It is ironic to me, that before, during and after the 4th of July celebrations in the US, tolerance of dissent and dialogue seems to be at an all time low in Israel as violence and tension is streaking up the thermometer faster than a hot August morning when the air is still and the birds have stopped singing.

Look, I’ll prove it. I’ll express myself here, and then, if you will, look at the comments that come. See the rage? Some will be overt. Some will be articulate. A few will agree, timidly, politely. But for the most part, I will be excoriated as a traitor, as a naif, and most likely, as a “common shiksa” as someone recently commented on another piece I wrote here. (I am a Reform convert so I was asking for that one, right?)

I am an olim. I am American. I am a Jew by choice. In my country of origin (you may have heard of it) free speech and dissent are an ingrained and critical part of the American experience – and experiment. One that is often assailed but that is fundamentally precious to Americans. As it should be to you, too.

What is happening in Israel right now is wrong. The settlements are wrong. The violence is wrong. There is a leadership vacuum. There are no “sides”, there is no “other” and this whole situation is one of the greatest failures the human race has ever put forth. Governments and media are manipulating us into a frenzy of fear and hate.

We need dissent. We need dialogue. We need to stop blaming and look at our collective failure to have the courage required to create a new narrative that brings peace and safety to us all. We are better than this, yet we are the laughing stock of the world – at best – and in reality, the world’s greatest tragedy. Because it just never ends.

Our leaders are perpetuating the cycle of violence. Nobody is brave enough to stand up for peace and compromise if it does not aid their political career or line their pockets. That’s truth. We have no leaders here, on either “side”. And the vacuum gets filled with the lunatic fringe while the rest of us sit back and watch it happen – again – and are appalled and angry and afraid. And we begin to attack each other. The Diaspora variously wrings its hands or posits that they see a problem and are condemned, their opinions not welcome – when they dissent.

We are all being manipulated here. By the media, by our leaders. Follow the money. People are profiting from this conflict, hand over fist. Newsflash: and it’s not you or me. We are part of a machine that fuels this conflict and our stress response – fear, rage, despair – is milked for all it’s worth.  We are allowing ourselves to be dehumanized by the very people who claim to lead us, and to love Israel.  We are pawns in a game that is not of our making – or liking.

The choice is ours. We can destroy ourselves willingly by stomping out dissent and ending dialogue. Or we can take back the power as a collective and by we I mean all of us – Israelis and Palestinians – by encouraging dialogue and civility. By questioning our so-called leaders and their motives. By letting cooler heads prevail and by allowing our intellect to lead us as much as our hearts do.

Something is rotten in Israel. And it is our own complacency. Life here is hard. So hard. And it is very easy to have a knee-jerk reaction and to blame. It is far easier, in fact, than to self reflect and wonder how we got here and what we can do to get to a better place. How we can fan the flames of tolerance not hate.

We don’t all have the same lifestyles or approaches but we do all share one thing very much in common and that is that peace is a goal. We all want to live.  Jews of every stripe and kind, from the secular to the ultra-orthodox. We want to live.  Arab-Israelis, Palestinians – we all want to live and to be happy as an end goal. We want our children to be safe. We want to take pride in our identity, our lives. We want the spaciousness that freedom and peace and safety brings. We have to do it together.

Aung San Suu Kyii said: “Fear is not the natural state of civilized people.”  Are we not civilized? What is fanning this fear of “other”? We have to ask these questions if we want to find answers. If we want to do better than this, and to stop the downward spiral now and forever, we must encourage civil dialogue and reasonable arguments made reasonably.

Not in a million years would I even suggest that I know what the answer is. But I feel pretty good about saying the answer is NOT fear, paranoia, rage, or incivility. How can we reclaim ourselves from the jaws of hysteria? Stop. Think. Consider. Breathe. Don’t believe everything you see in the media. Get your own answers. Search your heart. Dialogue with those you disagree with honestly, often, and civilly. Be open to new ways of thinking. Reconsider our leadership – are they really working to ensure our safety and longevity – in the big picture? Or are they telling us to fear each other more and more, are they dictating what our loyalty to Israel should look and sound like? Do you want to be a part of that machine? I don’t.

 

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