In a well-known dialogue from this past election cycle, renowned Nigerian author and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie became emotional about racism that had entered political discourse and potentially a presidential campaign. Though Adichie’s responses were thrown into question because of their emotional aspect, she later pointed out that emotion is not equivalent to a disengagement with intellect. “[This idea] has been used to dismiss many necessary conversations, especially about gender or race. [The charge of] ’Emotional’ is a way of discounting what you have said without engagement.”
She could not have put it more eloquently.
The question of emotion’s role is brought up in many controversial topics, including rhetoric between people self-described as, respectively, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. When arguing about reasons for the lack of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, many are accused of being too emotionally involved to actually partake in the conversation. Recently, in an unfortunate argument that spilled out over Facebook, I was accused of being too emotionally entangled to present a reasonable argument. Despite my open willingness to discuss facts pertinent to the conflict, as soon as I relayed a dose of personal experience, I was dismissed as overly emotional. This patronizing attempt to delegitimize my argument because of emotions incited intense deliberation. Do I have to start putting aside my personal narrative whenever I discuss affairs, both domestic and international? Should I recede into the darkness and relinquish years of a hard-fought, emotional battle.
The answer wades in complexity, and is more elusive than I would have previously guessed. However, intense reflection on the matter does not change the fact that emotions, if nothing else, drive one’s reason for arguing, and thus inevitably play a role in the argument itself.
For my almost 18 years of life, I have been learning about the massive atrocity of the Holocaust, a devastation beyond measurable proportions for my community.
For my almost 18 years of life, I have been trying to grasp an understanding of the toll that unwavering hatred can have on generations of Jewish families.
For my almost 18 years of life, I have learned to love a country that has shared its ingenuity and compassion with the world.
For my almost 18 years of life, given my struggles with notions of gender and sexuality in the context of Judaism, I have seen Israel as a beacon of light for Judaism in the progressive way it champions LGBT and women’s rights.
It is impossible to disentangle my emotions when I verbalize the legitimacy of Israel, and frankly there is no reason to. As long as facts remain ascendent, emotion has the unique ability to illustrate an argument’s importance on the most human level. It can color the nuances rather than render the issue as black and white, allowing us to empathize with all involved.
There are surely those on the other side of the aisle who feel the weight of their own families’ endeavors. They hear the vivid stories of relatives close to them that may have confronted land reappraisal. They are also fueled by an emotionally charged narrative. These emotions are what define our passion. I am not afraid of it, and neither should anyone.
It is unfortunate that movements such as BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) utilize emotionally tangible language to ignite uproar despite the actuality of such claims. Connotative words such as “genocide” and “apartheid” infer imagery of brutality, discrimination, and ethnic cleansing. Within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using these words is dishonest and irresponsible, considering how they are generally untrue. Incidentally, given the misrepresentations fueled by the BDS movement, it is a tall task indeed not to become emotional when explaining why the reality on the ground is so different.
Perhaps there is a fine line between relevant emotion that contributes and impatient emotion that dilutes, but there is a line nonetheless. While the BDS movement has used emotion to demonize and delegitimize one side of this conflict, I am proud that my emotional attachment to this issue has only increased my commitment to stand for the betterment of all involved, Israeli and Palestinian alike.
So yes, I am emotional. You caught me! Call me dramatic if you will, but just as Ms. Adichie implored her adversary to engage her in conversation, I implore everyone to engage in conversation and to not discount what people have to say because of backgrounds that lead them to care in the first place. Only then can we bring people together in discourse and shape our future for the better.