The mutual exclusivity of politics and heritage

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OCTOBER 15, 2018

Updated 7/13/21: This article has been updated to remove the photo of an individual whose personal safety was under threat.

Is there an inherent divide between Zionism and left-wing politics?

My parents are from Israel. My family has lived in the region for generations. With such heritage, it’s difficult for me to hold no bias, even though I’ve always prided myself on my impartiality and objectivity. Furthermore, I speak about this from a place of privilege, removed from the physical context and intensity of the conflict. I simultaneously have a personal experience shaped by my family members who are actually present in the region (and are usually pro-Israel) and a desire to protect the undiscussed truths of the country with which I associate. I am biased.

I was raised hearing stories of how the Jewish people persisted and struggled through continual oppression to gain personal autonomy and a land in which to finally find freedom. I was raised hearing anecdotes about how people in Israel endured as rockets came through the air, knocking down cities, innocence and family unity. I was raised with a Jewish, Zionist pride — the two being interchangeable and yet mutually inclusive.

I was also raised in Los Angeles, a city more liberal than “The Rachel Maddow Show” and CNN combined. Subsequently, I learned about Israeli settlements separating Palestinian families and communities. I became aware of the plethora of issues that Palestinians face. I found myself struggling between what I considered to be my empathetic, political side, and my proud, Israeli heritage — is there an intrinsic schism between Zionism and liberalism?

It’s evident — I’m conflicted, caught between my liberal side and my Israeli heritage. At times, it feels like they can’t peacefully coexist. Discussing my heritage is a point of contention in a left-leaning institution. Conversely, when I mention Palestinian subjugation by the policies of Likud (Israel’s majority party), I feel slightly guilty, as if I’m betraying my Israeli identity. And so I never hold a truly stable stance on my views toward the conflict, continually shifting my opinion.

I’ve prided myself on having an open mind. But I have to ask myself: Am I only shifting my perspective because I have the privilege to do so? Perhaps, as I’m not actually physically present in the region, I’m able to play these Psychology 101-esque mind games. Maybe this is done to soothe no one, but rather to bring me peace of mind as I congratulate myself on my perceived neutrality. Does my flip-flopping mean a deeper, intrinsic lack of character?

I don’t know.

Constantly pleading with myself to see the other side, I keep on having these internal debates about what the right ideology is. I participate in dialogues as a perpetual contrarian, espousing stronger Zionist views when I feel attacked in liberal circles and espousing stronger liberal views in Zionist circles. Teeter-tottering on this seesaw of ideology, always acting conversely to what I hear as to achieve some semblance of misguided balance, I strive for and fail to reach equilibrium. I try to appease and cater to both sides, ultimately incensing both. I engage in naive, self-protective thinking, responding to imaginary arguments that people haven’t made. I rant to my bruised sense of morality, an audience of one.

I feel like I’m being disloyal to both sides if I hold anything but a consistently strong, partisan view. Yet, conflict isn’t a zero-sum game. It may seem as if there are clear-cut, defined victors and losers. But sometimes, there are no winners. Sometimes, both sides are incapacitated by nonstop, back-and-forth violence, feeling the deep sorrow of loss.

Earlier, I asked if I lack character because I find myself repeatedly shifting my view on Israeli policy. Thinking about it, I feel it would be ignorant to have stagnant, steadfastly strong beliefs on such a nuanced, complicated issue. Unyielding ideology is sometimes what frustrates me the most. None of us think of ourselves as “the bad guy”, but we must understand that to the opposing side, we are. It’s necessary to understand why we are typecast as such, and adopting monolithic, defensive ideology rather than using critical thinking simply perpetuates a divide.

I’m not any more or less a Jew, an Israeli-American, or a progressive for not having a consistently unmalleable mindset, and it’s emotionally taxing to have to constantly defend each of these individual identities. We all have pride in our heritage. Yet, we can, and should, acknowledge its long-lasting faults and hamartias.

When we engage in a hive-mind mentality, only visiting news sources or participating in clubs that validate our beliefs, we forfeit the opportunity to learn the perspective of the other side. We shouldn’t act as proxies for polarized ideology. It is not conducive to discussion if we demonize and invalidate people for having pliable perspectives. It can be difficult. In early stages of discussion, learning and understanding the perspective of the other side may be painful. But this understanding is needed for great impact and progress. We must engage in these dialogues, listening not so that we can make our own counterarguments, but so that we can understand.

Contact Melody Niv at 


JULY 13, 2021