Progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embraces New York gubenatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon at her victory party in the Bronx after upsetting incumbent Democratic Representative Joseph Crowly on June 26, 2018.
(photo credit: SCOTT HEINS/GETTY IMAGES/AFP)
Three women were elected to Congress who have some right-wing Jews shaking in their boots as if having Palestinian or Muslim women speaking their minds is the greatest threat to Israel’s existence since 1948; as if it means that American Jewry has “lost touch” with Israel, like some pundits proclaim. Frankly, I’m excited.
The women who were elected include Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women elected to Congress, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman elected to Congress. She has expressed opinion’s critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. For one thing, just because someone is critical of Israel’s actions, it does not mean that they are antisemitic. It is high time we stopped playing the antisemitism card every time we hear something that we don’t like. The world is getting tired of it, and frankly, so are a lot of Jews. People can be critical of Israel and still wish to see it do well and thrive. Let’s get that straight.
The women who were elected are interesting, intelligent representatives who – unlike the people surrounding the Trump White House and the radical Right – are not calling for violence, bigotry or hatred. They are not coming from a place of hatred of Jews. They are coming from a place of seeking compassion and justice. They represent their constituents on local issues, first and foremost, as all members of Congress do. Let’s recognize and honor that.
The women also worked hard to achieve this important moment, new wave of leaders who are putting a stop to the Trumpesque culture of hate and violence. Ending this culture of hatred is the most important action we can take. The Jewish people need to know where we stand when it comes to the spread of hate. The Pittsburgh massacre is the most tragic reminder that when hate is given a platform, nobody is safe.
Moreover, it is worth considering that some of our strongest critics are those who love us most. Young, liberal American Jews who – like the new congresswomen, are critical of Israel’s human rights record – are not “out of touch” as much as they are pining to see Israel do well. American Jews want to be proud of Israel. They are eager to show Israel to the world as a country that does the right thing. Instead of dismissing young critical Americans, we should view them as vital members of the tribe who have important things to say.
IN FACT, I would argue that the best reaction Israel can have to our critics – whether these are new Democratic congresswomen or young Jews who are passionately committed to the values of equality and human rights – is to listen to them. We should embrace these voices as having something incredibly valuable to say to us.
We Zionists are very well-schooled in the art of rhetoric and hasbara (public diplomacy). Recalling my days in yeshiva day school where we had mandatory classes in “Zionism,” as well as my years as a college student in leadership at Columbia Students for Israel, I can attest to how much training young Jews have gotten over the decades on how to talk back to critics.
We knew the answers before we knew the questions. I was able to debate my way around the Palestinian “issue” before I had ever met an actual Palestinian human being. Being able to fight the rhetorical fight was probably more important than actually moving to Israel.
I think the main takeaway from all this is that young American Jews are not all interested in that anymore. They are tired of feeling manipulated, they are eager to cut through fluff, and mostly they want to be able to defend Israel based on the values they hold dear – namely, equality, freedom, human rights and justice. And I can say, after 25 years of living in Israel, I feel the same way.
Instead of dismissing our critics as antisemitic, we need to listen to what they have to say. We need to start looking at our beloved country through the lenses of humanity, human decency and democratic norms. We need to get over our high-minded, defensive, knee-jerk response that says every critic is out to destroy Israel. We need to stop acting as if running a country is like running a debating team. We need to completely reject the Bibi-Bennett manifesto of “Never apologize,” as if admitting that we have made mistakes would be the end of the Jewish state. That is just ego – multiplied in action.
Rather, we need to start deeply engaging with our critics – whether they are in Congress, in the American Jewish community or in Israel. There are a lot of people in the world – many of whom desperately want to see Israel thrive and be a model for humanity – who are telling us that we are making some profound mistakes. Let’s start seeing them as allies. And let’s start listening with an open heart. We will all be better for it. The writer is an award-winning author, anthropologist and feminist activist, and serves as the vice chair for media and policy for Democrats Abroad-Israel.
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