More and more is being written about the deep divisions affecting the many political narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the deep divisions within the Jewish community. There is a lot of angry and counterproductive intransigence coming from both the extreme right and the extreme left. Rather than seeking common ground both sides are engaged in a brutal arm-wrestling match that is resulting more in arm-twisting and self-inflicted casualties, than victories for our common cause.
There are some very simple facts that are driving these occurrences:
- Antisemitism is on the rise world wide at a time when it was hoped the world would be free of antisemitism;
- The world is becoming increasingly critical and unaccepting of Israel;
- As the number of Jews in the world diminish, Jews, themselves, are becoming increasingly divided in terms of individual and collective relations with both Judaism and Israel and;
- The world is becoming less sympathetic to the plight of Israel and the Jews as we move further and further away from the Shoah.
The pendulum is swinging away from support for Jews and Israel at a time when very real existential threats to Judaism and the State of Israel have never been greater. One could even argue that the Jews and Israel are the “canaries in the mine shaft” for even larger and more widespread ethnic hatred and that the Jews are just the first targets.
Not to strategically address this emerging and ongoing crisis is to be blind to both the present and to history. Those from the extreme left seem to think the only way to bring peace is to make demands from one side with being only hopeful and non-specific about the other side and those from the extreme right seem to think that by screaming and shouting anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism and by towing a particular narrative backed by a threat of force will be the only way to some level of security. Both extremes ignore simple facts that people have different narratives and understandings, needs and desires, hopes and aspirations, but for the most part people do want to live in peace in a “live and let live” world. Problems can be solved. In fact, it is well documented and often reported that when left alone the Israelis and the Palestinians have often come closer to a peace deals than when there is interference and pressure from others.
The challenge before Jewish leaders is to navigate the majority of Jews, world wide and in Israel, who fall within two standard deviations above and below the mean in terms of religious identity, affiliation, political affiliations, relations to Israel and the Diaspora and ignore the noise and extremism of those beyond the second standard deviation, which have emerged as the tails wagging the dog.
When one examines the bell-shaped curve, one realizes that “normal” is defined as the 87% of people who fall within two statistical standard deviations about the mean, while the remaining 13% represent that abnormal fringe. For the most part, people (both Jewish and non-Jewish, Arab and Israeli…all people for that matter) want to live in peace and security with prosperity and comfort without war and conflict.
The fact of the matter is that the extremist’s squeaky wheels are getting all of the attention and generating many of the resources to condemn and denounce, name-call and incite, inflame and confound, and draw lines in the sand for the rest of us to have to live with in terms of being terrorized from both friendly fire and enemy aspirations.
We cannot act with unity until we dismiss the noise makers and bring in the listeners, the problems solvers, the negotiators, and yes, even the fighters who are committed to ending the conflicts, and not prolonging them for their own personal aggrandizement.
The fact of the matter is many of the extremist organizations are designed to exist to turn everything into a winner take all and win-lose situation, when in fact peace can only be negotiated after complete conquest or after everyone wins something, but also gives up something. Most of the 87% in the middle know and accept and understand this, while those in the third standard deviation suggest that any compromise is appeasement and therefore a loss. If the 87% stood up to the 13% and neutralized them, not only could there be peace, peace would be secured.
There is no question in my mind that the enemies of peace and justice lie not within the 87%, but primarily in the lunatic and fanatical fringes of the 13% and that they can be contained and minimized if people and leaders had a mind to do that. Instead, there is this new and powerful need to affiliate throw down, and pick up the gauntlet to declare where in the 13% one declares to draw us out of the 87% and so the strength of those in the middle is eroded from both within and without.
We live in a world with incredibly competing values for both good and evil and feel forced to declare which camps we belong or be considered collateral damage and discounted as a force. We allow this to happen without realizing that those of us in the middle are the force that can stop the extremists, but we must come together to do that…to find common ground on how to neutralize those who would pull us apart, divide and conquer us and stop the bell-shaped curve from ringing.