Jonathan Muskat

Nikki Haley’s Leadership

I was very pleased with something that Nikki Haley did at the Republican debate this past week. She didn’t just say that she wants to be a president for all Americans. She didn’t just say that she wants Republicans and Democrats to come together and realize that there is more that unites us than divides us. She had the courage to demonstrate how to do that.

When the candidates were debating about abortion and whether there should be a federal ban on abortion and if so, what it would look like, Nikki Haley stated her position but also humanized and did not demonize the other side. She called herself “unapologetically pro-life,” but she argued that Republicans need to be honest with the American people about the likelihood of a federal ban on abortion. Republicans require sixty Senate votes and a majority vote of the House of Representatives to pass a federal ban on abortion, so it’s unlikely to happen.

Then she said, “Can’t we all agree that we should ban late-term abortions? Can’t we all agree that we should encourage adoptions? Can’t we all agree that doctors and nurses who don’t believe in abortion shouldn’t have to perform them? Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available? And can’t we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion?”

What Nikki Haley did was that she actually spelled out how to take the first baby steps towards consensus in the explosive and sensitive topic of abortion. Explicitly reject the extremist positions on either side and promote the specific values that should unite us all. Most Americans are opposed to late-term abortions or putting a woman in jail for getting an abortion. At the same time, most Americans are afraid that the extreme position of the other side in this country will prevail.

Let me be clear. I am not using this post to endorse Nikki Haley nor to take a position on abortion. I am using this post to argue that this is the type of leadership that we need in both America and Israel. I see far too many posts of Republicans and Democrats pointing to extremist statements made by the other party in order to invoke fear and to demonize the other side. I sometimes read an empty slogan of why can’t we just all get along, followed by an attack on the other side for not doing its part in furtherance of unity.

In Israel, from what I read in the media and social media, the attacks on the other simply continue. Almost all of what I read engenders fear. Fear of the Supreme Court’s power. Fear of the right-wing government. Fear of secular Jews creating an uncomfortable environment for religious Jews. Fear of religious Jews creating an uncomfortable environment for secular Jews. All I read about is fear. So, of course, we can’t compromise on religious issues or judicial overhaul issues because of the slippery slope of what it might lead to, in any direction!

I always found one of Hillel’s dictums in Pirkei Avot very instructive: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and drawing them close to the Torah” (Avot 1:12). How do we draw people closer to Torah or to our values and ideals? First, love peace and pursue peace. First, humanize the other side even as you remain firm in your principles. Show the other side that you truly care and honestly seek to find common ground. Explicitly reject extremist positions not just on the other side, but on your side, as well. Now is not the time for ideological purity and stoking fear to achieve our political, social or religious goals.

When Mike Pence took issue with Nikki Haley’s approach to abortion, he turned to her and said, “Consensus is the opposite of leadership.” I understand why someone may say that. I understand that someone who is indecisive and does not want to take responsibility for tough decisions or important matters may seek consensus. This individual does not provide clear direction and vision and thus consensus-seeking could reflect weak leadership. However, in our society, both in America and in Israel, the divisiveness and hatred between the political parties and different segments of the society call for a different type of leadership, the type of leadership that Nikki Haley provided in her answer to the abortion question during the Republican debate.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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