The Numbers:13 Project
When the march was to begin, at the LORD’s command through Moses, Numbers 10:13
There’s a small irony (very small) that as I sat down to write these words I was distracted by two contrasting issues relating to Israel – which was not the subject I thought I might address.
The first, which relates directly to the verse at hand, is the Dyke March in Washington, DC. Held during Pride Month, this gathering of lesbian women and allies take to the streets in a given city to promote their concerns about affirming diversity and expressing their solidarity with oppressed people around the world. A couple of years ago, when this march was held in Chicago, some Jewish participants found themselves shut out of the march and its surrounding events. The presenting reason was Zionism, which has been identified by some on the far left as being an oppressive political ideology. Participants carrying a rainbow-striped flag with a Star of David in the middle were excluded from the march itself, and an ancillary event they organized was interrupted by protesters. Organizers of the march and protest claimed the flag, and therefore those carrying it, was resonant with Israel’s blue-and-white version of the same flag, which represented Zionism.
Today (as it happens) is the Dyke March, and once again the flag in question has been prohibited as a symbol of “nationalism” (though the Palestinian flag is permitted). A series of outraged statements has been issued, including by Jews, many of whom are not Dykes (who want the flag included) and Dykes, many of whom are Jews (who want the flag excluded). By the time you read this, angry Zionist Dykes and their allies will have marched to the official march to take their place with their flag. It is anybody’s guess what will happen.
I’ve read the hyperbole on both sides and will say that it reminds me of the old joke about the rabbi who tells each of the two litigants that he is right. Only this time, the rabbi thinks both sides are wrong. And if you tell me that both sides can’t be wrong, my punchline will be, you know what – you are also wrong.
Likely, you are sympathetic to the Zionists (or, perhaps to be completely accurate, the folks who are accused by the anti-Zionists of being Zionists, though they may or may not be Zionists.)
That brings me to the other distraction that popped up on my Facebook feed early today. It was a news story that Israeli doctors had successfully treated the wife of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for a serious ailment. The person who posted it introduce the story with a rant – there is no other word for it – about all of the enemies of Israel who will never hear about it and the mainstream media that will never report it and the members of Congress who will ignore it. I felt like a little ranting myself. In the Talmudic volume “Pirkei Avot,” a sage named Antigonus (who must have had some Greek relatives…) warned against doing the right thing for the wrong reason. We do them because they are right, not because we expect some benefit. If the reason to treat Mrs. Abbas is not because she is ill, but because we want to weaponize our compassion against our detractors, well, you finish.
My objection was met with a counter-objection: we Jews (it was Jews, not Zionists, BTW) are so oppressed, that this kind of behavior is justified. Though the irony of my distraction is small, the irony of this bogus argument is large: it is the same one being made by the anti-Zionist Dykes, to wit, my bad behavior is justified by your bad behavior.
I am in none of the above camps (well, I will proudly cop to Zionism, but a slightly different version than the one at play in these incidents). But I do believe, and deeply so, that when the righteous causes we support become excuses for bad behavior we demonstrate, it is incumbent on allies to call out their own. Jews should remind Jews of Jewish values. Progressives should remind progressives of progressive values. Human rights activists should remind human rights activists of human rights. And so on.
Nothing is gained by proclaiming how much more admirable the best of what I am is than the worst of what you are. As the eminent human rights activist Bryan Stevenson has said, in a very different context, each of us is better than the worst thing we have ever done.
Congratulations to the marchers who march for equality and affirmation. Congratulations to the doctors who ignored politics to save a human life. As for those of you who would weaponize those values, you need a time-out.