By Rabbi Rachel Esserman
The Vestal, N.Y. Reporter 

Love it or leave it


The IRS’s targeting of organizations connected to the Tea Party reminded me of the 1960s and ’70s, only in reverse. This time, the IRS was investigating right-wing groups. During the Nixon presidency, left-wing groups—particularly those who opposed the war in Vietnam—were deliberately selected for audits.

Even worse, the FBI spied on those who marched in protests or signed petitions against the war. The reason behind the IRS and FBI selections is the same in all these cases: The people or groups oppose the current government’s stance on an issue.

I also remember the right-wing “love-it-or-leave-it” counter-protests from the ’60s and ’70s. Their message was, “If you don’t agree with the government, you should leave the country.” However, the idea that we should always support any policy our politicians offer—even when we disagree with it—is antithetical to the very nature of democracy. While at times our government makes decisions based on information that is unavailable to the average citizen, that doesn’t always mean its choices are always wise or valid. Far too often, we later discover a particular administration made mistakes or unwise decisions, ones that it was usually reluctant to reveal.

The ability to disagree with an administration’s policies also needs to be considered when discussing the state of Israel. Israeli citizens frequently and loudly support ideas that American Jews are condemned for stating.

We’re expected to toe the current Israeli government line, yet that line changes greatly depending on which political parties are in power. Unfortunately, people have been called self-hating Jews or traitors for signing petitions—both right- and left-wing—that are not currently popular. Several years ago, my name appeared on a hate site, which listed rabbis who supported the peace process. The site stopped just short of advocating violence against us, but it was scary to consider that someone might take action based on its information.

I remember one op-ed by a former (Vestal, N.Y.) Reporter editor after Israeli citizens voted in a government with whose policies he disagreed. He said that those who supported the government should not do to him what he had done to them: Criticizing him for criticizing Israeli policy.

He noted that his comments were based on his love for Israel. How strange he never assumed the same for those who disagreed with him. Yet, his comments are based on Jewish law; they’re a variation on Leviticus 19:18: “You should not hate your brother in your should not take revenge against him nor bear a grudge.” However, his assumptions that those who disagreed with him did so for insidious reasons were not based on this Jewish principle.

It’s one thing to argue about politics and whose ideas are best for the future of America and Israel. It’s another to target people for disagreeing with us. Instead, we should be modeling appropriate behavior by treating others as we ourselves wish to be treated.

Rabbi Rachel Esserman is executive editor of The (Vestal, N.Y.) Reporter.


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