Tuesday night, I attended a workshop, “Speaking Across Conflict,” at Congregation Sherith Israel. It related to heated discussions—and lack of discussions—about Israel among Jews. Rabbi Melissa Weintraub led the workshop. She is co-director of Resetting the Table, a program of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ Civility Campaign. The basics are simple. Implementing them is challenging.
Rabbi Weintraub emphasizes listening to people with whom you disagree. You focus on what’s important to others—the hard part—rather than on how to counter their positions. After listening, you can offer your own views. Regrettably, shouting is a hallmark of Israeli politics and Jewish responses. It also corrodes American politics. Republicans and Democrats shun dialogue and define accusations as valid arguments. Acrimony abounds. Little gets accomplished.
Immigration is an issue generating more heat than light. The nation faces three basic choices: One: Open our borders to everyone. Two: Close our borders to everyone. Three: Establish quotas regarding how many immigrants we take in and their qualifications. The last option represents our current law, but it badly needs updating. Times have changed since my parents and father became citizens 101 years ago.
The hue and cry is deafening. Some Americans can’t understand why people who enter America in violation of the law can stay here. They’re accused of being anti-immigrant. They’re not. They support immigration within the law. Others cannot imagine how the nation can purge itself of eleven million people who arrived illegally. (Yes, it’s illegal to violate the law). Many “illegals” have lived here peacefully and productively for years. Solving the problem requires a new mindset. We have to listen to each other’s concerns, acknowledge them and find ways to compromise, understanding that this issue cannot be framed in simplistic black and white.
Take “anchor babies” or birthright citizenship. Donald Trump wants to do away with automatically granting citizenship to babies born in the U.S. of non-citizens. The right screams, “Hell, yes!” The left screams, “Hell, no!”
Let me say that I think Donald Trump is a joke. A bad one. He’s a lightning rod for know-nothings, addressing legitimate issues in infantile ways. That being said, I have doubts about birthright citizenship. I recognize the existence of the 14th Amendment and the practical concerns regarding authenticating parental citizenship, as well as adopting a new Constitutional amendment. But birthright citizenship is hardly a universal concept.
Of the developed nations, only the U.S. and Canada provide birthright citizenship. Great Britain, France, Germany and Australia—among many others—restrict citizenship for babies born within their borders. I don’t suggest that other nations’ laws are inherently better than ours. I’ll skip Sharia law practiced in Saudi Arabia and Iran, thank you. But reasoned arguments relating to birthright citizenship can be made pro and con.
It’s time we recognize that it’s not treasonous to listen to different views. It’s also time we replace presidential debates with actual discussions. Candidates would be required to listen and acknowledge when other candidates present their views at lengths greater than those of sound bites. They would wait their turn then offer their own positions—uninterrupted.
Running our mouths does nothing but run down the nation. We might discover a lot more substance between our ears if we take our fingers out of them.
Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.
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