By Daniel Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress

Published originally in the New York Daily News.

The immense tragedy of Oct. 7 is fading fast from headlines, but the trauma to the Jewish people remains raw. We will endure, of course, as we have throughout a history blighted by persecution, bigotry, and colossal violence. But we simply cannot accept the persistence of hate as inevitable. It is not the destiny of any people — Jewish or otherwise — to suffer by virtue of their faith, or the color of their skin. To prevent further moral calamity, we must counter once and for all the root causes of hate.

We are today playing a futile game of whack-a-mole with hate. Hate appears on American college campuses, so we chase out the administrators. It spills from the lips of famous entertainers and sports figures, so we boycott them. It flows increasing incidence of hate crimes — such as graffiti on synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, and in targeted violence against Jews and other minorities — so we denunciate these acts and, where possible, make arrests. But this is treating the symptoms of hate while failing to confront hate itself.

We can pass all the laws in the world, and it won’t erase hate. It will merely be pushed underground. We can negotiate until we are blue in the face, but you can’t compromise with hate. We can, perversely, try to kill our way through the problem with war. But the American Civil War did not eliminate the hate that gave rise to slavery. Nor will Israel’s measures in Gaza ease the hatred that gave rise to Oct. 7.

The good news is that there is no justification for hate in any world’s great faiths. In fact, Islam, Judaism and Christianity all explicitly reject violence and proclaim “love your neighbor.” Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together, worked together, and studied together for more than seven centuries in the Iberian Peninsula during the era of Al-Andalus states. We know peaceful co-existence is possible.

Further, there is no survival advantage to hate. Darwinism shows that cooperative societies, not confrontational ones, are better adapted to survive. Indeed, Darwin’s 1871 book “The Descent of Man” argued that the human species had succeeded because of traits like sharing and compassion. “Those communities,” he wrote, “which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” 

Nor are our brains hardwired to hate. According to Psychology Today, brain structures stimulate our “fight-or-flight” response instantly and unconsciously in response to a perceived threat. Thankfully, our response doesn’t stop there. Higher-level brain structures…then enable us to choose our response by considering the potential consequences.” In other words, we have a conscious choice whether to act on hateful impulses.

If hate is a learned and biologically unnecessary behavior, it can be countered and defeated. Here are some ways the faith community and others can do that:

  • We can better establish the common heritage of the Abrahamic family. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders should deliver sermons about the “Father of Three Faiths” — or even offer their pulpits to preachers from other faiths to drive this point home.
  • The great faiths can tackle a common global problem together, such as climate change. An interfaith effort to solarize every house of worship in the world would not only transform the climate landscape and reverse climate damage, it would establish a basis of shared values, action, and achievement between Muslims, Christians, Jews, and all other faiths willing to take part.
  • We need better predictive data modeling and analysis to show us the economic, cultural, and political conditions in which hateful ideologies like Islamophobia and antisemitism fester and grow. If we can identify key patterns and trends, we can better prepare policymakers, law enforcement, and religious leaders to get ahead of them to divert tropes and conspiracy theories from spreading.
  • We can urgently address the dangerous convergence of social media and disinformation. Denouncing platforms such as TikTok is not enough. Nor is banning content, short of outright hate speech. Rather, we must better train young people to be social media literate, so that they think critically about the torrent of information they consume, differentiate fact from fiction, trope from reality. 

The persistence of hate is the true existential crisis facing humanity. For centuries, hate has divided us, held us back from social and economic progress, and led to persecution, conflict, and war. It simmers beneath the surface of the dramatic polarization we see across America today. But hate is a choice. In that simple reality, lies our destiny.

© 2020 American Jewish Congress.