As someone who has spent over ten years trying to build bridges in our party, the last several months have been particularly frustrating, if not disappointing. While many Culver City Democrats know me because of my work as a DNC member and Jewish community advocacy through my synagogue, the Jewish Federation, and the statewide alliance of Jewish Democratic Clubs known as Democrats for Israel California, before moving to Culver City, I volunteered on the 2009 Obama Inaugural where I worked on disability access issues, but my supervisor was also responsible for Islamic outreach, so the opportunity gave me a chance to learn about and work with Muslim communities as well.
That experience gave me a broader view and a chance to learn about the experiences, narratives and viewpoints other than my own. As a result, I came to understand the Muslim experience, even as I continue to support a two state solution and Israel’s right to exist as a democratic, Jewish state. What I was struck with was just how the two communities don’t understand each other and their view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is so different and the basic narratives exclude each other, denying or diminishing Palestinian suffering on one hand and the very real fears of antisemitism and violence against Jews which only a democratic, Jewish state can provide sanctuary from. Each side seems intent on just shouting the other out of the room.
This is bad politics and bad policy. We can’t win Virginia and Michigan without Muslim votes and we can’t win Nevada and Pennsylvania without Jewish votes (before anyone starts citing Jewish Voice for Peace, their position opposing Israel’s right to exist is a fringe position in the Jewish community as I will explain later). We cannot win back Congressional seats in Orange County without both, so trying to alienate one or another is not helping anyone but Republicans.
It also ignores any effort to find common ground or values that we all share as Democrats. As polling last week from the Jewish Electoral Institute (a non-profit affiliated with Jewish Democratic Council of America and not affiliated with any Pro-Israel advocacy groups), Jewish views are not necessarily as different when it comes to human rights and standing up against right-wing hate. 68% of U.S. Jews support some sort of cease fire or humanitarian pause to get aid into Gaza, and 61% have an unfavorable view of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu even as they have concern about the safe return of hostages. There is a shared concern for civilian life, but concern for life is also balanced by Jewish support for safety of Israeli and Israelis as well. 82% are emotionally tied to existence of Israel, and 84% support expanded aid to Israel during the current war with Hamas, with no reference to conditionality. Only 22% believe that the U.S. is favoring Israel too much (and 23% believe the U.S. is doing too little). Much like Americans support the U.S. but opposed Trump, U.S. Jews believe that you can support Israel and criticize its government, or at least 91% of U.S. Jews believe you can support Israel while disagreeing or even criticizing the government and that does not mean you want to destroy or get rid of Israel.
This nuance gives us the opportunity to come together. But it means that each side needs to be willing to question and give room on its narratives. Benny Morris, one of the “New Israel Historians” does this in his book 1948. He acknowledges mistakes and assumptions made by Israel and Palestinians, challenging the fundamental notions that one side or another is blameless in this conflict. If we wish to change the approach here, it will also require hard looks at our views, assumptions of causes of and approach to the conflict and an open mind to the experiences of others as well as our own biases coming into the discussion, but we need to challenge our biases to move forward, understand that this is actually a very complex conflict, and most importantly, how certain speech makes things worse not better and moves us away from efforts to find self-determination and respect for two peoples in two states.
I have always tried to find a way of building common ground with those willing to have an open mind, but during this particular crises with few exceptions, every time I have seen people try to reach across to work together with respect to addressing the Israel-Hamas war or the broader Israel-Palestinian conflict, it has been rebuffed and those trying to build bridges are intimidated or threatened with repercussions to not compromise, communicate or listen. I have seen bridge-building efforts derailed in at least four counties by hard line activists eager to maintain the orthodoxy of the destruction of Israel as a “colonial” state, rather than address how to secure a realistic, peaceful, secure and dignified future for Palestinians and Israelis now. Hoping that Israel will somehow disappear makes no more sense than hoping that the aspirations for self-determination of Palestinians can be subdued. Israel is not going to disappear and neither are the Palestinians.
We need to take meaningful steps to understand each other’s humanity, and step back from these biases to model a different approach based on respecting each other’s place in the party and finding solutions to reasonable further co-existence in a way that one-state advocates or unilateral cease fire advocates don’t. A cease fire without addressing the hostages and Hamas only empowers Hamas’ abuse of Palestinians and attacks on Israelis, which they have made clear they intend to continue. On the other hand, eliminating Hamas alone will not address or resolve the root causes of the conflict without a political and diplomatic solution. Collapsing nine million Jews and nine million Arab-Israelis, Palestinian refugees and Gaza/West Bank residents overnight into a single state overnight is naïve and dangerous, as is expecting that one side, Israeli or Palestinian, can just rule over the other. Stating that Palestinian delegates should not feel or express their pain at the losses they are witnessing at the hands of Hamas and Israel does not further greater understanding, frankly as has the efforts to dismiss the real anxiety and fear that Jewish delegates felt at or the pain they experienced as a result of October 7 , or for that matter, the California State Democratic Convention that were not as I have heard several people describe as “peaceful” does not help either. I witnessed protestors, including some Democratic Party delegates, attack security guards and express glee at “shutting down the convention,” ironically disempowering the LGBT, Black, Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander Caucuses, each that were supposed to hold meetings and events that night (several of which lost thousands of dollars as a result of protests over a conflict they have no control over). Empathy must flow both ways to work when two sides both have faced real trauma and we must acknowledge that this crisis and the current war is complicated without simple solutions.
We must do better.