A week ago, I went to a protest. It was in Washington Square Park, and it was to support Muslim refugees, to fight the ban on their entry, and to stand up for immigrant rights.
I was proud to be there, proud to have a kippah and a beard as I stood among a crowd of people who looked different than me, thought differently, lived completely different lives than me. We were united for a common good, and to finally not feel so alone in my convictions felt beautiful.
But it was in the middle of that beautiful revery, that feeling of unity, that a disruption happened. In the event, and then in me.
A person yelled, on their top of their lungs, so loud we couldn’t hear the person speaking through a microphone to the crowd, “And justice for Palestine!”
About 10% of the crowd cheered, some seemingly as an afterthought, some vociferously.
It was a confusing moment.
In my recent “political” activism, I’ve felt there are two issues that matter enough to me that they transcend politics. One is Donald Trump, a man who I consider so dangerous to the innocent people of the world and the health of a free society that any political identity means nothing in the face of his threat. The other is Israel, the land my parents immigrated from. A land that is threatened by what I consider to be leaders who share the evil of Donald Trump: using the rhetoric of the “enemy” (Israel) to justify their unforgivable treatment of their own people, to turn hate outward towards their neighbors instead of inwards towards a better society, using populism and authoritarianism to rise higher at the expense of all others.
In my mind, there is no separation between fighting against Donald Trump and fighting for Israel against a Palestinian leadership that is so devoted to war that they’ve avoided any chance at peace for multiple generations: the evil of the world must be fought no matter what side we’re part of. Innocent people must be protected, no matter what tribe we belong to. And those who use violence and conman manipulation to fuel their popularity must be resisted at every chance.
And so as I stood there at that rally, and part of the crowd associated the struggle in the United States with the struggle for Palestinian rights, I worried. I worried, even though I knew full well that this may happen, that I was now associated with a movement I disagreed with. Was I guilty by association by fighting for one cause that happened to be associated (by some) with another? Is there no way I can stand up for Muslims without also aligning myself with the call of “justice for Palestine,” a phrase I find problematic at best in a country so different from the United States that it’s almost impossible for me to see how the two fights are similar (although many seem to)?
This, in a nutshell, is the struggle of the modern age fights for justice. To have one opinion seems to somehow be associated with others, no matter what we do. Even if I want to go to a rally to fight against Trump and for Muslim refugees while also going to a march for Israel, the two camps have found themselves in a position where they are enemies. Where it is impossible for most people to imagine being part of both. If I told some of my pro-Israel friends about that yell in the rally, they would be shocked, they would be hurt, that I would be part of that sort of thing. If some of the people in the rally knew about my stance on Israel, how would they feel? Would it be similar? I imagine so.
Now, I have other friends: the ones who aren’t quite as partisan, who have similar views as my own. They see Trump as incredibly dangerous. And they support a more “right wing” view of Israel. And for them, it is simply too much of a cost to be associated with a fight that may be confused with “Justice for Palestine” and so they stay quiet. They prioritize one stand for another.
It seems that whether it is within us or a choice we see as imposed from outside of us, taking a moral stand today must mean prioritizing an identity over a stand. And in the moment, it honestly makes sense. My instinct when I was at the rally was to leave. Not because I didn’t believe in it but because I wasn’t fighting for this other fight this yelling person had demanded I take on.
But I decided not to. Because this moment, it was a metaphor for everything I’ve seen since taking on this fight against Trump. We join one crowd to fight for one cause, but the crowd has more priorities than that one thing. It is how “pro-Israel” folks have turned themselves into the pawns of the right-wing: they feel (perhaps justifiably) as if Republicans are their only friends, and so they, consciously or unconsciously, start becoming Republicans. As if a stance on the Second Amendment or small government have anything at all to do with Israel.
After all, on a purely human level, it is uncomfortable to be among a crowd whose core values you disagree with.
So, no, I stayed. I stayed because standing up for one cause does not demand I take up all causes. It does not mean I have to align myself with an identity. I do not need to become “liberal” to fight for the innocent people of the world. I do not need to transform my entire morality in order to fit in with those who have different views. They may judge me in another context, but that does not matter. What matters is that I take a stand for what’s right, no matter the judgment on either side. This is what we’re called to do, what makes us more than human, more than tribal chimpanzees fighting for territory.