Opinion: We Should Be Building Bridges, Not Borders, In the Age of Travel Bans

By: Eliana Gayle-Schneider ‘17

Each Shabbat morning when we recite our Prayer for Peace, we say, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation.” What about against one another, though?

On March 7th, the Israeli Parliament announced Israel’s new travel ban, prohibiting supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement from entering the country. As stated in the official text of the bill, this restriction was placed explicitly on those “who knowingly issue a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott.” The content and description of bill truly made my head spin and my heart sink. I found the Israeli travel ban disappointing for a multitude of reasons – among them, that this is present-day America-level low, and Israel can do better.

The recent election has left Americans polarized by political and ideological borders, separated by voids too great to fill in the foreseeable future. Since the 1947 Partition Plan, Israel has also been characterized by borders – physical ones. In a recent turn of events, both the Israeli and American governments are on ill-conceived, border-related power trips. With the new American and Israeli travel bans, the two countries have changed roles: America is creating new physical borders, while Israel is creating ideological ones.

In a Netanyahu-esque manner, President Donald J. Trump has proposed numerous travel bans restricting people from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, creating a literal barrier. Approximately 5,000 miles east, Benjamin Netanyahu appears to channel his inner Trump by proposing a travel ban alienating the political left. It is impossible to ignore the parallel between these two proposed pieces of xenophobic legislation from two nations of immigrants.

It is both disappointing and distressing that these two nations, which rightly pride themselves on democratic values, are stooping to the fascist measures represented by these bills. These are the steps that threaten the moral fabric of democratic countries and serve exclusively to make them weaker. Just months ago, the values of freedom of expression and freedom to protest the government evoked an incomparable feeling of both Israeli and American national pride. But I now write filled with shame, for my seemingly brave leaders have stained their respective countries’ worldviews, leaving me politically homeless; they have granted me emotional refugee status.

This is a time to break down borders, not to put them up. This is a time to set aside our prideful identities as AIPAC or J-Street supporters and just be lovers of Israel with aspirations of peace. While many fail to conceptualize and concretize these ideas both in the Knesset and in the White House, we can do so in our Heschel community. I challenge the Heschel student body to take on discourse without borders – ideological, physical, or otherwise. I challenge each and every student to embrace controversial matters of Israeli and American policy instead of shutting out the stranger. This is a plea to come together as the empowered pluralistic community that we are and to show our political leaders what it means to replace borders with compassion.

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