I am a longtime member of an organization that works on behalf of children with special needs. The president of the organization recently asked me to co-chair a new campaign aimed at providing better support services for our constituents in local elementary schools. I believe strongly in the mission of the organization, its strategy for this campaign, and my ability to help lead it. But I am hesitant to take on this new role because the board has chosen as my co-chair a Christian leader from a nearby church who has spoken publicly about his support for divestment from Israel—a position I strongly oppose. To complicate matters further, the issue of divestment from Israel is, as you might expect, a controversial one in my local Jewish community. What do you recommend I do?
By: Rabbi Idit Lev
This is a true dilemma and raises broader questions: can I work with a person who agrees with me on some issues but not others? What are the “red lines” that I will not cross for the sake of cooperating with other people?
In the Israeli Knesset (parliament), I often see members of opposing parties cooperating to promote an issue. Most of those cases are similar to the one presented here. Many Knesset members differ on their views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but may agree on other social justice issues and cooperate when they can.
The first question that I ask myself before deciding whether to cooperate with someone with whom I disagrees on a certain issue is what the basis might be for our disagreement. In this scenario – divestment from Israel – what were this person’s motivations? Were they anti-Semitic views? Or did he support divestment because he genuinely thinks it would make real and positive changes in the Middle East?
If he was motivated by anti-Semitism, what is the best way to address this matter? If not, then it might be important to collaborate with him on an issue about which we share more common ground.
“As our sages taught us (in Tosefta Yevamot 1,3): peace was possible between the houses of Hillel and Shammai in spite of intractable differences, since the difference of opinions was an honest one about a particular issue.”
Peace is possible
As our sages taught us (in Tosefta Yevamot 1,3): peace was possible between the houses of Hillel and Shammai in spite of intractable differences, since the difference of opinions was an honest one about a particular issue. Both houses wanted to do what was right and disagreed about the best course of action. This shows that even if you have conflicting ideas, you can maintain positive relationships.
When I promote an issue in the Knesset, I work with Knesset members that agree with me on the specific issue, but not all issues. I could not have achieved nearly as much as an activist otherwise. In fact, I have learned a lot by working with people who disagree with me on some important issues.
I think you should set your personal “red lines”—the boundaries that you are not willing to cross in forming coalitions. But otherwise, it is important to work with others to promote a mutual goal, and to see if there are productive ways to discuss issues on which you truly disagree.
This article wad first published on The Times of Israel
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