Opinion | Joining Together – and Reaching Out

people of different ethnicities holding hands
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By Mikhal Weiner

These last weeks of continuous attacks on Jewish communities left me feeling somber, overwrought, scared. But not surprised. In many ways, this seems like the inevitable continuation of a wave we have been riding for the past years. Nationalist and anti-Jewish rhetoric, whether blatant or implicit, has been burbling up all over the world (in Hungary, Brazil, Britain, to name a few). We’ve seen racists becoming bolder and more outspoken, saying things about minorities that, only five years ago, would be unthinkable.

In this moment, it’s almost instinctual to hold fast to our immediate communities; when I read about the stabbing in Monsey, New York, I felt an urge to go light Chanukah candles with other Jewish families near me. I know others felt the same way — my social media was replete with pictures of friends coming together to create light in this time of darkness. Indeed, connecting with other Jews in defiance of this violence and hatred is a great source of strength. But, though it may seem counterintuitive, I believe we should also draw energy by reaching outward and aligning ourselves with others who face discrimination, hatred and violence. There is strength in solidarity.

The worldwide swell in xenophobia seems, at times, too much to handle. How can any one person face down such vitriol? It’s enough to make a person want to close the blinds and hide away. But, as it says in Pirkei Avot 2:16, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” And we have some work we can do right on our home turf.

As an Israeli living in the United States, I can see the work that needs to be done in both of my homelands so clearly that it hurts. The work is hard, to be sure, and it won’t be pleasant. It will mean parsing things that are uncomfortable. It will mean self-criticism. It will be painful. But I honestly believe that it will make us stronger, truer in the long run. We cannot condemn one form of discrimination while being fine with another.

One area in which we must do better is by calling out objectionable speech in Israeli politics, especially in the rhetoric that has become exceedingly explicit in the recent election cycles. It is one thing to legitimately make one’s case on the stump and try to win over voters. It’s quite another to send out an automated message, as the Likud party did in September, saying that voters should come to the polls because Arabs want to “annihilate us all, women, children and men.” Later, the party recanted and said they’d made a mistake and perhaps they did. But the fact that this could happen, that this kind of discourse is accepted among staffers with enough superiority to handle a media blast of this size should be, at the very least, concerning.

These statements are strikingly similar to other assertions put forth in the United States, for instance, about immigrants. In Europe about refugees. Only the “they” changes. Everything else draws from the same well of fear.

Such developments in Israeli politics doesn’t surprise me either. I grew up in a heavily segregated country. Things I took for granted seem absurd now, after my years abroad. Separate school systems, for one. I never spoke to an Israeli Arab until I was in my twenties. Separate neighborhoods, separate municipalities, separate lives. No one, on either side of the divide, wanted us to meet.

When we don’t see one another, crimes committed against the other are so much easier to accept. And we know this! We know that these kinds of policies can only snowball into further dehumanization and discrimination. We know that the next step, already taken by extremists and trickling its way into mainstream society, is violence.

We should be more outraged.

I know that it’s not so simple. I know there are extenuating circumstances. That atrocities have been committed on both sides. I’m not here to count grievances. In my decades of living in Israel, serving in the IDF, being immersed in the tangled web of Israeli reality, I know too well that there are far too many grievances to count. I’m here to say that regardless of what others do we need to call out wrongs when we see them. Period.

And, yes, in the United States we must raise a cry when those in power incite violence against Muslims. We must raise a cry when those in power incite violence against immigrants, regardless of how we feel about immigration policy. Even if we believe that immigration should be slowed or stopped, there is no justification for the kinds of statements being made, the ways in which immigrants and asylum-seekers are being treated.  We must raise a cry when people incite violence against anyone.

It may not seem like the time to be writing about this. However, I believe that now is the exact right time. Now is the time to form alliances and make the values for which we stand clear. All hatred, racism and violence are connected. The terrifying acts being perpetrated against the Jewish community are wrong and need to be condemned loudly. In the same breath, I will stand as a member of that community and condemn all other xenophobic violence. Because when they come for others, I want to know that I said something. Sooner or later they’ll be coming for me, too.

Mikhal Weiner is a writer and musician from Israel who currently lives in New York. Her work has appeared in GO Magazine, Lilith and Entropy Magazine.


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