At a moment when I would otherwise be reviewing Yom Kippur teachings and preparing spiritually for the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar, I instead feel called as an American Jew to respond to the abominable, Islamophobic advertisements in the New York City subways.
Islamophobia is an ideological threat to the State of Israel. It dims the ultimate hope for Israel's future: peace.
Anyone who claims to be "pro-Israel" must by definition yearn for peace between Israel and its neighbors. Those who do not cannot possibly want what's best for Israel. It is simply an irreconcilable contradiction. How could someone who claims to want what's best for Israel want for it anything but peace? I would like to see the rationale of anyone who suggests that peace is somehow suboptimal for any state, much less one that we care for deeply.
Where conversations often become more complicated, however, is when discussing what a just peace means and how best to achieve it. Given the state of conflict between Israel and some of its neighbors, working toward peace has become mired and enmeshed in competing visions for each group involved. The peace process (alternating, tragically, with ongoing bouts of violence) has become more than simply a matter of international relations; it now relates to the internal identities of Israel and its many neighbors.
While many ambiguities about the peace process remain, one element is certain: false dichotomies hurt the prospects for peace in such a complicated region. The idea of condemning a single group for all of the pain and suffering caused by a multi-lateral conflict is morally bankrupt and politically foolhardy. Doing so creates fissures where there could be bridges and pits people against each other in arguments of little value. It undermines moderates and bolsters extremists. It looks for simple answers to complex problems that require greater nuance.
Islamophobia is an ideology that can create such false dichotomies.
Beyond the evident harm that Islamophobia could bring to the prospects for peace, it now holds the potential to bring the pain of the Middle East conflict more extensively overseas, allowing the hurt to ricochet around the world.
The Islamophobic advertisements that groups recently placed in the New York City subways create false binaries of the sort that reduces the likelihood of peace -- and then brings them home to Americans. They read as follows: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."
From heinous implications and hateful language to insinuations about Islam and a claim that the Middle East conflict can be understood to be about the "civilized" and the "savage" rather than moderate Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze against extremists of multiple faiths, I see no reason that these advertisements should be seen as pro-Israel.
If there is an effective way to sideline people who love Israel and love their fellow Americans of all faiths, it is through these advertisements. If there is an effective way to create animosity where there was goodwill, it is through these advertisements. If there is a way to amplify the pain of the Middle East conflict overseas, while reducing the chances of its resolution, it is through these advertisements -- and the debased sentiments that they espouse.
My hope and prayer, however, is that they also give moderate Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of all traditions the chance to sideline Islamophobes. As a Jew, a supporter of Israel and an ally of American Muslims, I can only hope that our success in marginalizing extreme ideologies in the United States -- such as Islamophobia -- can ultimately give Israel and all of its neighbors the hope for peace that they have long deserved.
As with all of my pieces, this article represents only my own views and does not reflect the positions held by Hebrew College, the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, or any other organization of which I am a part.
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