Every few weeks, the public intellectual Irshad Manji features people who she calls agents of moral courage: “Those who brave the disapproval of their own communities for the sake of a greater good.” Today, much to my surprise, Irshad included me among those selected. The occasion – My “tough-love letter” to Israel. I am touched and inspired by this honor.
Have a read:
Agent of moral courage: Roi Ben-Yehuda
It’s Israel’s 60th birthday, and not every Jew is celebrating unconditionally.
Witness Roi Ben-Yehuda. He’s no party pooper. The boy knows how to have a good time. (Last year, he introduced me to the obnoxious Sacha Baron Cohen character known as Borat, and still imitates this clown at the most absurd moments in an otherwise serious conversation…)
Instead, Roi is an agent of moral courage, speaking truth to power not only when necessary, but also when inconvenient — on a landmark anniversary. A rising journalist and public thinker, he’s just published a “tough love letter” to his country of Israel. Here’s a passage:
“At sixty years young, you are an amazing success story and we are your grateful children. But grateful does not mean blind. When you shine a light on an object, you are also bound to get its shadow. And there is no escaping the fact that your shadow is Palestine.”
He goes on to write words that some will consider harsh. I consider them humane in that Roi sees the shared humanity of Palestinians and Israelis. So he also sees their destiny as shared. That’s why, elsewhere in his extraordinary letter to Israel, Roi writes that “the greatest gift you can give for your birthday is to lend a hand in creating a birthday for the Palestinian state. Don’t settle for just removing yourself; help construct a positive future for your sister nation.”
Imagine: a patriot who believes in giving rather than receiving on his country’s birthday, not as an act of charity but as a statement of national renewal. It’s what I’ve come to expect from these odd individuals whom I call agents of moral courage.
From the rest of the world, I’ve come to expect allegations of racism. Recently, I received several emails accusing me of anti-Semitism when I pointed out that secular Jewish women in Israel must still go to rabbinical courts for divorces. Even then, they often wind up with the shaft. Israel, in short, isn’t a perfect democracy for Israeli Jews, let alone for Israeli Arabs.
Finding this “shadow,” I suppose, makes me an anti-Semite. What a shame not just for Israel, but for democracy itself.
Democracy demands dissent — not to undermine its ideals but precisely to help realize them.
Roi Ben-Yehuda is one who gets it. He embodies a sentiment prominently showcased at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC: “Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”