Center Field: Dear newly elected members of Congress

I’m asking you, no, I’m challenging you, as American leaders to reconsider your positions.

By
February 12, 2019 22:26
4 minute read.
US REPRESENTATIVE Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Rashida Tlaib wipe away tears

US REPRESENTATIVE Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Rashida Tlaib wipe away tears as Representative Ilhan Omar talks about her experience as a refugee earlier this month. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Congratulations! Pardon me for writing three of you simultaneously – you each legislated your own way and bring your own voice to Capitol Hill, of course. But you three have two important things in common: You’ve commanded more attention than your other rookie colleagues (combined!), and you’ve all telegraphed hostility toward Israel, the democratic Jewish state.

I’m asking you, no, I’m challenging you, as American leaders to reconsider your positions. Recognize the great pain your animus causes to millions of people. Intentionally or not, you’re echoing traditional Jew-hatred.
Anyone who belongs to minority groups, who has been hit by the poison dart of prejudice, understands that bigotry unleashes exponential anguish. When you’re bullied as women, or insulted as people of color, the punch lands extra hard, the blood rushes head-ward extra fast, the hands tremble much sooner, the wound takes that much longer to heal. That’s because the hurts are cumulative. Your ache echoes the agony of so many others’ while snowballing with generations of historic attacks.


For Jews, too.


Some find us hypersensitive. Unfortunately, like you and your various affiliate groups, a hard history made us hyper and sensitive. That doesn’t mean we or our state are beyond criticism. Neither people nor democracies can heal by squelching critical conversations. But if you can locate your own identity-aches horizontally and vertically – resonating with other communal suffering and linked in a chained of historical hurts – why are ours invisible to you?


I don’t want to shame you or censure you or see you removed from your committee assignments. Don’t violate pledges you made to other constituents. Instead, move forward! All first-time politicians should evolve, fine-tuning some previous positions. You should be climbing a steep learning curve. Nothing prepares anyone for the kind of whirligig you just jumped on.


Follow some ABCs:


A – Acknowledge complexity. Beware fanatics, left or right, who reduce complex conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate to simplistic sloganeering. Watch that new group The Democratic Majority for Israel. Read AIPAC’s literature, not anti-AIPAC libels. These activists make nuanced arguments. We all have enough intellectual bandwidth to go beyond the absolutist, suffocating, my-way-or-the-highway ideologues.


I admit my bias, I’m proudly pro-Israel. But I don’t claim Israel’s perfect or call Palestinians perfectly evil.


B – Be Bridge Builders, not flamethrowers. Once we acknowledge messiness, once we’re twisting and turning along Complexity Highway, we can listen to different perspectives, hear overlapping pain, seek some way forward.


I get it. Joining the bash-Israel-first crowd will further fast-track you to Progressive pop stardom. They will toast your “candor” and “courage.” But decide: Did you come to Washington to be an arsonist or a firefighter? Do you want to cause more Jewish – and Palestinian – pain?


If you join other Democrats in blaming Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric for causing, say, the Pittsburgh massacre, even though the shooter hates Trump, what kind of responsibility should you take if you demonize Israel or romanticize Palestinian terrorism, then, boom, Hamas fires another rocket, when terrorists kill another Israeli?


You can make history. Use your unique positions, identities, life stories – to pursue peace, not ignite violence. Leverage your credibility with Palestinians to demand a de-escalation of demonization and violence, just as we on the pro-Israel side are most responsible for restraining the (much, much, much smaller number of) Jewish terrorists I criticized on these pages two weeks ago.


C – Come visit Israel and that organization some of you demonize, AIPAC.


Want to see how ridiculous it is to caricature “the Jews” as enjoying “white privilege”? Meet average Israelis; they’re neither white nor wealthy. Want to see women in hijabs vote freely in the Middle East? Monitor Israel’s election. Want to see how a people heal after being battered and butchered by genocidal maniacs in Nazi Germany, humiliated and made homeless by European thugs, Arab pogromists, Soviet propagandists, Ethiopian bigots? Hear our stories.


And, if you don’t have time to fly so far, drive a few blocks to AIPAC’s offices or AIPAC’s Policy Conference in March. Meet the real people, not the caricatured stick figures (most are liberal Democrats), expressing – not manufacturing – America’s grassroots, authentic, deeply held pro-Israel consensus. That’s how to bury the ugly stereotypes about rich Jews lobbying with their “Benjamins.”


FINALLY, DEMAND justice for Ori Ansbacher. This lovely 19-year-old was sitting, contemplating, reveling in the Jerusalem Forest last week, until a Palestinian terrorist sexually assaulted her, then slashed her to death. As women, as leaders, understand that Israel’s soul is bleeding today. So, spare us. At minimum, stop tweeting your empty postures or even emptier apologies. Actually, you can do more.


As we grieve for this lovely poetry-writing kid, the people we’re supposed to make peace with are lionizing her rapist-murderer. He and his family are about to get big bucks from money that comes from Israel and the sucker donors financing the Palestinian Authority. Yes, our governments will be subsidizing this murdering misogynist. I wonder whether there’s an extra bonus for rape.


Here’s a first issue for you to tackle: Help end the incitement we bankroll that can lead one human to commit such unspeakable acts on another human, and that gets other humans not just to excuse it but cheer it, incentivizing others to follow with pay-to-slay bloodlust. This isn’t #MeToo – it’s #Whataboutustoo.


So far, you three have worsened the Mideast problem. Here’s your invite: Use your powerful platforms to help find the solution.


The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.

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