The peaceful and the just

Walkouts and noncooperation with anti-Israel speakers will only deepen the chasm between the sides
Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat in DC

Yesterday, Chloé Valdary published a troubling article in Tablet Magazine entitled “Peace, the Grand Delusion of the Jews.” In her article, she purported that by continuing to advocate for peace, Jewish organizations and Pro-Israel advocates “will be forced to tolerate the oppression and disenfranchisement of our own community.” She further posits that justice, not peace, is “the most pertinent cause in the world.”

Ms. Valdary’s arguments stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of peace, justice, and what each requires. Far from relegating justice to a secondary aim, true peace requires justice. It is preposterous to claim, as she does, that the lynching of Jews or reinstitution of the ghetto system could be construed as an act of peace if they resulted in a silencing of the community. In fact, this would seem to be the antithesis of peace from even the dictionary definition of “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.” If we were to accept Ms. Valdary’s definitions, acts such as beating a helpless child or jailing journalists, if they kept the noise down, could be considered acts of peace. The “peace” Ms. Valdary describes could be better defined as silence, while the “justice” she describes could be better defined as noise.

Ms. Valdary’s conception of justice is not true justice. While her criticism of the Pro-Israel community as an often tepid bunch is certainly valid, her allusions to achieving justice through exacting revenge and by throwing peace out the window are deeply disconcerting.

If we consider the premise that peace is the most important principle one must uphold—and extrapolate that claim to its logical conclusion—we will be forced to tolerate the oppression and disenfranchisement of our own community.”… “A free people must have an ultimatum—the terms of which, if rejected, must yield real consequences for those who repress. In other words, a price must be paid for dishonoring the Hebrew nation.” [emph added].

It is deeply troubling that anti-Semitism is on the rise, and it is true that the community writ large has a duty to take action against this brutal plague. However, the rise of anti-Semitism does not make achieving peace with the neighbors of the Jewish state any less urgent: if the Jewish state is to live up to its purpose as a homeland and refuge for the Jewish people, the rise of global anti-Semitism would indeed make achieving peace with our neighbors all the more vital.

While Ms. Valdary laments that working towards peace will lead to the eventual revocation of Jewish self-determination in exchange for calm, it is only by working towards peace, by working towards justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, that we can ensure a strong, stable, and democratic Jewish state of Israel.

Ms. Valdary certainly gets one thing right: peace has an image problem. In the eyes of Ms. Valdary, peace is tepid and inactive. It is the responsibility of all those who work towards peace to bring the tension and productive discomfort Ms. Valdary seems to crave back into the conversation. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not simply a “struggle between good and evil,” as she would have you believe, but a struggle of two peoples seeking self-determination. Without fighting for peace and understanding, neither the Israelis or Palestinians will ever truly achieve this.

Ms. Valdary suggests walkouts and noncooperation with anti-Israel speakers as a pathway to achieving justice for the Jewish people. These tactics, rather than fostering understanding, seek to silence the other side. Walkouts and the like only serve to deepen the chasm of misunderstanding between both sides and destroy the possibility of coming to mutually acceptable resolutions.

Rather than walkouts and noncooperation, achieving justice and peace for both sides requires coming together, even when it is deeply uncomfortable and even if the other side holds beliefs which you hold morally unconscionable. Much as one cannot choose your family, Israel cannot choose her neighbors: if we seek progress, we must learn to make partners of those we view as foes.

The global crisis of rising anti-Semitism must not be conflated with the crisis in Israel: one is a struggle against pure Jew hatred, and the other is a struggle for self-determination between two peoples.

As Ms. Valdary suggests, in 2015, the Jewish community is indeed at a crossroads, and this crossroads has nothing to do with addressing anti-Semitism. Our existential choice in 2015 is between the path towards peace or the road towards isolation. The first requires difficult conversations and unpleasant interactions, making sacrifices and fighting for mutual understanding. The latter requires silencing an entire people in short-term self-interest and adopting an utterly insular, survivalist mentality. The first option is the only path which will end the rockets, end the violence against both of our peoples, and lead to justice for both sides. Which path will we choose?

About the Author
Laura E. Adkins is JTA’s Opinion Editor. She was previously Deputy Opinion Editor at the Forward, where she wrote about data, Orthodoxy, kosher wine, and built interactive maps. Laura has also served as the editor of Jewish Insider and an assistant blogs editor at The Times of Israel. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, SELF, the New York Observer and elsewhere.
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