Op−Ed | Privileging Balance over Truth
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 06:03
Growing up, I paid little attention to what was happening in the Middle East. I was born the year the Oslo Accords were signed, and to this day, my mom has the newspaper from 1993 with Arafat and Rabin shaking hands. I was seven when the second Intifada began. By that point it had been told to me, as a fact, that my heritage was special. I embraced it in about the same manner I embraced being left−handed—I never thought about it unless someone asked me to define myself.
I’m definitely Jewish. I can get my way through most of some of the prayers, I could probably recite to you an abridged Passover Seder, and though I wasn’t Bar Mitzvah’d myself, I’ve been to enough to know how they work. Obviously this alone does not make me Jewish, nor is it any large feat. I bring it up simply to refute the notion that I’m a ‘Jew in name only,’ an allegation I have more than once received. I am by no means religious, but I was raised, in part, in an environment of cultural Judaism by my Jewish mother.
Every now and again, my father would ask me what my opinions were about what was going on in the Middle East. This started when I was around 10, and continued until I was 17. Embarrassingly, my answers did not improve much over that time span. I would either deflect the question or (in the later years) mumble something about a two−state solution. I was much more concerned with domestic politics anyway.
I always knew the stories: my aunt born in Gaza during the Six Day War, my great grandfather coming to the States from Poland fleeing persecution, my father spending the better part of a year in a bomb shelter during the Lebanese Civil War, my grandfather walking to school every day as his peers hurled insults at him, calling him a “dirty Jew.” To a lesser extent, I carried with me the collective history of each community: the history of anti−Semitism in Europe and the history of Orientalism in the Arab world. As a privileged white kid growing up in the Bay Area, this was easy to ignore. I did not want some ancient (so it seemed) history to define who I was, and furthermore, what did I know about persecution?
Throughout high school, my understanding became a bit more developed. Terms like terrorism, birthright, settlements and occupy began to enter my lexicon. I was very much a liberal (read: Democrat) at that time, and would fervently debate my conservative peers.
This was not just for fun or intellectual exercise; I truly felt the morality of my positions and my arguments, particularly those involving gay rights and American foreign policy. However, when it came to discussing Israel/Palestine, my stance would be much more tempered, moderate, neutral. At the time, I thought that I was being mature and wise, as if no one had ever considered peace before.
When I arrived at Tufts last year, curiosity brought me to the Students for Justice in Palestine General Interest Meeting. There was talk of protests, apartheid, and boycotting. It wasn’t that I disagreed with the opinions being shared — by that point I had some understanding of the conflict and would have classified myself as ‘pro−Palestinian’— but I found the aggressive mindset discomforting.
I felt morally superior, free of a closed−minded dogma, an omniscient force for compromise, understanding and peace.
I didn’t attend many SJP meetings that first semester, but I began to read. Perhaps I was finally beginning to realize that despite my best efforts, my background would come to define me. Or perhaps I needed for my own sake to sort out my complicated identity. Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that in an effort to be above the fray of vitriol and conflict, of the incorrigible stubbornness of ideologues, I had been masking my ignorance with what I thought was balance. I had been, in the words of Rick Perlstein, “privileging balance over truth.” Instead of gathering information and applying my own moral lens, I was falsely assuming that for every analysis of fact there was an equally legitimate opposite analysis. I began to ask myself important questions: to what am I applying balance? If I give equal weight to two parts of an unbalanced system, am I being just? It is one thing to consider and be sympathetic to multiple narratives and perspectives. It is another to assume that morality is equally divisible, especially when power so clearly is not. Once I rid myself of the strict dichotomy that had been limiting my views, it was very easy to proceed on my own moral footing.
Needless to say, I decided I needed to take a stand. I joined SJP and haven’t looked back since. I recognize that not everyone will share this same personal journey, and this is certainly not an appeal for you to join SJP. Rather, I seek to target the commonly held belief that neutrality or balance is an admirable political opinion. In fact, being neutral essentially guarantees legitimating a morally reprehensible view, as conflicts are almost never characterized completely by morally righteous positions. It is not acceptable to shield ignorance with claims of disinterest.
I am not asking you to pick a side. I am asking you to have an opinion.
Dylan Saba is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major. He can be reached at Dylan.Saba@tufts.edu