(photo credit: REUTERS)
With public protests against policies coming out of the White House are now a regular occurrence, an obviously troubled student wrote to Rabbi Heshy Novack of Chabad at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I’ve been struggling to know how to act with the desire to support and protest for the rights of all, particularly African- Americans, Muslims and immigrants, while most organizations with similar goals also seem to have taken anywhere from a moderate to severely anti-Israel stance as well. I was wondering what you thought and how you would navigate that problem.”
For those who identify with and care about Israel, it is heartening that at least some, like this student, stop and think about the role the Jewish state plays in all this. The problem, however, is the apparent irrelevance of Israel in this matter for so many others, including many who identify as liberal or progressive Jews.
Anti-Trump protests have become the perfect example of intersectional automatic thinking. If you’re on the side of gay rights, women’s rights and overall human rights, well, you must also be for minority rights, Muslim rights, immigrant rights, refugee rights and a whole slew of rights that are core beliefs of those who consider themselves liberal or progressive. But it goes much further than that. You also need to be on one side of the climate change debate, you need to firmly accept a woman’s right to choose, you need to be against repealing Obamacare and you need to be against vouchers for public education. And while Palestinian rights is always part of this intersectional universe, Israeli rights are never mentioned, as if they do not even exist.
Here is where the real problem comes into play and where automatic thinking has clouded the moral compass of so many liberals and progressives. Although it has been building for some time now, what is happening under cover of the anti-Trump protests is a distinct molding of liberal and progressive thought that may support the rights of many, but also supports the seductively deceptive message of “Palestinian rights.”
Let us be clear, Palestinians of course have rights and there really is such as thing as legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. But when people who support the enemies of Israel in a way that goes beyond legitimate criticism are embraced as leaders central to the movement, progressive Jews and others need take a step back and ask themselves what the Washington University student asked.
But why should Israel figure into this issue at all? After all, right is right and wrong is wrong, and if people feel that the policies they are concerned about are indeed wrong, why should it matter if some of those leading the fight happen to be critical of Israel as well?
The right to criticize Israeli policy should not be the question here. And Israel really should not figure into the behavior of those who feel they are standing up for what is right. But standing up for what is right while ignoring what is wrong is a recipe for a dictatorship of the mind and slavery of the soul.
If Israel really has no place in the decision to support the rights of immigrants and women and minorities, neither should Palestine. That is why it is disturbing to see so many people not only dismiss but even openly embrace and support the central role played by individuals who never fail to identify themselves as Palestinian and never fail to make sure everyone knows that.
Those who recognize Palestinian society as it is ask why progressives would think that standing as a proud Palestinian has any place in the struggle that the anti-Trump policy movement is conducting. Palestinian society fails to act against honor killings, fails to acknowledge the rights of gays and fails to promote gender equality. It arbitrarily arrests and uses torture against detainees, illegally executes prisoners, suppresses free speech, does not allow a free press and does not tolerate minorities. And, by the way, it also ignores violence against Jews and publicly supports and glorifies those that kill Israelis.
But all this seems “irrelevant” because the Palestinians that stand with those that stand against Trump ignore Palestinian wrongs and instead speak about settlements and occupation, resistance and struggle, and of course Palestinian “rights” as being no different from any of the rights everyone is marching and protesting for. Somehow, calling out the wrongs of alt-right toward the “other” is acceptable, but when the “other” is Jewish and the perpetrator of the wrong is Palestinian, so many look the other way.
Progressives should be admired for wanting to protect those who are being threatened by what they see as mean-spirited policies. But ignoring and marginalizing those who stand at the forefront of the movement when they tolerate violence against Israeli Jews is no different from ignoring and tolerating the altright. Caring about refugees is admirable; ignoring how they became refugees is not. Ignoring the real threat of Iran, the country behind the slaughter in Syria, the country that also supports “Palestinian rights” and wants to destroy Israel, is wrong. Ignoring that central to those supporting refugees are many people who support violence against family is hurtful and self-destructive.
The cheers for “Palestine” at these rallies are not meaningless, certainly not when they are being encouraged, supported and put in the middle of what is considered “justice” without realizing that this justice does not include Israel. The support for what is right does not cleanse the stain of the misguided portion of those who are legitimately concerned with their anonymous neighbors while not fully appreciating how their own people may be adversely affected by this.
It is indeed always important to stand for what is right and just, but being blind to who is standing with you is naive and ultimately destructive when the wrong people are standing on the platform, gaining legitimacy and leading the way.
If you stand for rights, don’t ignore the wrong.The author is a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where he directs the Israel-Arab studies program for overseas students.