We Must Stop Demonizing Liberals and Conservatives, and Distorting Facts
This year’s Yom HaShoah was observed months before the US presidential election, and just after another Israeli election.
As spring turns to summer, there is little doubt that the already elevated temperatures and tensions of political discourse will soon begin to rise. Policies will be debated, disagreements will be had, and the relatively minor fault lines that separate us will be accentuated by the fervor of the days ahead.
It is not my place to despair about the political fracturing that exists in the United States or the unresolved tensions within Israel. But in the spirit of collective confinement, I offer a challenge to all of us — to engage in a bit of introspection, to understand that the words we use in the coming days will shape the debates we have and ultimately the political reality that follows.
It has somehow become predictable in the marketplace of political ideas to hear of individuals or their associated groups being referred to as “Nazis,” “communists,” or “antisemites.” If one seeks to provide free medical care for one’s countrymen, that person must be a communist. If one disagrees with Israeli territorial claims, one must be an antisemite. These ad hominem attacks are usually factually incorrect and poor bargaining tactics. And in the broader picture, they injure both the reputation of the recipient and the objective of the proponent.
When we label individuals as ideologies, we run the risk of conflating entire groups with ideologies they simply do not hold.
While it might seem appealing to relegate the arguments of all Democrats to the category of communist propaganda, or the proposals of all Republicans to the category of religious extremism, doing so suggests that we are only willing, or able, to exclusively hear the arguments of the fringe.
If it is only the extreme argument that we are willing to debate, then that is the debate we will get, rather than the debate that we need. We will deafen our opponents, ignore any of their persuasive points, and risk losing the greatest gift provided by any discussion: the opportunity to change our own minds.
The right to speak is coupled with a responsibility to listen and to engage. We are nations of people, not pundits.
I am not Jewish. Unlike that which is the case for so many members of the Jewish faith, my family has no historical memory of fleeing oppression or having our right to exist challenged anywhere, much less in the place we call home. But every generation of my family as far back as we can recall has supplied men who fought to protect and liberate the victims of oppression and to promote the freedom of expression that all peaceful peoples deserve.
I have traveled to many parts of the world. I have studied at predominantly conservative institutions and at liberal institutions. I have debated policy with Democrats, Republicans, Likud and Avoda. I have friends and colleagues that span the political spectrum; from the radical left to the reactionary right. Even within that experience, never have I known an avowed communist nor met a Nazi. Despite what popular media circles would have you believe, the radical left and right are not the majority.
To be clear, Nazis exist. If the internet has done anything for us, it has highlighted the existence of otherwise obscure groups that seek to foment nothing but hate and discontent or violent opposition to our democratic institutions. The cult of Nazism persists in the United States and abroad, as do more subtle forms of antisemitic rhetoric. These individuals and their messages of hate should be challenged at every opportunity. But we who stand against these forces of evil should be wary of the type of misguided zeal that inadvertently creates more of the enemies we seek to overcome.
At the end of every election, there is a winner and there is a loser, and everyone will have a favorite. The person whom you debated across the table or at whom you yelled across the police line may be the person who approves your next stimulus check. Regardless of what they may do for you, at the end of the election cycle, they shall inhabit this world — the same world as you inhabit. They are entitled to the same dignity you are afforded. Their vote will still count, whether you value it or not.
It is in that vein that we would all do well, in the spirit of Yom HaShoah and the coming elections, to take stock of the words we use. Avoid vilifying the other side of an argument as an ideological pariah. One should have conviction in one’s beliefs, not chip away at the identity of one’s opponents.
This election season, let’s not call people Nazis or communists; unless that’s what they are. Failing to rise to such a challenge is akin to becoming the proverbial one-tool carpenter, he who has only a hammer and sees every problem as a nail. Our problems are more complex than that. They are deserving of a more substantive debate.
The author is a publishing Adjunct at The MirYam Institute, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and a veteran of three tours as an officer in the US Navy.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.