An old adage suggests that “two Jews, [have] three opinions.” This appears to suggest reference to the indecisiveness and appreciate for debate which Jews are renown. However, as a polarizing country increasingly favors an “all or nothing” approach to policy, faith and activism, it’s hard to imagine that any one person or organization can be undeniably good (or bad) for the Jews.
Of course, some universal truths persist. Anti-Semitism, in all its forms, is bad. So too are racial prejudice, bigotry and intolerance. But when these negatives seep into our spaces, navigating the grey areas can be challenging.
At a topical level, endorsements—political and otherwise—give candidates a platform to demonstrate support from influential individuals and organizations. But on a much more practical level, political endorsements provide a vital service to Americans—taking the work out of voting. An endorsement from a respected public figure gives the seal of approval for that person’s followers to vote for a candidate or donate to a cause.
But what happens when someone we like does one thing we don’t? Does that sever a relationship forever? Were that true, I’d be divorced several times over for leaving the toilet seat up.
If we only endorsed those we’d agree with on every single issue, we’d become the most narcissistic people on earth (I would be the best narcissist though. I’m great at it.).
Consider some recent examples: The Women’s March has been instrumental in mobilizing literally millions of Americans into civic engagement and a major return to nonviolent collective action. The affinity for infamous anti-Semite Minister Louis Farrakhan from some March leaders has called into question the motivation and purity of the movement. Does the hesitancy of a few leaders disavow his hateful rhetoric toward Jews, LGBTQ+, etc., pollute the integrity of an entire movement?
How about when Lorde boycotts Israel? Or when a University of California campus votes to divest funds from corporations supporting the IDF? Do we disavow the UC?
The reverse begs similar questions. Must we be beholden to someone with a plethora of baggage who champions a single issue which we strongly agree with (perhaps a president who moves an embassy the same way he “moved on her like a b****”)?
As American Jews, we cannot allow ourselves to become single-issue voters. At the same time, we cannot allow attacks on our character or our right to exist in this country to go unchallenged. Nuance becomes key in determining what we will support and what we take issue with.
Farrakhan is a no-brainer—the guy is a flat out, undeniable anti-Semite. But the Women’s March has tremendous value to American Society—though the apparent endorsement certainly muddies the waters.
The response must be two pronged—nuance as well as education. It is important for us to educate those who are truly misguided, not those we simply disagree with. Advocacy is an important step in this process—we should not allow egregious endorsements to go unchecked. At the same time, we need to pick our battles—we can be upset about Lorde’s decision to skip an Israel concert, but not to the point where we take out a full page ad in the New York Times to berate her.
Pursuing this nuance is an ongoing challenge, but is one that is critical for our participation in the world around us.