Now that I’ve got your attention, listen closely. I’ve spent many years working in Democratic and progressive politics. As a gay rights activist, an immigrant rights advocate, on the Obama campaign and in his Administration. As an individual, an organizer, and as a professional. As you can read about here.
One year ago, I fulfilled my dream and made aliyah- moving to Israel and becoming a citizen in my homeland. Here I’ve been active in helping refugees, rallying for LGBT adoption rights, dialoguing with Arabs and Palestinians, and more. It’s a stressful place sometimes with rockets and fires and Iran and Hamas and earthquakes and pushy people on buses- but it’s my home and I love it. It has a warmth and depth of experience I never felt in America.
Over the past year, I’ve watched from afar the horror film that has become American politics. Left and right have become so incredibly polarized- I’ve seen relationships come apart and I myself have de-friended people due to hardcore anti-Israel hatred they shared. While showing no empathy for us as Israelis.
While I can understand the inclination of my friends on the Left to double down on their ideology in the face of a loony and sometimes cruel president, they have alienated me. I used to count myself among socialists, anarchists, progressives- you name it. And some of their ideas are still relevant to me. I value gay rights, women’s empowerment, diversity, and much more. Areas where conservatives are struggling to understand- or in some cases, openly attacking.
And yet, liberal empathy seems to stop at what they agree with. Ideological diversity is the one kind of diversity not celebrated, as campus speakers are shouted down and chased away. “Shutting down” has become the norm. A deep anger has overwhelmed the rational or moderating forces and has actually served to reinforce Donald Trump’s more problematic rhetoric.
For example, immigrants rights. Recently, the Trump Administration separated immigrant children from their parents. As I see it, an unnecessary act of showmanship that did nothing to really solve the complex problems of immigration. And the only concrete result we can point to today is traumatized children. And I will add a dimension of complexity to liberals’ understanding- I do think the parents bear some responsibility. I can imagine you must feel desperate to escape your country if you’re willing to cross a desert with a smuggler. Clearly the governments in these countries are failing their citizens if they feel so desperate. I also think that as a parent, you bear responsibility for taking care of your children. Not an easy question, but I don’t place 100% of the responsibility here on Donald Trump, even as I disagree with his approach.
This kind of balanced rhetoric is increasingly rare on social media and progressive media outlets. The latest chant is “Abolish ICE”, the immigration enforcement agency. I worked with ICE- not within the agency, but as a liaison when I served President Obama at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Coming with a strong background in immigrant rights advocacy, I found many of the ICE staffers cold and heartless. Maybe it was just my impression, but there was a toughness to them, whereas I was clearly coming from a place of wanting to help immigrants.
As I learned more about what they did, I realized there was more to the picture. Yes, ICE is a problematic agency that sometimes harms immigrants. Also, their policies are determined from above, not within- so the political leadership (both Democrats and Republicans) bear responsibility for their approach.
While ICE is of course responsible for deporting unauthorized immigrants, they also combat human trafficking. They’ve saved countless immigrant lives by extricating them from forced sex work and abusive smugglers. We can debate the contours of the immigration system (there are no easy answers- the country quotas are arcanely distributed, the effect on American economics is mixed, and it’s hard to predict what international events might drive migration). But what’s clear to me is that human trafficking is bad and I’m glad ICE is combating it. Also, some people commit heinous crimes who aren’t in America legally. To the people advocating the abolition- rather than reform- of ICE- what’s your solution? Rather than shooting from the hip (not to mention giving Republicans ample ammunition that you’re in fact for totally open borders), how about some constructive suggestions? Abolish, demolish, destroy- but what do you stand for?
A similar tone has been taken with regards to Jews and Israel. Progressive celebrities from Linda Sarsour to Tamika Mallory have reamed us. The former has said “nothing is creepier than Zionism” (even as 350,000 people have been murdered in the Syrian Civil War) and that Israel supporters can’t be feminists. She supports boycotting my country- but incidentally doesn’t boycott any of the dictatorships that plague the Middle East. Ms. Mallory, friends with the famed anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, has a bizarre obsession with Israel, calling us an “apartheid state”. She claims to be uniquely focused on our problems because we get aid from the U.S.- but so does authoritarian Egypt next door. And I doubt she even knows where that is.
When it comes down to it, for not a small number of progressives, intersectionality belongs to everyone but the Jews. Recently I faced immense pushback from some of them for suggesting that the Holocaust is not an appropriate metaphor for Trump’s treatment of immigrant children. I made it clear I agreed that the policy was fraught and I was concerned for the children. BUT, that the Holocaust is not the same thing. They are both bad and quite different, even if they share several similarities. My family was butchered by Nazis- Donald Trump, for all his zaniness and yes, many misguided policies (though not all)- has never butchered anyone. The idea that America is headed for a Holocaust is detached from reality. Particularly when my neighbors in Syria are literally experiencing mass murder and chemical attacks. While American progressives say nary a word. Or if they do, it’s “Hands off Syria”- something few Syrian citizens would appreciate. They could use all our hands on deck- and perhaps even our military might to create no-fly zones. It’s not an easy question, but I have noticed that Democrats in particular have shown great interest in helping Syrian refugees but little interest in helping them stay at home.
Person after person told me I was wrong. That the Holocaust was a warning- that we all had to learn from it. That it was appropriate to use it for political ends. I suppose when they decided it was appropriate. Rather than hearing from me, as a Jew, how I felt about them using my family’s tragedy. There are Jews who lost family in the Holocaust who will disagree with me. And I know they’re coming from a place of knowledge. The Holocaust is relevant for everyone and there are lessons to learn. But it does not belong to everyone. For progressives so bent on avoiding “cultural appropriation”, apparently that concept doesn’t extend to Jews and our cultural memory. I also am still waiting to see progressives invoking the Holocaust to help protect my country as Iran threatens to obliterate us. But I’m not holding my breath.
In the end, many progressives like to invoke the Holocaust when it’s convenient. Just like the far right uses it with abortion. In the end, I feel my Jewish voice is silenced, disrespected, shown no consideration or even attacked.
While they debate what lessons to take from the Holocaust, I’ll tell you one that Israelis took away from our tragedy. That we can count on no one but ourselves to protect us. As Europe becomes increasingly engulfed in violent anti-Semitism from left and right, I look in fear as I see America heading the same way. I wonder how long it will take before it gets that bad. Of course I hope it won’t. And every day I can hold my head up high in Israel is a gift worth protecting.
So why might I split my ticket this November? Because no party in America represents me right now. I love universal healthcare, I support diversity, I am queer, there are many reasons to love Democrats. I also am a proud Israeli and am keenly aware that Republicans, both voters and representatives, support us much, much more. This is my home. I’m concerned about the vitriolic tone on both sides, and would welcome moderate and thoughtfully conservative Republicans to join the debate. A debate which has increasingly retreated to self-affirming circles of woe. Rather than a national conversation.
I’ve never voted Republican. And this November, because of my eye-opening and textured experiences in Israel and the nasty tone of far too many Democrats- I just might.
As we say in Israel- we’ll be in touch. I don’t know what I’m doing tonight, let alone in November. Many things can happen, but there’s only one thing you can count on: I’ll be getting my ballot. So if you want my vote and the vote of people like me, you’ll start opening your ears, not just your mouths.
p.s.- the picture is graffiti from Sderot, a city whose name you should learn. They’ve been under Hamas rocket and fire attacks for years, even now. I define who I am.