Independent thought threatens rigid interests

Larry Levin is the former publisher/CEO of the Jewish Light who has started STL Nonprofit News (, which aims to serve and strengthen the St. Louis region by building knowledge, awareness and conversation among professionals, lay leaders, philanthropists and community members about the metro area’s diverse, nonprofit landscape.


The magnetizing polarization of debate in today’s heated climate is dangerous to us free thinkers.

What do I mean by magnetizing? Simply that there are many people, groups and interests whose goal is to push you toward their respective corners. Many aren’t even looking to persuade, but to recruit by hammering you into intellectual submission.

Yet in some very distinctive ways, self-reflection is the enemy of these aggressive factions. A reasoned, considered viewpoint is often a more potent weapon against them than is landing at the opposite end of the spectrum. Your power to think for yourself is perhaps the greatest resistance to loud and insistent advocacy. 

Why? Think about it: How do those at the far ends raise money and promote a message? Rarely do they do so by attacking the middle; no, their most lucrative ideological enemies are their mirror opposites. 

Let me use some of my views on Israel and related Jewish issues as an example. They represent my own bundle, not mandated by those who would didactically instruct me on what to think. 

• While I disagree with much of what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition do and say, it doesn’t mean I agree with what Hamas does. Atrocities by the latter do not validate all the choices of the former.

• I can trash the sordid history of actions by the United Nations against Israel without advocating to dismantle the U.N. or advocating for the United States to withdraw from its membership or committees. 

• I can condemn the idea of an Israeli relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin yet still acknowledge that it is essential to combat the existential threat to Israel posed by Syria and Iran.

• I can think a flawed Iran agreement is superior to no agreement, and I can also believe that cancelling that flawed agreement is a mistake, all because I care about Israeli security, not because I don’t.

• I can loathe both Louis Farrakhan’s virulent anti-Zionism from the left and alt-right haters of Judaism and Zionism, and reaction to neither flank will define my policy views or which political party I elect to embrace.

• I can cry over the plight of Palestinian children and families and still condemn the racist textbooks in Gaza schools propagated by their leaders. 

• I can believe that the American president’s support of moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem is neither a sincere nor effective contributor to security or peace, even if I think the embassy ideally ought to be there in the long run.

• I can bash the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement because it’s supported bigly by hateful Hamas-supporting groups, while still recognizing free speech rights and NGOs’ rights to protest. 

• I can recognize the need to have a democratic state with a Jewish identity while believing the recently adopted Knesset nation-state law was propagated for political and not altruistic purposes.

My views are not likely to line up with any one advocacy group or voice. They are mine, and that is what makes them so threatening to interests that demand unflinching, unthinking loyalty.

And heaven forbid, they may actually change over time, because I continue to listen and learn. Perspectives ought be dynamic, not static.

To those who find me insolent because I don’t adhere to a particular view, I only have this to say: I am neither naive nor disrespectful because I happen to disagree with you. I am someone who uses my unique life experience to reach conclusions that further shape who and what I am.

The more we each listen to and consider myriad perspectives as we adopt our own bundle of ideas, the better served we all are.  Should we be advocates for that in which we believe? Of course. 

Not, however, by hammering others over the head, but by arriving at our own conclusions, one deliberate thought at a time. And then by paying it forward in meaningful, contemplative conversation. It’s what we owe both ourselves and each other.