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Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater Headshot

Stop Protesting and Start Talking

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In response to the tragic events off the coast of Gaza this past weekend, I would like to suggest that the usual responses, which we are seeing in the form of mass protests, are actually not very helpful and in fact, will probably be more detrimental than anything else. We don't need any more rallies, any more protests, any more one-sided, emotional, biased and vitriolic expressions of pain and raw feelings. Why am I saying this? Am I against the first amendment of free speech and rightful demonstration? Absolutely not. However, I know that as long we continue to be so divided, with Arabs/Muslims, along with hyperbolic extreme left-wing Jews on one side, at their demonstrations against Israel, and the pro-Israel, mainstream Jewish community on the other side, at their demonstrations completely supporting Israel without question, we will never get anywhere. I believe that these protests are actually harmful to the cause of peace, and the goal of a two-state solution, which is and must remain the central focus of our efforts.

When we gather at our protests, wave signs filled with blame, hatred, anger and other ugly rhetoric, from both sides, we get no closer to our goal. And, the challenge we face is how to not fall completely off the radar of hope because of this tragedy. Whenever there is an incident, large or small, and this certainly was large, we run the risk of losing all progress that may have been achieved, with everyone leaving the table, blaming one another, operating from a place of defensiveness and huddling in our respective corners, unwilling to see anything other than what we want to see in the given situation. As Donniel Hartman, of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel, wisely said in the early hours after this incident, "It is as if each side's spokesperson had their press releases and opinions prepared in advance, and each was simply waiting for the curtain to rise and the takeover to occur for their predetermined assessment of the facts to be promulgated." We must fight against this view and understand that both sides have serious and valid claims against their own welfare and well-being. I would call for more dialogue, more interaction, more face-to-face meetings of leaders, starting at the highest levels of government and moving on down to every local community where there are Muslims and Jews, Arabs and Israelis. Protests that solely blame one side or the other are a waste of time and are now outdated. This is why the recent events on college campuses like UC Irvine are so maddening, for rather than bringing the groups together to talk about their grievances, these kids are only growing farther and farther apart in the gulf of distrust, anger and self-righteousness. How will this advance the hopes for peace?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so complex, so complicated, so full of nuance and history and it is time to stop reducing it to slogans and posters of blame. Hartman ends his piece by saying, "It is time for all those of decency to declare, "Enough." It is time to begin a new conversation, one in which legitimate acts of self defense on Israel's part are no longer labeled automatically as acts of aggression and war crimes. Nor should attempts to better the plight of Palestinians, including those affiliated with Hamas, be labeled by definition as anti-Israeli and political. People of decency can disagree. Decent people can make mistakes. It is only, however, if we recognize that decency can be found on both sides that a different future will become possible."

If there is a protest or march where this message is central and offered, I will be the first to attend. Until then, lets stop yelling past one another and start talking to one another.