Monday, July 6, 2015

Signs That We're Lumping People Together

"We don't employ Arabs here." Posted on Facebook last November, as of today has upwards of 14,000 likes. 14,000 people who clearly are fed up with Jewish blood spilled here in Israel at the hands of Arabs - whether it's a Hamas "career terrorist," a thug throwing a Molotov cocktail at your car, or the guy who's been working with you for years and comes in one day brandishing a knife or rifle.
It's a statement that there are consequences to all this, and that we'll choose "life" over being the nice guy if we have to... I get all that. I even sympathize with it.

Nonetheless, I object to signs like this, for two reasons:

1) Arguably one of the most destructive forces in the world is the inclination to lump people together and condemn them based on their ethnic, racial or religious "category" (whites, blacks, Catholics, Arabs, Chinese, Jews, etc.), rather than judging them as individuals. That's the mentality which fuels neo-Nazis and white supremacists. It's what enables terrorists to walk into churches, mosques and synagogues and indiscriminately slaughter worshipers. It's what allows Hamas terrorists to gleefully lob missiles into Israeli population centers. In short, it's what gets people to rationalize killing or harming innocent people. They're part of the "group" - therefore they're not "innocent."

No, deciding not to employ someone because of their "category" is not the same as killing them. Not remotely. I can fully understand, for instance, a synagogue in Har Nof being very reticent to hire Arabs after last year's massacre. But not to hire is one thing. To proudly enshrine that fact in writing and distribute it on the internet is another.

"You are your group" is the message this sign sends - which happens to be the very same message used throughout the world to paint all Jews and Israelis as "evil." It's precisely what "liberally-minded" stores do when they put up BDS anti-Israel placards. It's a message we know to be unjust and untrue, the same one anti-Semites routinely use against us! Can we really not see that?

Engaging in a "flame war" of obnoxious placards is not the solution to our problems. All that does is further ignite tensions, and sully our own character in the process. No, the right solution, the long-term one, is to educate people about what real evil is: losing sight of individual goodness.

2) Arabs/Palestinians are here in Israel, just like Jews are here in Israel. Neither of us is going anywhere. The only way we're going to make this work is if we can train ourselves to effectively distinguish between the light and the dark - decent and indecent, people who want to succeed, thrive, and work together, and people hell-bent on destruction and bloodshed. And while I understand a store owner not wanting to "gamble" on who they're hiring if they see it as a risk to life and limb, to put up a sign like that says we've given up making distinctions.

Though it's coming from a desire to project "strength" and "tzedek" (rightness), what this sign says to decent Arabs is that it doesn't matter to us what kind of people they are. It tells them that their true enemy, the real roadblock to normal life and reasonable coexistence, is not the terrorists but the Israelis.

I would like to put my voice on record as saying that my allies are people who are unabashedly and genuinely anti-terror and committed to working together - whether they're Jewish, Muslim or Christian, Arab, Israeli or Druze. I believe we need to extend a hand to people of like mind and fight terror together - not drive potential allies away, which is exactly what signs like this accomplish. I believe that good people finding one another and fighting for a future together is not only our best chance at succeeding here in Israel - it's also the "strong" and "right" thing to do.

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