On Violence

Well, it’s been quite the couple of weeks on social media. There has been a lot that has been positive amongst the pain: I have made friends from far and wide — Jews who I found being courageous enough to criticize their own community and stand up for the rights of the other, even at personal cost.

I also became familiar with the work of many excellent Palestinian journalists and activists I didn’t know about before, and felt privileged to amplify their voices (and felt my privilege in being able to decide this comfortably from my armchair). I was moved by the many denunciations of antisemitism I read from our Palestinian siblings.

I also saw that great wonder- people being willing to change their mind and challenge their own beliefs.

Another darker thread, though, has been the violence both on and off social media- the violence that is the background to the discussions and arguments of the last weeks, and the violence that has been spawned by it.

There is a common theme in the violence of the assertions being made, and the actions that follow from them:

It is justified to bomb Gazan civilians in order to deter or destroy Hamas. It is justified to send rockets against Israeli civilians in order to overthrow Israeli apartheid. It is justified to scream insults at protesters standing in solidarity with Palestinians in order to disempower them and advance our own narrative. It is justified to attack Jews on the street in order to empower the Palestinian struggle. It is justified to belittle and insult those I disagree with on social media for the sake of the great cause.

All of these actions have one thing in common: the human being who exists now, who is in front of us (or our bombs and rockets) is sacrificed to an imaginary future or an abstract entity that may or may not exist, which may or may not be right.

Of course we have our opinions on what needs to happen — what should happen, and there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is sacrificing real human beings — their dignity, their lives — for the sake of what we think is a good cause. That never goes well.

Can we commit to making our arguments, or engaging in our activism, without violence to the people right before us in word or action?

The Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas wrote that the appearance of God in the world is the face of the other; the commandment of God is “do no violence to me”; and the chosen one is the every one who confronts the face of the other and hears this message.

This is a hard idea, not just in our politics, but even in our family life or among our friends and colleagues. How can it be other than our north star, though? isn’t that what we want in our innermost heart of hearts?

Gandhi said, “There are no ends, only means.”

That’s the problem with us, in so many ways big and small. We think it’s ok to go against what we really know to be right, to sacrifice ourself or others for something we are desperately attached to. That’s business as usual, and it keeps the world going on in its sorry way.

Maybe it’s time to re-commit to not sacrificing any human beings on the altar of our fears, desire, rage. To refuse to join in.

Where else can a better world start from?



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store