Despite the darkness, here’s why I’m thankful.

Jeremy Ben-Ami
on November 25, 2015

No question–there’s good reason to be afraid these days.

Is it safe to wait at a light rail station in Jerusalem? What about grabbing a cup of coffee at an outdoor café in Europe? Getting on a plane?

Terror is real; its goal straightforward–to instill fear. And right now, fear and insecurity are real in the United States, in Israel and across much of the globe.

There’s little debate about the goal we share wherever the horror of terror raises its head: it must be stopped and those who perpetrate it defeated.

The challenge is to do it without sacrificing the most basic values we hold dear.

Here in the US, we hear talk of registries for Muslims and surveillance of mosques. We see proposals to close our national gates to refugees and more.

Demagogues thrive at moments of panic, peddling dangerous ideas in the name of security.

How quickly some are ready to forget the lessons of the past and to sacrifice liberty and justice at the altar of fear.

Beware: the road from fear to hate is not long; history shows there’s not a long distance from keeping registries to rounding up the registered.

The anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric that’s making its way into mainstream discourse both here and in Israel must be stopped. The 21st century successors to the Ku Klux Klan, Joe McCarthy, Father Coughlin and worse must be stopped.

History will not judge us well if voters in the primaries reward presidential candidates spouting these ideas–let alone if they become part of the general election.

How, our children will ask, did we allow such repugnant ideas and rhetoric to enter the mainstream political discourse in the year 2016?

Silence in the face of such fear-mongering is simply unacceptable. Have we not learned that as a wave of hate builds, silence proves to be among history’s greatest regrets? So especially in these most challenging times, it is on us to speak out for the values we hold dear.

Which leads me to why I’m thankful this holiday.

I’m thankful that so many in the American Jewish community are speaking out against efforts to limit the number of refugees admitted to the US. I’m thankful for all those–of all backgrounds–who are standing up for religious freedom and tolerance.

The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, which I drove past today on my way to our family gathering, welcomed so many of our ancestors as they fled oppression and violence.

I am thankful on behalf of all those who came to our shores tired and poor and yearning to be free that the gates of this country were open to so many–even as we look back in shame at moments we turned away some of those in need.

I am thankful for the Jewish values on which I was raised–remembering always what it was like to be oppressed and taught never to treat others the way we did not want to be treated ourselves.

I am thankful that Israel was grounded in Jewish and democratic values–as it says in the Declaration of Indepedence, on “freedom, justice and equality as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

May all of us, here in America and in Israel remember those principles and put them into action.

Let us promise on this Thanksgiving to fight for the values that we cherish, even as the cold winds of fear-mongering and racism blow.

And as we face a new wave of threats around the world, let’s commit to defeating not only those who seek to instill fear in our hearts but also those who would play on that fear.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family,

P.S.- I hope that you’ll consider a small contribution to allow J Street to keep being a voice of hope and principle in these challenging times. Will you donate now?