Last week, the Montgomery County delegation of State Senators wrote a letter condemning and threatening to defund an incredible immigrant rights group, CASA, because of a troubling statement made by the organization’s executive director and shared on social media.
Relationships are hard – both personal and institutional. It is completely appropriate to speak to our friends and allies honestly and tell them when they have hurt us.
To that end, I too would want to tell CASA and its executive director that their words were, at best, misguided, ill-informed and painful for me and my family to read, and at worst, purposefully antisemitic and dehumanizing to their own allies. And I count myself among their allies – I have donated money to CASA and I am an active volunteer with one of their Jewish community organizing partners.
Like so many people and organizations across the American progressive left, CASA leaned into the reflexive instinct to lift up and stand alongside the humanity of the Palestinian people who are enduring the horrific consequences of war. And like so many Jews who align themselves with the American progressive left, I am hurt, angry and scared, when my allies seem to forget that Israelis and the Jewish people are ourselves a traumatized people, caught in a cycle of violence where the lines between victims and perpetrators have become so blurred that any claim to a single identity is immeasurably incomplete.
But the Montgomery County delegation of senators went too far when they also threatened to cut CASA’s funding. As their letter reads to “reevaluate the state’s mechanism for providing financial aid and support for our immigrant community,” is a disturbing abuse of the power dynamic between funders and grantees.
We cannot operate on emotional, knee-jerk reactions to being hurt. We cannot overlook and erase all the good when we are disappointed and outraged by a moment of mistrust and fear. This will only cause resentment and further divide those of us who must continue to stand together against even greater threats to our vision of a shared future. We must engage in meaningful and genuine conversation to change hearts and minds. We must do this even when it is hard, and even when we don’t think we should have to. And we must do this without threatening to cut off their lifeline for all the good work they do that we otherwise support and celebrate.
I am heartened by what I’ve read of CASA’s response to their original statement, that they recognize that they “have received feedback from our dear and trusted partners, who have expressed their concerns about the impact of our language; We take the feedback received to heart and are determined to use it as an opportunity for growth, understanding, and positive change.”
I hope they do. I hope we can embrace each other’s flawed humanity, our complicated emotions, and come out the other side of this stronger together.
Lisa Firnberg lives in Rockville with her Israeli-American husband and their two young children. She has worked with nonprofit organizations for 20 years and has been an active volunteer with local social, racial and economic justice organizing for over 10 years.
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