Avi S. Olitzky

Enough with the Noise and the Vitriol

I was moved this week to post on Facebook calling out President Trump’s implicit racism. In that post, I wrote:

I am a rabbi in Rep. Ilhan Omar’s district. I have had the occasion to meet with Representative Omar and her staff on numerous occasions—including one in Washington in which she graciously invited my father to join me. Even if her previous remarks may be offensive and even if she disagrees with the policies of the current Israeli government, I cannot stay silent today. I stand fully beside her – and her colleagues – and support her in the face of the recent racist tweets of the president. This is not how we engage in civil dialogue. This is not how we do business and politics in this country. We are and have been better than this. We need to be better than this.

198 comments, 64 shares, and 343 reactions within 24 hours. And numerous emails, and death threats, and text messages.

I regularly have called out Representative Ilhan Omar for her previous antisemitic rhetoric, as well as her seemingly anti-Israel positions and sentiments. I speak loudly and proudly from the pulpit not only in support of Israel, but in support of a strong US-Israel relationship and Pro-Israel politics. And I am even more dismayed that along with Representatives Tlaib and Lewis, Representative Omar just introduced a Pro-BDS resolution.

This will continue to add fuel to the vitriolic fire, playing into President Trump’s campaign strategy of using the Jewish people and Israel as a political football. We can praise the support as we find it—and yet this is meant to divide us. And further, it is overwhelmingly being used, on both sides, as a lightning rod to foment deeper hate. It is the weaponization of love for the Jewish people. Who loves us more? Who hates us more? We cannot fall victim to the political tricks that rely on racism, and the meme of antisemitism, to bolster both sides, while still doing immense communal harm.

When you review the poison in this scree on Facebook, it is clear to me that the hate is so much stronger than I ever thought previously. And frankly, when I’ve written condemning Representative Omar, the hate is still there, but from the left instead of the right.

Alas, I continue to believe in dialogue. And I continue to believe in civil discourse. That is the implicit nature of the ancient rabbinic teaching, that there are 70 faces to the Torah. We are charged with understanding each face, each opinion, each idea—and respecting and engaging with each one.

Our challenge: if everyone is right, then no one is wrong. But why does there have to be right and wrong? Why can’t we just say that the way we talk to each other is depraved and abusive? Why can’t we say that hate is being fomented on the left AND the right—and that we need a full system reboot? Because it would seem to me that the Jewish community is now more divided than ever. The left has done this to us. The right has done this to us. Our previous president did this to us. Our current president is doing this to us.

Can’t we call out that rhetoric irrespective of the side of the aisle?

To be clear, I am not siding with Representative Omar’s full scope of politics, especially around Israel, but I am advocating for a reboot as to how we dialogue any issue—whether it be Israel, women’s rights, the plight of immigrants, really anything. We need a better way to dialogue. We need to stop committing the logical fallacy of vicious ad hominem attacks, especially when they are bigoted and hateful.

We need to be better. And I believe we can be, each and every one of us.

About the Author
Rabbi Avi Olitzky is a senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. He graduated from the Joint Program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2003 where he was awarded a BA in Sociology and a BA in Talmud and Rabbinics. Rabbi Olitzky went on to receive an MA in Midrash in October 2007 and his ordination as a rabbi from JTS in May 2008.
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