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Daniel Lubetzky: Here’s the real reason moderates are losing ground

Daniel Lubetzky: Here’s the real reason moderates are losing ground

Over the course of 30 years working in the Middle East to amplify the voice of Israelis and Palestinians committed to overcoming extremism on both sides, I have come to realize a recurring pattern afflicting nearly all societies: Even though moderates overwhelmingly outnumber extremists, our will tends to be overpowered by a small group of people whose absolutist vision, passion, and bias toward action win them disproportionate influence. 

Amid Hamas’ massacre and the ensuing Israel-Hamas war causing pain and suffering to so many innocent Israelis and Palestinians, as college campuses face turmoil, division, and protests sanctifying violence, and as hyper-partisan vitriol further permeates our culture in this contentious election year, I initially found myself once again pegging hateful extremism (on all sides) as the problem.  

Upon further reflection, I am convinced that moderates are also at fault for the division and conflict overtaking our world. 

Shortly following Oct. 7, I visited the Muhammad Ali Center, where I was honored with an award for Civility and Compassion. During my time in Louisville, Muhammad Ali’s wife and co-founder of The Muhammad Ali Center Lonnie Ali shared with me a powerful reflection. “The way you yield a crop is by planting a seed and cultivating it. Water, sun, fertilizer—you administer these each day and your plant grows. This is what moderates must do,” she said. 

“We must plant the seed of civility and compassion, not only within ourselves, but also among our children, friends, and relatives. We need to nurture those seeds so that what begins as just a sapling soon becomes a forest. This is what extremists do,” she reminded me. “They get up each morning with the intention to further their cause; only theirs is a destructive one.” 

For many years, I’ve used another explanation to make a similar point: When extremists get out of bed, they ask themselves, “How can I advance my cause?” Meanwhile, ordinary citizens wake up and ask themselves, “What can I have for breakfast?”

While most people recognize their agency and responsibility to shape their professional and personal lives, they too often fail to step into their important role in influencing civic life. This abdication of responsibility leaves a vacuum that those with extreme agendas are all too willing to fill. Lonnie’s words had me wondering, “What if moderates got up in the morning with the…

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