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US politics has entered a realm where the actual merit of a particular issue may no longer be the focus, and this dangerous trend affects Israel too.

By now, you probably have seen the picture of Cory Booker, the US senator from New Jersey, with that infamous sign, “comparing walls ‘from Palestine to Mexico.’”

To be fair, I should mention that he has since stated that Israel has a right, of course, to take the security steps necessary to protect its citizens from terrorist entities and that he was only photographed with that sign because he, mistakenly, hadn’t read it. Let us hope that his foolishness did in fact just lie in this lack of proper attention and care.

What is actually most troubling about this matter is not Booker’s actions, but the simplicity of this equation that is somehow slipping into American politics and journalism. I noticed it during the media coverage of the establishment of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. It seemed that the reporting on this momentous day in Israel’s capital was continually intertwined with what was also happening at the Gaza border.

On a certain level, I had to accept that the two stories were connected and that this was news reporting. But there was more: Somehow the word “fence” was included, again and again, in many of the reports on Gaza. I began to wonder: Was this just a coincidence or was it intended, especially in that the American news reporting of the previous week was also dominated by the word ‘fence’ — in that case, the one between the US and Mexico?

Only Similarity: A Fence

Of course, what occurred at the US–Mexico border was clearly not connected to the events at the Gaza border. The only similarity was that the two events did actually include a fence. Yet I suspected a subtlety in the reporting that reflected some strong intent to forge a comparison. Somehow, there seemed to me to be an actual desire to connect the conflict at the one fence with the conflict at the other.

But why? The two situations were clearly distinct. What the Hamas backed ‘protestors’ were doing was, in no way, similar to what the Central Americans were doing. The issue of whether this response of the US at its border was correct or not was in no way related to how the Israeli forces had to act at their border. How and why would anyone even create such an obvious fallacy of comparison? Yet, a connection is being built.

American politics seems to have entered a realm where the actual merit of a particular issue may no longer be the focus. When issues are analyzed on their own, they maintain their independence. Divergence in opinion between individuals on variant issues is acknowledged.

When such tenuous attempts at creating connections between variant events are developed, though, such as appears to be the case here, proper debate is lost. There seems to be an agenda to lump variant issues into one mantra with an intent to ignore the independent nature of each issue and the actual specific merits of each matter. There almost seems to be a call for simplicity, to tie together different specific, complex issues into neat packages that can be promoted in one easy block to the people.

The reality of the world and life has become almost like a sport with the effort being to gain you as a ‘fan’ of one team or the other.

Galvanizing Yardstick: Opinion on Trump

One of the galvanizing yardsticks in the development of these new agendas would seem to be the attitude towards President Donald Trump. Individuals are taking stands based solely on whether the president is for or against an issue, regardless of the specific details and merits of each one. In that Trump was the one who, finally, moved the American embassy to Jerusalem — a position originally advocated with overwhelming bi-partisan support — there were those against it not due to a principle within the issue, but because he was the one who did it. The argument was — if Trump did it, it must be wrong.

This, of course, is problematic for Israel. The real issues affecting Israel may no longer be, for many, the major focus of any decision on the subject. Whether it is a reaction to the president or for some other reason, this simplistic grouping of variant positions under a banner of the right or the left is occurring.

And don’t think that the Palestinians don’t see it. They can adopt the most foolish of stances and still find support if they can find a grouping that will take them in – and they have. Portraying their goals as part of broader agendas is becoming their new argument for support. They don’t even have to deal with the fact that their actual position lacks merit in its own right.

Another good example of this trend and its repercussions is the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the Bronx. She makes a most incredulous statement about Israel and then, when confronted with the facts, she just replies that she really does not know about the subject. So how can she, especially as a candidate for office, make such a policy statement without even knowing the subject? Because it has become part of the policy agenda bandwagon she has joined.

Be Aware of the Agenda

While we must be appreciative of Trump’s many actions in support of Israel, here, too, we must be aware of this issue of agenda. The response cannot be to simply to join the pro-Trump bandwagon and support everything he is advocating. That just fosters the real problem – people choosing the views they will support in the same way they choose the sports team for which they will cheer.

We have to declare that issues need to be analyzed independently with a full allowance for honest, thoughtful investigation. What would be best for Israel is for its policies to be honestly evaluated on their own merit.

The call of a collective agenda is becoming so powerful that an honest analysis of each individual issue is being sidestepped in much of our present world. Our call, above all, must be for people to use their brains.

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Article by Benjamin Hecht

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht is the founding director of Nishma, which fosters the critical investigation of contemporary issues. For further info, see nishma.org and nishmablog.blogspot.com. You can follow Rabbi Hecht on Twitter @NishmaTorah.