If there’s one thing the latest election has done to our society, it’s defunct the taboo of discussing politics with friends, at the dinner table, and even in the office. This is all well and good when you agree with the person sitting in the next cubicle. But what happens when you find yourself in a situation where you disagree? When political expression ventures from the breakroom into the boardroom?
I work in the music industry, a mostly liberal haven for social justice, where we believe in equal rights and opportunity, sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll. We are the counterculture, the feminists, environmentalists, animal rights activists, and so on. I am proud of the fact that music is used as a catalyst for social change and one of the main reasons I wanted to work in the industry. Fortunately, I work with many like-minded individuals who share in similar ethos as I do. Within this last election season I haven’t paid much mind or concern to overheard political discussions in the hallways or comments made during some of our meetings because I’ve mainly agreed with what has been said. However I recently felt the ping of discomfort when I faced a small group of colleagues strategizing changes to a project based on their overall political views that I happened to disagree with. The topic involved Israel.
We were discussing an upcoming tour an artist booked starting in Europe and concluding with shows in Israel. When tasked to find ways of adding additional tour dates, the idea of moving the Israel dates to a later time was brought up. Which led to the question of why the artist was playing Israel in the first place? One person answered the reason was for the money, using the universal hand gesture for money and an eye roll. Then the conversation turned to the idea that the artist maybe shouldn’t tour Israel at the moment due to what’s currently “going on there” and because of its Prime Minister’s recent communication with our new President. I thought, “When did playing shows for money become a bad thing?” and “Who do these people think they are, Middle East political experts?” The insane part about this discussion was that three of the five people in the room were Jews, including myself. And yet I found myself stunned silent while the four other people in the room likened touring Israel to adding dates in Russia and North Korea. I sat there looking at my colleagues, my mentors, asking myself, “Did they just boycott Israel?”
It felt especially poignant to bear witness to this anti-Israel rhetoric, as the families of four Israeli soldiers mourned their children who’d been murdered by a terrorist plowing into a group of young IDF trainees earlier that week. While the US has temporarily banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries including refugees from Syria, Israel continues to take in wounded civilians from Aleppo in need of medical aid, food, and water despite the constant threat of attack by their neighbors and its tumultuous history with the country. Regardless of the size, population, and resources of Israel, it is always one of the first responders for humanitarian aid around the world when natural disasters hit. Israel is one of the only Democratic countries in its region, and yet it is one of the most criticized and condemned countries by the United Nations. I realize that Israel is not perfect and I do not always agree with their policies, however I feel that the Jewish people and the State of Israel strive for peace and bear the responsibility to do the right thing and be a light unto the world. As the late Shimon Peres once said, “The Jews’ greatest contribution to history is dissatisfaction! We’re a nation born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better.”
We are currently living in a society trained to read, watch, speak, and regurgitate soundbites more often than not lacking accuracy or reliable sources. As President Obama said in his Farewell Address, “Increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information whether it’s true or not that fits our opinions instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.” Because we so often remain within the confines of our bubbles we forget that not everyone we encounter will have the same viewpoint. We tend to talk at people or become defensive without sensitivity, etiquette, or reason. Simultaneously, we are less open to hearing another point of view and tend to give ultimatums stating “If you disagree, unfriend me now” or as one friend experienced “If you voted for this particular person, you should leave this conference room.”
When you are faced with opposing political views in a professional environment, do you engage in the conversation at the risk of ridicule and retaliation or do you stay silent only to regret it later? Either option would only create an environment of resentment or mistrust and the reality is that we can’t unfriend, unfollow, or block the people we work with. We see them day in and day out for more time than we see most people in our lives. There is no question that I stand with Israel. After leaving this meeting, I realized that I should have spoken up. Not necessarily to counter their apparent feelings toward the Jewish State but to propose that we should be focused only on doing what is best for the artist’s campaign and to leave political bias out of the discussion. I believe that we all have the right to our own opinions and to freedom of speech. Nevertheless, shouldn’t we distinguish when it’s appropriate to voice those opinions and when politics should be left off the table?