Standing Rock, North Dakota, is a long way from New Jersey, and for a lot of people here, the plight of a group of Native Americans trying to protect their cherished land may well be a cause too far.
We have oil pipelines closer to home to worry about, leading to and from Linden. We also have near-drought conditions in the state, rebounding gas prices, and a sluggish economy that has lagged behind much of the country.
So why concern ourselves with the Dakota Access Pipeline and a group of people choosing to subject themselves to bitter cold on an arid-looking stretch of land most of us are unlikely to ever visit?
We should care because, however you feel about the fossil fuel industry, we as members of the Jewish community should recognize the plight of Native Americans and their desire to maintain their culture, as we want the same for ourselves. In a sense, Jews and Native Americans are kindred spirits.
Like Jews, Native Americans base their identities on ancient teachings and a commitment to shared values. Despite the long history of dispossession and persecution, poverty and social ills, both peoples have demonstrated continued bravery and perseverance as passionate defenders of their respective faiths.
The example of the Native Americans at Standing Rock is inspiring. With extraordinary discipline, they have adhered to tribal teachings, avoiding violence wherever possible. They have coordinated construction of shelter; provided food, sanitation, and communication in an attempt to resolve the issue peacefully; and faced down rubber bullets and icy water hoses.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has called for a Department of Justice investigation into the tactics used against the protesters and for federal monitors to “ensure that protesters can peacefully assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights.” Though it seemed that their battle was lost, earlier this month the Obama administration gave them a stay of execution, so to speak, citing findings from the Army Corps of Engineers as cause to block — at least temporarily — construction of the stretch of pipeline that was to go under the Missouri River and across sacred burial grounds.
But the company is vowing to push through with its plans, and tribal leaders and those standing with them have warned that the official action might have been no more than a ploy to get them to stand down and turn off the international spotlight. Moreover, President-elect Donald Trump has a financial stake in the pipeline company, so there is good cause to expect that his administration will be less supportive of the Standing Rock protesters than the present one.
For Jews and supporters of Israel, we are all too familiar with outside forces that attempt to delegitimize our traditions and claim our land as their own. And as a people, we know what it’s like to be disregarded because of our small numbers and demonized for our unique religious practices.
Geographically speaking, we’re not close, and at face value our people don’t seem alike. But though the details are different, the principles behind our cause are similar. When we stand with others in their time of need, we have reason to hope they would do the same for us.