America, this is not the way

“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out”

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Let’s play a little game. Who wrote the following:

And when those who hold that privilege dismiss the potential validity or logic of violent resistance, it’s effectively an effort to dictate the rules under which oppressed peoples respond to existential threats, and to silence forms of resistance disagreeable to privileged sensibilities.  ”

One might suggest that it must be written by a Palestinian or supporter. Violent resistance to oppression. How many times have I seen that justified. Peace talks don’t work because we can’t agree on all the terms – ignore whose to blame for the breakdown. A college student or mother of five pulls out a knife or a member of Hamas launches a missile towards civilians – it doesn’t matter. Oppression deserves violent resistance. That is how it often plays out. But in our case, here in Israel, our defense against violence is usually fast and furious. And there is no peace.

But this sick quote was not by written by a left wing supporter of Palestinian rights or a some European or South American radical leftist, rather the piece’s author is an irresponsible American who suggests violent attacks on Trump and his supporters. Basically, against all members of the GOP. His claims are based fight fire with fire – what he sees as racism and xenophobia – with violent uprising. In his screed, Sorry Liberals, A Violent Response To Trump Is As Logical As Any which appeared in the mainstream Huffington Post, Jesse Benn proclaims,

Violent resistance matters. Riots can lead to major change … It’s not liberal politicians or masses that historians identify as the spark underlying the modern movement for LGBTQ equality. Nor was it a think piece from some smarmy liberal writer. It was the people who took to the streets during the Stonewall Uprising. It was the Watts Rebellion, not the Watts Battle of Ideas, that exposed the enduring systemic neglect, poverty, inequality, and racism faced by that community… And since we’re talking about fascism, it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t the election of a moderate centrist (hello, Hillary) or a sanguine protest that stopped its ascent in Europe. It was, primarily, the Russian military, and to a lesser extent the US military; neither of which practiced nonviolence if memory serves.

You read that correctly, Mr. Benn claims to be following the model of the hordes of the Russian army who raped and pillaged Nazi Germany as an act of tit for tat. Seriously, his model is Stalinist Russia?

The rhetoric sweeping the United States in the wake of the nastiest primary season I can remember is reaching a fevor pitch. And to be honest, I think both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and their followers are to blame. Sanders mantra of down with the Wall Street and his droning declaration of revolution fill cyberspace. When you call for revolution over and over again, some might start to take you seriously.

Trust me America, this is not the way. I live in a tough neighborhood. The second things get out of control, they get ugly. And fast. (I write this as I hear of the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv where at least 3 have been murdered.)

Let’s be clear, this poisonous weed found fertile ground not only on the racist far right but also from those of the left who support their vision “freedom” at all cost. When the attempts to shut down free speech of speakers on campuses and acts of anti-Semitism are seen as acceptable political positions, they soon escalate to the next stage of physical violence. The comparison to the Soviet Union sounds apt.

When leftists the world over suggest that those who launched thousands of rockets from Gaza in the direction of children’s parks and schools in Israel were simply exercising justified resistance to oppression – and how dare the oppressor fight back – one shouldn’t be surprised that the rhetoric is redirected home. The same left who exonerated Palestinian violence seem easily to excuse violence against those they see in America oppressing the poor.

And for those in the Jewish community who seem to easily take extreme sides in this conflict, a bit of historical perspective might be in order. Anti Semetic insidents are on the rise from both the right and the left in America. This is not new. From the middle ages until today, in the end, the Jew was always one of the targets. When the Christians and Moslems were fighting for control of Spain, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi wrote in a powerful poem, “Between the hosts of Seir (Christians) and Kedar (Muslims), my host is lost; Israel’s host vanishes. They wage their wars and we fall when they fall—thus it was ever in Israel.”

Perhaps the exact groupings no longer apply as Jews have many friends in both the Christian and Muslim communities. Rather today it appears as far right and far left who represent the possible danger. Reading the talkbacks on the Huffpost article I was shocked and dismayed to see the many references to Jews (assuming that the author is Jewish) by right wing extremest which were laced with allusions to violence and white supremest groups – including the telltale usage of the echo ((())) symbol around names.

While on the far left BDS groups and others are also using similar vile hate speech. To be sure, at present this is more of a European phenomenon but it is creeping into the discourse in the U.S. as well. As more and more groups, including left wing Jewish groups, angrily question the legitimacy of the state of Israel, violence can’t be far behind. Between the far right and far left, my host is lost.

So America, take it from a someone living in Israel, speech should be taken seriously and violence begets violence. We must all find the ability to put out this fire before it gets out of control.

About the Author
Rabbi Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.