It is useful to be reminded regularly that most important issues can be viewed from more than one perspective. Most of us too rarely confront this fact: Either we read only material that is likely to confirm our pre-existing opinion or we filter out everything else.
Among the verities of the conservative press is that Angela Merkel's decision to open the gates of Europe to over a million refugees from Syria and other comparatively uninhabitable Middle East countries in the summer of 2015 was and remains wrong-headed in the extreme, i.e. not only have its consequences proved to be untoward but they were predictably so.
Among those consequences have been a sharp drop in personal safety for Germans, particularly women, in cities with large immigrant populations, as well as the near collapse of Merkel's ruling coalition. Beyond Germany's borders, the immigration issue has dramatically increased the strength of radical and xenophobic populist parties. It almost certainly played a role in the vote for Brexit. In short, the decision not only sent shock waves through Europe, it dramatically set back the European Project with Germany at its head.
So when I recently quoted one of my favorite conservative websites to the effect that Merkel's decision was "unfathomable," the last thing I expected was to be contradicted. Sitting in the room where I expressed my opinion, however, was Rabbi Joshua Spinner, CEO of the Lauder Foundation. Spinner lives in Berlin and has close contacts with senior foreign policy officials in numerous European countries, including Germany. And he wasted no time correcting me.
He acknowledged that German war guilt played a fifty percent role in the decision. But Merkel had a perfectly rational calculus as well. The refugees were congregated in the Balkans, and would have in short order ripped apart those newly democratic states and with them the entire European Project.
As it turned out, they may have done so anyway by introducing heightened levels of political instability into the heart of the EU. But to say that Merkel's decision has worked out poorly is a far cry from saying it was unfathomable or irrational. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.
Rabbi Spinner and I also disagree, I gather, on the continued viability of the project of European unification and whether the degree of bureaucratic control that it necessitates is a good thing. He argues that it has, on the whole, done a good job of protecting European Jewish populations, and that is his primary concern.
But hearing from someone far more knowledgeable than I about the issue at hand was a useful reminder to me of the necessity of hearing the other side. I might not have changed my mind on the issue at hand, but at the very least my judgments going forward will be better informed and more nuanced.