a fairly conservative family. Most recently, I got into the mix with my beloved aunt when I tried to discuss Jimmy Carter’s recent book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” and explain what he was trying to say about the way Israel treats the Palestinian people.

My aunt, a Holocaust survivor and strong supporter of Israel, is outraged at Carter and his book and was surprised that I didn’t condemn him outright. I later heard that she told someone “I love Ronnie Ann, but I’ll never discuss politics with her again!” This letter (with a few minor changes) was my follow-up to that conversation:

Dear Aunt Sada,

I’ve been thinking about this all week and worry that I may not have been clear in our last discussion about politics.

I don’t want you to think I agree with Jimmy Carter on everything he says. I don’t. I was just trying to explain that I like to understand what other people think, especially when it comes to such a difficult situation as the Middle East and Israel.

In the past, Jimmy Carter worked to help find peace and, even though I know you don’t agree with all the results at the time, I truly believe he wanted to assure Israel’s long-term chances of survival. He is a brilliant man and he cares deeply about peace. So when he comes out with something so controversial as what he wrote in his last book, I want to understand what he’s saying and why. He is only saying out loud what others are thinking to themselves.

The beauty of this country is that we allow free speech – and free speech helps us know all sides of an issue. And I truly believe that only when we know all sides can we hope to find a lasting solution. Otherwise, we are just using half-baked bricks to build temporary structures that will eventually collapse.

It’s true that I see good people on both sides of the issue and I see people who are not so nice on both sides too – but that’s just the way people are. There will always be stinkers, but I honestly believe most people are good at heart. But when people have been systematically denied basic things they feel they deserve – and they’ve also been fed lies or half-truths and raised to hate – then they may choose to do horrible things in the name of justice. And even if we are rightly horrified by their actions, I think we need to understand what’s behind those actions if we ever want to find peace.

That’s why I want more discussions like the one Carter’s controversial opinion started. Get all the lies, half-truths, misunderstandings, and differences out in the open. Talk about them. Educate people.

Imagine if the many lies the Nazis told about Jews had been openly discussed and passionately fought by people other than Jews. The Nazis might not have been able to perpetrate their horrors. But the world let the lies be spread. And the world watched when the Nazis imposed rules to treat Jews like second class citizens – like in an apartheid state. No people should ever again be treated like that. That’s part of what Carter is saying is happening to the Palestinians. And he says we can’t be silent this time.

But wait…I’m still not saying he’s completely right. Of course, Israel is a country that is threatened from every side and must do things to protect herself from aggression, terrorism, and deceit by other countries, some of whom pretend to be her allies. So she does some things that on the outside don’t always look good. And while I may not agree with everything she does, I know she has good reasons for choosing to act. And that has to come out too.

The world needs to see Israel’s side and the world needs to see the Palestinian side. And that will come about only after lots of open discussion by those who are directly involved as well as people of all religions and beliefs throughout the world.

So while I truly understand and respect your point of view, I also welcome Carter and his words. It tells us what others are thinking. And I want well-informed people to speak out and make it known why Israel does what she does. And I want the other side to explain why it does what it does. And I want each side to stop and finally listen to each other and try to find some common ground.

There is always common ground if people will just stop trying to be 100% right while making the other side 100% wrong. That gets you nowhere. Only from open dialogue and really hearing and respecting the other side’s point of view can we ever hope to find a solution both sides can live with.

And that was what I was trying to say when we spoke. I hope that makes sense to you now and doesn’t make you angry at me, since I love you very very much and would never want to upset you.

As I see it, peace starts between two people and then reaches out with open hands to the rest of the world. So, my dear aunt…if we can make peace between us around this issue despite our many differences, then just maybe there is hope for the world after all!

All my love,

Ronnie Ann