One of my favorite Hasidic quotes states, “the whole world is a narrow bridge and the most important thing is to not be afraid.” I’ve long viewed this quote as encouraging us to remain optimistic and steadfast even when faced with challenges. This morning, however, I’m seeing this quote in a slightly different light. Perhaps what it is really trying to say is that when we encounter the reality of just how narrow a bridge the world is, we need to avoid being fearful lest we react emotionally rather than respond in productive ways.
Our world has become one of reaction rather than response. We see knee-jerk reactions from politicians, from religious leaders, and from so many who use social media. The problem is that a reaction out of fear, anger or other strong emotions doesn’t necessarily lend itself to reliance upon facts, nor does it set us up for positive solutions to whatever challenge we are needing to address.
So much of the reaction to the anti-BDS bill (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) has been emotional, but much of the emotion is focused on aspects of the bill that don’t actually appear in the bill. For example, there are many who are up in arms that there would be a bill that restricts free speech. This bill isn’t about free speech. It about commerce. It acknowledges states’ rights to pass their own laws withholding funds from companies supporting BDS. In fact, Sec. 405 specifically states, “nothing in this title shall be construed to infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
If we are responding rather than reacting, we know that facts matter. So while people can certainly oppose the bill, they should do so based on what it ACTUALLY says.
The same can be said about the reactions to Representative Omar’s repeated comments regarding Israel. In this case, however, the issues raised by her comments are personal and, for many is us, quite emotional. Despite this, we still need to respond rather than react.
Is criticism of Israeli policy in and of itself anti-Semitic? Of course not. As a progessive Zionist I am exceptionally critical of the Netanyahu government and its policies. My support for Israel and the US-Israel relationship does not preclude my support for a two-state solution, nor does it mean I do not have concerns about the rights and security of the Palestinian people. I do, however, take exception to attacks that say that AIPAC “pays off” politicians to support Israel. And I also take exception to charges that Jewish politicians (and community members) who support Israel have dual loyalties. And I also take issue with those who want to define what is and is not anti-Semitic or racist or sexist “on behalf” of those who are the recipients of such ugliness.
Congressman Ted Deutch addressed this in a powerful way on the House floor yesterday. His short speech is worth watching.
As Congressman Deutch said, “This shouldn’t be so hard.”