Tag Archives: Fear

Overcoming the Fear That Drives the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Once again, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are in a divisive argument over the seemingly-eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As I read the analysis of Obama’s speech, I was most reminded of a recent story on The Onion — “Incomprehensible Shouting Declared U.S. Official Language.” In fact, Israel may even be ahead of the U.S. in this realm — Gregory Levey, a former speechwriter for Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert wrote a book a few years ago entitled “Shut Up, I’m Talking – And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government.”

So while it’s clear that everyone is talking — or more accurately, shouting incomprehensibly — it’s even more clear that no one is listening.

Why is it so hard for either the Palestinians or the Israelis — or for that matter, different voices within the Jewish community — to stop shouting and begin listening to one another?

Quite simply, Israel is not secure — not physically, and certainly not emotionally. And when we feel insecure, we cannot accept (let alone explore) the diversity of ideas that may help us solve problems.

A study done by New York University psychologist John Jost noted that “[t]hreatening situations…seem to increase people’s affinity for politically conservative opinions, leaders, and parties” (Conservatives Scare More Easily Than Liberals, Say Scientists). “The study’s authors also concluded that conservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity…Liberals, on the other hand, are ‘more likely to see gray areas and reconcile seemingly conflicting information.’” (Psychology Study: Fear Leads to Conservatism)

So when liberal Zionists — who are generally able to tolerate a lot of ambiguity — feel like they need to fear for Israel’s security, it naturally leads them to hold more conservative positions. And liberals feel very torn when they realize they are holding conservative positions. Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in The New Republic about that sense of ambivalence and cognitive dissonance that arises when our liberalism and our conservatism collide around the Israeli-Palestinian issue:

I know that a Palestinian state is an existential necessity for me — saving Israel from the untenable choice between being a Jewish and a democratic state, from the moral erosion of occupation, from the growing movement to again turn the Jews, via the Jewish state, into the symbol of evil.

But I also know that a Palestinian state is an existential threat to me — forcing Israel back into eight-mile-wide borders between Palestine and the Mediterranean Sea, with the center of the country vulnerable to rocket attacks from the West Bank hills that overlook it.

And, if Tel Aviv were to become the next Sderot — the Israeli town on the Gaza border that has endured thousands of missile attacks following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 — the international community might well try to prevent us from defending ourselves against terrorists embedded in a civilian population, with all the consequences of asymmetrical warfare.

So yes, there are reasons to be afraid. But it is crucial for our fears not to dictate our actions. After all, it is far too easy to use emotions like anger, sadness or anxiety as justifications for “why we did what we did.” Instead, our responsibility is to act on our deepest values — even though we are afraid. Those who care about Israel need to be able to say, “Even though I may be worried about Israel’s security, I want it to be a light unto the nations. Even though I may be scared of rocket attacks, I want Israel to show the world how we treat one another.”

And while fear is powerful, hope is even more powerful. Hope is what provides us with the strength we need in order to move in the direction we most truly desire. So while Israelis may be understandably and legitimately afraid, Israel also cannot afford to lose its sense of purpose.

This Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not an issue that is going to be solved simply, easily or painlessly. And yet the only way either side will move forward is if hope overcomes fear, listening overcomes shouting, and each side does the difficult and internal work to truly ask, “What values do we want to live by?”

And so in the words of Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the new president of the Union for Reform Judaism, my hope for Israel is that it will act “not [as] a vaccine against assimilation, but [as] an inspiring source of Jewish creativity and identity,” and I join with Rabbi Jacobs in proclaiming:

“I will never back down from my commitment to a secure Israel.

I will never stop fighting for an Israel that grants all of its citizens, Arabs and Jews, fundamental human rights.

I will never stop working for an Israel that grants equal rights to Jews no matter their spiritual practice or belief.

I will never stop advocating for the US to remain Israel’s staunch ally.

I will not back away from my commitment to a two-state solution living side-by-side in peace and security…

When Israel gets into our hearts, then I know that we will never stop fighting for an Israel that is secure, religiously free, guided by justice and dwelling in peace.”

May our hope trump our fear, and may that hope — and not our fear — be what guides our actions.

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To Act or Not To Act? That is the Question

First of all, welcome to all the new people who are now following this blog! All of your comments were so thoughtful and insightful, so thank you for taking the time to think and to write. You’ve all definitely given me some food for thought!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

This Sunday, over 100 million people will be sitting around their TVs watching the Super Bowl. And at least once during the game, at least 98 million of them will scream, “Come on, ref — what are you, blind?!”

But while we may want to yell at referees for ignoring (seemingly) obvious calls, what’s really interesting is that we would actually get much more angry at a referee for being over-zealous. After all, we don’t want the refs determining the game — we want the players determining the game. So when a referee seems to act too overtly, and potentially alters the results of the game, it’s very hard for us to overlook that. Quite simply, “sins of commission” are much more difficult for us to forgive than “sins of omission.”

In fact, in their new book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won, authors Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim explain that what really drives people nuts isn’t whether or not the ref gets a call right. It’s about whether or not the ref appears to have actively affected the outcome of the game.

The finals of the Women’s US Open in 2009 between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters really highlighted this fact. If you didn’t get a chance to see the shocking end to the match, here it is:

This was the situation: Williams had lost the first set, and was down 5-6 in the second. With Williams serving, it was 15-30 when the lineswoman, Shino Tsurubuchi, called a foot fault, which docked Williams a point, leading to match point for Clijsters. Williams went ballistic, and yelled at Tsurubuchi, which then caused her to be docked a second point — and this point cost her the entire match.

The audience was furious (you can hear the boos in the video), and so even though Tsurubuchi had made the right call, the fans were so enraged that she had to be escorted from the court for her own safety. (Moskowitz and Wertheim, 26-29)

It’s one thing to see the correct call; it’s a whole other thing to have the courage to actually make it. And this is an issue we face, as well. When we have to take an action that is correct and appropriate — but also potentially difficult and controversial — are we brave enough to take it? Indeed, at moments like this, we are faced with a dilemma — to act or not to act? That is the question.

Well, our natural reaction is often not to act. We’re scared to have committed a “sin of commission,” because that is so much worse  than a “sin of omission.” But in contrast to focusing on what may simply be easier or less scary to us, Judaism urges us to act — even if that might push us outside of our comfort zone.

Jewish tradition, for example, commands us that we have to actively pursue two things — peace and justice. “If a person sits in his own place and does nothing, how can he pursue peace between people? So let him go from his own place and move around in the world and pursue peace. as it is said, ‘Seek peace and pursue it.‘ (Proverbs 34:14). What does that mean? Seek it in your own place, and pursue it to another place.” (Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar in Avot deRabbi Nathan 12) And in Deuteronomy 16:20, it says, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” That same word, “pursue,” appears there as well, implying that we can’t just sit idly by — we have to be proactive in creating a more just and more peaceful world.

So yes, it can be daunting to act, because it means that we will sometimes make mistakes. But we also know that if we sit on the sidelines, nothing will ever change. It is only through direct action that we can repair our world.

Taking action can be hard. But when it comes to creating a world filled with peace and justice, I think Nike said it best: Just Do It.

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