By Rabbi Devorah Marcus
Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun and how true this is for the ability of a salacious headline to sell newspapers — or at least get people to click on an article.
It was shocking last week to see the scandalous headline that the grandson of an infamous terrorist was running for local office. It wasn’t shocking because of its content, it was shocking because the title was so misleading as it labeled and libeled a good person, not as his own self, but as the “Grandson of Munich Massacre Terrorist.”
Quite simply, nothing could be a grosser misrepresentation of who Ammar Campa-Najjar is. The headline from Ha’aretz, a newspaper to which I subscribe and generally respect, was a cheap shot beneath its usually high standards. Rather than introduce Ammar for who he is, the paper emphasized a part of his past and his legacy for which he is not responsible and for which he is will always have to explain himself.
When I first had the opportunity to meet Ammar, it was when he had come to my office in order to introduce himself, share his legislative vision, and begin building bridges with a rabbi in his community. Ammar and I had the first of many excellent conversations. In that first talk he shared with me his unique heritage as an American of Mexican and Palestinian descent. He shared the way he grew up living between worlds, the way he had struggled to claim his own identity (something that every actualized adult can empathize with) and the concerns that had led him to run for office.
He is a man trying to make the world a better place and build bridges for a peaceful world. He’s working to accomplish this while carrying the burden of a violent history — that his grandfather was a leader of Black September, the terrorist organization that planned and carried out the Munich Olympics massacre in which eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage, beaten, and murdered.
Contrary to this violent legacy, Ammar is someone who is dedicated to peace and mutuality. He shared with his me his own vision for our community and our world: one where we celebrate diversity and engage in dialogue rather than violence; a world where we work together for the common good and appreciate each other’s contributions as we work side by side to build a better world for our children.
He shared with me his concerns and hopes for Israel and her continued existence, security, safety, and a peaceful future for Israeli children. He also shared with me his concerns and hopes for Palestinian self-rule and a peaceful future for Palestinian children. He is someone who has rejected the violence of past generations, and has committed himself to building paths of peace and partnership for the future.
My response to Ammar that day is the same as my response to Ha’aretz and to anyone who would seek to judge someone for the actions of their grandfather. We are not responsible for the choices our grandparents made but we are responsible for learning form their mistakes and using that experience to make us and this world better.
Ammar is not his grandfather. He should not be judged for the actions of another person. Nor should he be lumped in with him or identified by him. Today’s youth in Germany are not responsible for the Holocaust. Today’s youth in the South are not responsible for the Confederacy.
We are only responsible for our choice to embrace the violence in our history or to reject it. Ammar has chosen to reject it. He is working to build a better world that is tolerant, kind, and embraces diversity. He is his own man and should be judged solely for his actions, his words, his legislative agenda and his vision.
I am not endorsing Ammar for office because, as a rabbi, I don’t endorse political candidates. I am, however, as a Zionist, a rabbi, and a Jewish woman who is married to a German man, speaking out for Ammar’s right to be judged on his own record, and not the record of his grandfather.
If there is ever going to be peace between Israel and Palestine, it will require all of us to start dealing with each other as we are today, not as who and/or what our grandparents were 40, 60, and 80 years ago. I hope that everyone will follow Ammar’s example and spend less time gossiping about a salacious legacy and more time engaging in meaningful conversations with each other over how we can build a better tomorrow for our entire community.
I encourage everyone to learn about all of the candidates running for office, their values, their vision, their legislative goals and agendas and to exercise their right to vote. I hope all of us will participate in our election process as is our right and our responsibility. In doing so, may we evaluate all of our candidates on who they are today and what they want for our world tomorrow.
Rabbi Devorah Marcus is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro.