by Pastor David Lewis-Peart
Friends and colleagues have called me anti-Semitic. An employer, too. I’ve received emails, held difficult conversations, been warned about repercussions related to my career by well-meaning friends. In all of this, I have been confused. I’m confused as to how my caring about the fate of others; how a Facebook repost here, any sign of solidarity there; how expressed upset over civilian deaths dismissed with “a right to defend” can be misconstrued as bigotry.
I care about the Palestinian people because all of our lives matter. That’s exactly what my whole personal walk and professional work has been about; as a minister, educator and community worker. I stand at the intersections of multiple, marginal identities. As a result, I am well aware that someone somewhere believes that because of my political views, religion, sexual orientation, race, class, or the part of the world I live in, my life is not as valuable and therefore easily expendable. Shoot, there was a whole system and structure put into place 500 years ago, based upon the erroneous belief that my great-great-great grandmother and father were ‘savage’, needed to be controlled, were less than human. The ripple effects and cultural remnants of that system of normalization of dehumanization for people of African descent (from slavery to Jim Crow to Stop and Frisk and the School-To-Prison Pipeline) remain to this day.
I’m not going as far as to equate the experiences of those of African descent in the West with that of Palestinians, but there’s something to be said about the casual dismissal of another’s suffering by denying their personhood, replacing immoral savage with terrorist threat. There is something to be said about a normalization of injustice, so deeply embedded in a culture that it is only collectively acknowledged as such in hindsight.
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There’s no need to go back 500 years, or even 50, for reference, either. I distinctly remember, as a child, seeing my now-deceased aunt put on her ‘Free Mandela’ button, joining the ranks of those people protesting South African apartheid. This protest, one of many staged across the world, held against a regime that only 30 years ago had the either implicit or explicit support of most of the governments in the Western world. How things have notably changed. There are schools and streets now named after a man that was once labeled a terrorist of the state.
This is not an attack on Judaism or on the Jewish community, a community as diverse in views and attitudes on this conflict as any other. This is an expression of deep concern about policies and practices of a state that have resulted in the loss of life, liberty and freedom of a people. This is an expression of concern for not being able to name that concern without threat of attack, or attack on character. There is something important about having the room to say your piece. To say “enough” when need be, or “I don’t agree”. To say that, in whatever way you can, when you see violence, injustice, or cruelty committed. Sometimes it’s not a shout. Let’s be real. Sometimes it’s said in a trepidatious whisper. But even in the whisper, finding the wherewithal to say and do your part, because somewhere deep in the inner-most recesses of you, the part of you that allows a seeing of yourself in the ‘other’, you hope someone would speak out for you, too.
Now, I’m not aiming to lose friends, and I’m sure not trying to make enemies, although I know that is the price paid when choosing to speak your truth out loud. I don’t profess to know what started this all, and I won’t be so arrogant as to assume I know the way to its end. I do know, however, that there are children dying in a conflict that do not need to. I don’t require a Political Science degree to call this spade a blade, wielded all too widely and with devastating effect.
And so, in all the love I can muster up, despite my hesitance, and dare I say, fear: I must say out loud that this is cruel. Cruel. And goodness knows, if this bruised and battered shoe were on the other foot, and that tear-and-blood-streaked face in the news, made so easily foreign by distance and denial, were my own—I would damn sure hope and pray that someone, somewhere, would say (or whisper) the same for me, too.
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Preacher, teacher, and writer, David’s motto is, “ain’t sh*t I know for sure except that I’m bound to die”. In the time he’s been gifted with on this planet, his aim is to give permission to other folk; Black, Queer, and all others living in the peripheries, to see themselves as perfect, whole, complete and on a journey with all roads leading to one destination: God.