Advocates for Israel have every right to feel frustrated by a rising tide of anti-Israel rhetoric. Defying logic and belief, Twitter users have begun to use #JSIL (that is, the “Jewish State in the Levant”) to equate Israel with the vicious murderers sometimes known as the Islamic State. A Jewish frat house at Emory University was defaced with swastikas. An “Open Letter” in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet maligned Israel for the “massacre” of Palestinians in Gaza.
In the face of this onslaught, some groups have turned to vilifying Islam, as if Mideast politics and tolerance are a zero-sum game. In New York, a notoriously inflammatory group is taking out transit ads that paint Islam in strident terms. (The group showed some restraint only after the family of James Foley — the American journalist beheaded by the Islamic State in Syria — begged the organization not to run an ad featuring the victim’s face alongside an anti-Islam message.) We thrill when an “expert” like Bill Maher ridicules Islam, and our institutions invite activists who detail, largely for Jewish audiences, the various sins done in the name of Islam.
Such tactics feel satisfying, although it is not clear how they help Israel. They certainly dash hope for dialogue between Jews and Muslims who believe in the possibility of coexistence.
On Monday night, Bnai Keshet in Montclair hosted a talk by one such person: Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian. He and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger of Gush Etzion are founders of an organization trying to bring Palestinians and Israelis together. “One of the things that has kept this conflict going is that we are not able to understand the truth of the other side,” Abu Awwad told NJJN. The process is stalled because “we feel if we accept their truth, our truth is going to disappear. That is fear of knowledge, fear of understanding.”
That doesn’t mean we should avoid the harsher truths about Israel’s enemies. But if we believe that partners like Abu Awwad are necessary to achieve peace, then we should not purvey the kind of intolerance we have fought for so many years.