If hatred wins, we all lose
Hatred has no excuse in a region populated by humans of goodwill living peaceably in a beautiful place with room for all.
Fortunately, eastern Connecticut has thus far escaped the worst forms of antisemitism and Islamaphobia springing up elsewhere. But that does not mean there have been none at all, nor does it eliminate future dangers.
Jewish history in eastern Connecticut goes deep. Books, films and the archives of The Day tell the stories of Jewish families who settled here in significant numbers, becoming first neighbors and then recognized community leaders. Perhaps because people knew each other, rather than categorizing one another, respect was the norm.
Montville, Norwich, New London, East Lyme and Colchester, as well as towns farther north, would not be what they are today without the contributions of generations of Jewish residents, and non-Jews can see that.
Palestinians and others of Arab descent arrived later in the chronology of New London County. Many came as new hires for Pfizer, Inc., in the 1990s. Observant Muslims among them established the Islamic Center of New London, soon participating in interfaith and civil rights observances and working with clergy of other faiths. They, too, have become neighbors and community members.
Now, both groups worry that antisemitism and Islamaphobia, which have been worsening because of the Israeli-Hamas conflict, present serious threats to themselves and their communities.
Globally, they are right to worry. As Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor last week, while other people of goodwill are concerned but calm, Jews themselves fear a “five-alarm fire.”
Locally, we trust that the solid foundation of respect and good relations here will hold. But there are signs that none of us can afford to ignore, including white supremacy posters appearing in several towns. And there are indications that some colleges and universities, from which we should be able to expect frank, civil debate, find this one too hot to handle.
War is hell. The hellacious suffering of innocents caused by the surprise Hamas attack and Israel’s punishing response stimulate gut responses of fear and anger. To generalize the outrage by acts of hatred, however, only spreads the damage.
It is possible to recognize the existential threat to Israel from the motives and actions of Hamas and at the same time to deplore the overwhelming loss of innocent lives from Israel’s retaliation. Alarmingly, people instead are lashing out: three college students of Palestinian descent shot point blank in Burlington, Vermont; a mob in Philadelphia targeting a Jewish restaurant owner. It goes on.
Raw emotions cloud logic. Last week Sen. Chris Murphy took criticism from a rabbi in West Hartford for deploring the deaths in Gaza but also faced a hostile, pro-Palestinian protest at a Farmington Democratic gathering.
While talk may seem futile, it is in fact the first stage of either seeing or refusing to see, acting or neglecting to act. After nearly two months of war and a failure by major universities to model the power of plain speaking over inflammatory actions, it was good to read in The Daily Campus, the student newspaper of the University of Connecticut, of efforts to bring sides to the table. The Dodd Center for Human Rights held a panel Nov. 30 covering both causes and possible solutions as seen by scholars of various disciplines.
Other academic institutions — public or private — would be wise to follow the example of public conversation set by the human rights program at the state’s flagship university. Talk won’t resolve the dire situation by itself, but it can create an informed audience for considering what is to be done. Without that, as a faculty member has said, many young people do not “understand the complexities of life in the Middle East,” with the result that “their rhetoric has veered into offensive hate speech against Jews in general.”
Hate speech — spoken or written — never, ever helps, and it easily spreads. White supremacist signs have recently appeared in local towns. And it can’t be overlooked that local Jewish leaders felt it necessary for years to run "Encountering Survivors" programs to ensure young people did not believe those who denied the Holocaust occurred.
The dangers of hatred toward any one group affect all.
The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.
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