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Sinning Against Each Other

On my list of worries this Tisha B’Av: Iran, Egypt—and the ugly ways we Jews talk to one another

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Shutterstock)

A week ago Sunday, I opened up my morning copy of Ha’aretz and found myself looking at a photograph of … myself. Initially, I had no idea what the story was about, but I was fairly confident this could not be good news.

Ha’aretz was reporting that I’d signed a letter from the Israel Policy Forum, an American pro-Israel advocacy group, urging Prime Minister Netanyahu not to adopt the recent Levy Commission Report, which argued that Israel’s presence in Judea and Samara, commonly called the West Bank, did not constitute occupation. One of the letter’s authors had sent me a draft, asking if I’d sign it. I turned him down, explaining that I had some issues with the language. A day later, he sent me a revised version. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better. Would I sign, he wanted to know? I agreed—and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

Apparently others noticed. “One of the more prominent and surprising signatures,” the reporter wrote, was mine. Fairly or not, I’m seen as slightly right of center on Israel, and so people were shocked that I signed the letter.

Why did I do it? I felt then, and still believe, that adopting the report would alienate many American Jews struggling to feel and express support for Israel; I feared it would unleash an international backlash that Israel does not need, particularly now; and I worried that it would harden even further the sense among some Israelis that we can continue to progress without a serious strategic conversation about Israel’s borders and their relationship to our democracy.

As I made clear in a subsequent op-ed, I’m no attorney, so I’m not an expert on the legal conclusions of the Levy Commission. But I do spend a great deal of time with young American Jews. Increasingly, I see them struggling to maintain feelings of loyalty to Israel as they grapple with what they believe is Israel’s failure to move the peace process forward. Unlike many of them, I believe that the disproportionate responsibility for the current impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rests with the Palestinians. But I’m saddened and worried by the growing numbers of even Orthodox students on college campuses making their way to the J-Street bloc.

My record is clear: I disagree passionately with the way that J-Street’s minimizes Palestinians’ recalcitrance and believe that pressuring Congress to pressure Israel is horribly misguided. But I honor these students’ struggle to remain committed to Israel’s cause even when they are troubled by what are sometimes problematic Israeli actions or policies. I saw no reason to breed further hemorrhaging of American Jewish support for Israel or an international outcry by adopting a report that many would see as cementing the current status quo, leading to rampant accusations that Israel is becoming an apartheid society. Israel does not need that.

My decision has been attacked on many fronts; that was to be expected. But what has genuinely shocked me has been the level of vitriol, blatant intellectual dishonesty, and expectations of conformity. Perhaps I was naïve not to have seen it so clearly before. (And, I ask myself have I, too, crossed the line in pieces that I have written in the past?)

As the Jewish world prepares to commemorate Tisha B’Av, the date of the destruction of both Temples, the second of which the Talmud claims was destroyed because of baseless hatred among Jews, I find myself despondent about the way we Jews talk to one another and what it means for our future. If the ugliness that the rabbis said led to the destruction of the Temple is now the tone we take for granted, why shouldn’t young Jews just walk away?

***

The first distressing issue was the blatant hate speech that some have no qualms using. After my op-ed appeared, Yisrael Medad, a resident of Shiloh (a settlement in the West Bank) and a friend, wrote a blog post that was picked up in a few places, including in the Jerusalem Post. Medad’s piece didn’t cross any red lines—he didn’t call me a traitor, for example—but his derisive tone, I think, invited some of the viciousness that has come to characterize too much of Jewish discourse about Israel. One “talk-backer,” from Kiryat Arba, posted this on the website of the Jerusalem Post (for which, I should note, I am a columnist):

I have realized for several years that Daniel Gordis is just a weasel whose antagonism toward Israel is hidden under a patina of faux religiosity … Gordis is a sick and twisted affront to the Jewish People, the worst kind of hypocrite, and a two-faced human mistake.

Comments sections are, of course, the province of those with too much time on their hands, and our culture of web anonymity invites terrible excesses. The vitriol of one thug (who made no attempt to hide his identity, by the way) was, unfortunately, not a terrible surprise. But the Post’s implicit decision not to silence this type of speech was.

Have we learned nothing at all about the dangers of language run amok from the horrors of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination? Are we wholly unchastened by where we’ve been in the past as a people? Do we not believe that there should be limits on what we can and cannot say to one another?

A second phenomenon was blatant intellectual dishonesty. A well known U.S. newspaper columnist wrote me saying: “I am dismayed that you would sign the letter urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to disregard the Levy Report. Your ‘explanation’ in Ha’aretz only reinforced my feelings of disappointment. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot effectively endanger other Jews and then argue that you have done no such thing.” That’s bunk. It had never occurred to me that I’d endangered Jews in the first place, so there was no point denying it. Why invent that accusation, instead of addressing my decision on its merits or lack thereof?

In similar fashion, Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist, declared: “Unfortunately, the settler public has been marked with the scarlet letter of murder and expulsion and now, their ethnic cleansing has also received the imprimatur of influential Jewish rabbis and Israeli personalities like you.”

Really? Asking the prime minister to ignore a report is tantamount to urging “ethnic cleansing”? Meotti knows better. And the websites that posted his letter know very well that he’s a serial plagiarist. Was going after me so important that is was worth publishing someone with such tainted professional ethics?

The third issue, and perhaps the most distressing, was the implicit attitude behind all of these accusations: “You’re either with us, or against us.” Daniel Greenfield, a widely read blogger taken seriously by some people I take seriously, tweeted, “Daniel Gordis loses all credibility by signing on to pro-Hamas group Israel Policy Forum’s letter.” Even if we ignore the absurdity and incitement of calling the IPF “pro-Hamas,” there’s an important issue here: If a person makes one move with which you disagree, must they immediately “lose all credibility”? For some, apparently so.

It wasn’t only bloggers who suggested this letter had to have meant that I’d abandoned my principles. One supporter of the Shalem Center, for which I work, suggested that the only way to explain my decision was that I’d signed in order to raise money: “I can only hope that your chance to rub shoulders, even virtually, with your co-signers will result in some sizable gifts to Shalem College.” The mere suggestion was despicable. We’re in grave danger if support for Israel allows no disagreement about how to support Israel.

Happily, I should note, there were rays of light. The St. Louis Jewish Light wrote that I must be feeling like Justice Roberts and continued, “Gordis is absolutely right and yet, the backlash he’s received from both commentators and a slew of web posters makes it sound like he’s sold out Israel’s safety and security. Such could not be further from the truth.”

Others, even when disagreeing with me strongly, were also models of civility. Jonathan Tobin, writing for Commentary, said that he understood my worries about the Levy Commission, but then gave thoughtful explanations for his belief that the letter was a mistake; his column was a model of intellectually fair argument. Eve Harow, an Efrat resident and passionate spokesperson for the communities of Judea and Samaria, took me on in no uncertain terms (and gave me permission to quote her): “In this case by joining with those who, unlike yourself, jump on opportunities to malign Israel, you let many people down. Levy does not preclude some kind of treaty; it gives us more an even legal playing field which ultimately … may even garner us what we seek since they’ll understand that we have made a sacrifice too.”

Fair enough. Harow and I disagree. But she didn’t impugn my sincerity or demand lock-step agreement. She simply implicitly suggested that we talk. Hers, I believe, is precisely the mode of engagement we need, particularly when we disagree.

Israel is entering a new and very uncertain future. Iran may get a bomb. Hostile regimes have arisen in Turkey and Egypt, and Syria will soon fall. The American election looms. With Israel facing perhaps unprecedented isolation, do we not need a broad tent now, more than ever? Or do we want to watch as young people abandon the conversation, and the State it is about, out of sheer disgust with the way we conduct ourselves? We must choose.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin recently shared a beautiful thought with me. The Talmud suggests that the First Temple was destroyed because of serious violations like murder, idolatry, and incest. The Second was destroyed because of “baseless hatred.” Since the first violations are seemingly so much more serious, why was the First Temple rebuilt after 70 years, while the second never was?

The answer, Rabbi Telushkin heard from his own teacher, Rabbi Aharon Kreiser, was that baseless hatred, dismissive attitudes, and communal rancor are different. They are the sorts of actions for which we can always find explanations and justifications, and so, we never really confront the fact that we’ve sinned. This is why, Rabbi Kreiser said, the Temple that was destroyed because of baseless hatred has never been rebuilt.

We have no Temple now, of course. We do have a Third Jewish Commonwealth, a state that faces unremitting hatred from its neighbors and much of the international community. Without question, we need to defend it. But as Tisha B’Av looms, we would do well, I think, to ask ourselves what kind of a Jewish world we’re defending and whether, even if we’re successful at preserving the Jewish State, those whose loyalty we desperately need will want to have anything to do with us.

***

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Cool_Romeo says:

I enjoy reading Daniel Gordis’ work and this is a good example of why. It’s thoughtful, intelligent, and cleanly written.
That said, it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to bemoan the level of discourse in the Jewish community or in modern society itself. I’m only in my 40s, but I can’t remember a time when the Jewish community didn’t feature at least some level of infighting, disagreement, and disputes. Many, many Jews even seem to consider those qualities to be the genuine “Jewish” qualities, apart from anything specified in halakhah.

mbsocol says:

Rabbi, I’m sorry for the hatred you experienced. You may at least dimiss Meotti outright – he is a serial and unapologetic plagiarist. A journalist engaging in that kind of behavior really does dismiss himself from respectable discourse.

I completely agree with you about the nature of our Israel discussion; I am only sorry it seems to have taken you this long to see it. Too often we are blind to hatred until it touches us personally. If you want to know why so many Jews thoughtlessly tear each other apart over the smallest political differences, I think you have the answer right in front of you: most of them have not yet been torn apart, and therefore do not know how it feels.

Now that you know, I hope you won’t forget. I truly don’t mean to dismiss your story, but it would have been nice to see a little more self-reflection in this piece. You yourself have at times been guilty of savaging writers with whom you disagree, even over relatively minor points. What you have written was never as bad as the worst offenders you highlight here. But in particular, your attacks on Peter Beinart’s faith were nasty, and broadly fall into the same pattern you are now decrying. You also went after a personal friend of mine for having a birthday celebration in Ramallah. That piece was less personally demeaning towards him, but still came from the same hateful capacity that we all have inside of us, in my opinion.

I watched you debate Mr. Beinart in person and you were far more civil, which is why I am taking the time to write this comment. I hope that, in light of this lousy experience you’ve had, you’ll work harder to bring your written work into line with how you treat people when you meet them face to face. When it comes to writing online, especially about Israel, that is probably the golden rule.

You are not really expecting fair play from Ha”aretz and the Jewish left? Were you?

salemst says:

I understand the harsh language and infighting among fellow Jews. The battle among typically well educated/intelligent Jews pits the idealistic social justice tenet of the faith (if anyone’s being trod upon, the Jews are next) against realistic pragmatism (G_D isn’t protecting us so we’d better do so, ourselves).

How are Jews supposed to balance idealism with pragmatism when a Jewish state’s existence is at stake with civility? It’s tantamount to a group of Jews attempting to negotiate with people looking to physically beat and evict you from your home wanting it for themselves, and those about to be beaten should respectfully discuss it with them?

It’s a parallel thought universe which no common point to begin a civil discussion exists. There’s no middle ground or compromise position. We, at least many of us, understand the only way for peace is granting ‘right of return’ ending Israel as a Jewish state. It’s why Arafat didn’t take the deal with Clinton in the late 1990′s being given everything else he wanted.

Intelligent people can disagree. They can disagree with civility. But when you have a choice to try to negotiate or fight for your life, it tends to become somewhat of an emotional “discussion,” IMO.

Daniel — This is a fascinating point in the scary road that we seem to have come to together. . . after splitting up for a while. You and I know each other and we’ve corresponded for some years. I have begged you to be more fair (or least more loving, more empathetic) in your evaluation of J Street and its supporters–like me. It seems like the sickness (or anger) that has been growing on the “right” side of the Jewish world has now claimed not only me in its sights, but you as well. Which is, I think, an indication of why it has frightened me — or at least discouraged me somewhat — and how it is a destructive force. I attended 3 interesting conferences during the past 6 months — AIPAC, J Street and the Peres Presidential Conference. At the latter two conferences, I found ample room for disagreement with respect. (Occasionally, I found that it led toward disrespect, and I will continue to fight that.) Both seemed like healthy Jewish environments: Our whole modern (post Temple) history is about argument and respect, one could say. At AIPAC, I found that there was one view to be heard–over and over, louder and louder. And there wasn’t room for other points of view. There WAS one breakout session at which I heard a diversity of points of view. I’m going to give the AIPAC Conference the benefit of the doubt, though: it’s an election year, and everyone is falling all over themselves to show how much they love Jews and the State of Israel. The battle lines have been drawn both in the US and Israel. From what I can tell, there IS a diversity of opinion in Israel that rarely gets heard in the US. But at the same time, the drumbeat of accusing liberals and questioners in Israel is even more thunderous there than here in the US. Which doesn’t bode well for the future — for any of us. So maybe during my Tisha B’Av fast, I will consider having more affection for those whose views oppose my own. But I have little hope that they will return the favor. So I’ll pray a little harder on that one. And try and work toward it, too.

PhillipNagle says:

Of course the settlements in Judea and Samaria are an occupation. The arabs regarded the 1948 cease fire lines as temporary and with exception of Jordan, who every other nation agreed illegally annexed Judea and Samaria, viewed the old Palestine mandate as a single entity. It was only after the cease fire lines no longer existed that the arabs claimed they were somehow permanent. As for J Street, any organaztion financed by former Nazi stooge, George Soros, should not be taken seriously. He merely wants to finish the work of old masters.

Christopher Reiger says:

It’s an uphill struggle, no doubt, but kol hakavod, Rabbi Gordis, for this articulate and thoughtful plea.

mbsocol says:

It’s sad, if not exactly unexpected, to read this kind of defamation posted to an article pleading for a little more civility. Too bad…

PhillipNagle says:

Sometimes the truth hurts. To criticize someone for making true true statements because one finds the truth lacks civility is censorship of the worst kind.

yosef kanefsky says:

Thank you Danny, for having the wisdom and courage to say that we mustn’t paint ourselves into a moral and strategic corner. A peaceful, two-state future may in fact be something that our foes simply won’t even accept. There are things not in our control. But what is in our control is to leave the possibility open, so that if the future has a pleasant surprise in store, if one day true negotiation is possible, we will have not pre-emptively rejected its outcome.

ilona fried says:

“Comments sections are, of course, the province
of those with too much time on their hands, and our culture of web
anonymity invites terrible excesses.” Even though you probably aren’t reading these comments, you lost me at this sentence. It suggests that only the people who write articles are entitled to share their opinions and engage in discussion. If it weren’t for the comments sections here on Tablet, the New York Times and other publications, I’d probably stop reading altogether. It’s often the commenters who offer the nuance, balance and insight lacking in the original piece.

mbsocol says:

Unfortunately, your statement is both unfair and untrue. Soros was a 13 year old child when he was forced at threat of violence by Nazi occupiers to hand out deportation notices. To expect a child under those circumstances to behave in any other way is deeply inhumane, and illustrates the crudity of both your understanding of the man’s history and your moral sensibility.

Oudtshoorn says:

Dr Gordis,

I am so sorry you have experienced this hurt. The “talk-backer” from Kiryat Arba cannot possibly be taken seriously by people who know and appreciate your thinking and writing.

The “talk-back” phenomenon has become frightening everywhere, and I have had to unsubscribe even from Tablet because of what can only be described as hate-mail towards Jews, on a Jewish website. Most of what I’ve read is “talk-back” from people in the USA (I am stunned at the vicious venom from this country, which I had thought of as the essence of goodness, being “the greatest democracy in the world”) and Norway, and from the ubiquitous Holocaust deniers – mainly in the USA, Turkey and the UK. We are hated with a terrible, always frightening, passion, but I do not see it as essentially worse now than it has been in the past. I am 70 in a few days time, and for all of my 70 years I have experienced this. With globalisation and the Web it has just become very much more obvious, and therefore more terrifying.

With regard to the way in which we talk to each other: Today I stumbled upon a video on the Web, titled something like “Why Jews are Hated.” A reporter had gone into an ultra-religious quarter of Jerusalem, was being deliberately provocative, and the Jewish anger and yelling were awful to behold. And yes, language was running amok. I do wish we could tone it down a notch. But it must be noted that the Jews were not at all physically threatening, whereas if it had been a Muslim quarter invaded by the journalist, his life would have been in danger. And then again, of course, we have the questions: Why do they choose to provoke us? Would they dare do the same to Islamists who do nothing but hate and kill on a daily basis?

I’ve rambled on, but what I essentially want to say is that we like you and trust you, and we are angered on your behalf by abuse and vitriol being hurled at you. It is one of the consequences of being courageous. Stay with it, do, for all our sakes.

Patriot493 says:

Uh, exactly what article are you commenting on? Certainly not Gordis’s.

Rabbi,
I’m distressed that your political stand has provoked such vitriol, and I am disturbed as you are by the discord in Israel. As you say, we are living in a period of great danger to Israel. Danger provokes fear, fear engenders discord. Again, as you say, we’ve experienced discord – and fear -in the past.
Putting that aside, we all need to look at this picture. In your writings, you have openly warned the youth of Israel not use the US as its model of democracy or way of life, that Israel has a different past, a different goal in terms of its national charter (or lack of one,) and requires us all to focus on Israel’s unique history and reality. Yet, here you are measuring an issue of such importance – as whether or not we are occupying someone else’s land – by the yardstick of the American youth with whom you discourse. It is worrying. We’d like American youth to feel comfortable about their Zionism. But their Zionism is based, as you yourself have preached, on an essentially American perspective. Can we, in all innocence, conduct Israeli policy based on the sensitivities of American youth?
Israel cannot turn in upon herself, like a dog chewing on its leg, when isolated or attacked by the outside world. Are we to claim we are guilty when we don’t believe we are? Merely to please the outside world?
Do you really think they will love us for that?
I almost refrained from writing this, because of your above stated opinion regarding those who post comments – that they have nothing else to do with their time. I wrote this anyway, because I respect you, and I hope you wrote that out of the pain of the moment. That pain is what we are all experiencing right now. A pain that causes contentiousness, born out of fear.
I wish you a meaningful fast,
Batya Casper
The Human Face of Conflict.

salemst says:

J Street is nothing but Israel sell outs. I’ll oppose them till my, or their, death.

Danny, the comments you rightly call out for being uncivil and misleading are just so. But there are two contextualizing questions this column does not raise, but perhaps should have, which are: (1) Are we living in an environment in which the Jewish discourse is somehow less civil than the discourse of the broader community; and (2) Are we living in a time in which the Jewish discourse is somehow less civil than Jewish discourse historically?
In both cases, I would submit that the answer is no. Jewish discourse is no more coarse and shrill than that of our 24-hour cable and Internet, talking-head and Twitter-fed society. Certainly, when compared to the comments of the politically extreme in Western society as a whole, these comments are mild–and one need only look at the comments section of any major news site for the proof. If anything, the Jewish community appears to me to be somewhat more restrained, if only because there are those who recognize the importance of maintaining community.
Similarly, by historical standards, the present Jewish discourse appears more civil than the vitriolic fights we have historically seen, essentially from monarchical times through ages of sages, rabbinically led communities, and even to the founding of the modern state. Consider the actual events of sinat hinam surrounding the destruction of the Second Temple, when actual fratricide was being committed even as the Roman Legions camped outside the City. Our discourse is bad–and let it never be that bad; but it’s not that bad.
Those who engage in uncivil, and more importantly misleading or malicious, discourse do far more damage to their own reputation and integrity than they do to those they attack in such a manner. But too often in the current environment, complaints of “uncivil discourse” are, in fact, attacks themselves by those who wish to claim that their views are somehow stifled–in other words, that they would like to air their views without being subject to review and response. That’s an understandable desire, but not actually a matter of sinat hinam but instead a departure from the longstanding Jewish tradition of upholding the right to present and preserve dissent–while at the same time being unflinching in the evaluation of claims.

beniyyar says:

More pretentious and pompous moralizing by the notorious, self righteous, self hating. and hatefilled Left wing faux religious Jewish loudmouth, Daniel “smear Israel at all costs and in every possible venue” Gordis. It is a shame that any self respecting Jewish publication would give Gordis a platform for his hypocritical and empty headed criticism of Jews, Judaism, and Israel. Gordis, like his JStreet and BDS buddies hold Jews and Israel to a standard of perfection, all the time and in all ways, and are absolutely savage in his criticism of Jews and Israel, while at the same time aligning himself with some of the worst anti Semites and Israel haters imaginable. Worse, Gordis has the chutzpah to justify any and all attacks on Jews and Israel by enemies of Israel and with this silly, unfair, and badly thought out commentary manages to bad mouth the Jewish People and provide further ammunition for those who already hate us. If anything, Gordis has by this ridiculous rant engaged in “lashon hara”, and committed a grievous sin against the Jewish People and defiled the Holy Name of G-d. He should be ashamed of himself, but blinded by his arrogance he won’t be, but at the very least, no decent and moral Jewish group should tolerate his writing or his presence.

cipher says:

Please. You wouldn’t recognize “the truth” if it walked up to you and introduced itself.

Thanks, C. Nuke Hinam.

That would track about right; this level of vitriolic, dehumanizing discourse goes back about 30 years.

salemst says:

I don’t recall Soros as ever being a “friend” of Israel. Can anyone share anything he’s ever done assisting Israel in any way?

I’m willing to be open minded if anyone has anything

salemst says:

I do notice those on the indefensible side of the argument tend to clamor for and beseech people into politically correct “civility” in the desperate hope if they talk “civilly”long enough they may sway someone’s view.

It’s really because they’re trying to pre-empt the figurative boot on the rump or tongue lashing they know is imminent.

We have self-loathing Jews in our midst, and we’re to treat them with respect?

Before I comment here, I want to make it quite clear that I consider Daniel Gordis a friend and colleague, despite our differences and that nothing we argue about can affect that. Nevertheless, allow me a relatively short response:-

Rabbi Dr. Gordis (from now on, Daniel) wrote “Medad’s piece
didn’t cross any red lines—he didn’t call me a traitor, for example—but
his derisive tone, I think, invited some of the viciousness that has
come to characterize too much of Jewish discourse about Israel.”

If I can textually deconstruct this comment of Daniel, I could say:

a) I didn’t cross any red lines (although I am not sure what those red lines are).

b) I didn’t call him a ‘traitor’ (I understand now that that is a red line).

c) I wrote in a derisive tone.

d) I did invite vicious discourse.

So, I am innocent twice but semi-guilty twice. I write “semi-guilty” as
regards my ‘derisive tone’ since I don’t think I was derisive.

I reviewed my piece. I entitled it “The Gordis Not”, a play on words,
and immediately explained: “Daniel Gordis said “no” to the Levy
Report”. Was that derisive?

I wrote he decided “to run with this group of Israeli critics”,
referring to the IPF which last hosted Ehud Olmert when he whined in 2006 about Israel “being tired”. Was that derisive?

As to aligning himself with IPF, and let’s recall the process in his words: “One of the letter’s authors had sent me a draft,
asking if I’d sign it. I turned him down, explaining that I had some
issues with the language. A day later, he sent me a revised version. It
wasn’t perfect, but it was better. Would I sign, he wanted to know? I
agreed…”, I trust that being a Rabbi, Daniel will recall this
Rabbinic framework from Sanhedrin 23A: “Rab Judah said in Rab’s name:
…It has been taught likewise: The fair minded of the people in
Jerusalem used to act thus: They would not sign a deed without knowing
who would sign with them; they would not sit in judgment unless they
knew who was to sit with them; and they would not sit at table without
knowing their fellow diners.”

I am aware that the IPF is attempting to re-brand itself but it has a
long way still to go to achieve “pro-Israel advocacy” status. I still
recall that it was Jonathan Jacoby who was the leader of the Israel
Policy Forum for many years, and before being hired to run the IPF was
associated with the New Jewish Agenda, the New Israel Fund, and
Americans for Peace Now, and had been identified by Douglas Bloomfield in
1997 as one of a group of “Jewish leaders [who] have been privately
urging Clinton to put more pressure on Netanyahu.” The Israel Policy
Forum was created in 1992 by Israel’s Labor Party in order to push
American Jewry to the left.

To continue and return to my response, I asked did the criticism of Netanyahu need “have been such a public shaming?” Did it? I asked if he agreed with Yitzhak Rabin’s October 1995 formula? Does he?

And I concluded, writing “you erred in your own aspirational exuberance. You erred in the ‘friends’ you chose.” I still think so.

As for the specific “inviting viciousness” charge, I reject that but will not characterize that as derisive. Maybe having lived in Israel for 42 years, I am used to the discourse.

gwhepner says:

SENSELESS HATRED

Senseless hatred, sinat
hinam,

isn’t just extremely dumb,

but most fatal of all flaws,

which is why it was
the cause

of exile that’s far longer than

the one preceding it. We can

correct all flaws except for those

we justify when we suppose

they are not flaws at all. The sense-

less hatred that we all dispense

we do not think is wrong, believing

that with its help we
are relieving

a problem. It won’t go away

until we realize it may

in fact be why it lasts so long.

That why of all things we do wrong

senseless hatred is the worst.

It is a bubble we must burst

if we wish to rebuild the Temple.

The solution is that simple.

Dispensing with this great offense

clearly makes a lot of sense.

gwhepner@yahoo.com

:

williambilek says:

Daniel,

We have exchanged opinions on this matter, and while I continue to disagree with you, I fully respect your right to your point of view, more so than many others BECAUSE you have taken the step that they haven’t, and live your life in Israel. There is no place for anger or vitriol, especially not between friends who may agree on the goal, but disagree on the best way to reach it. On the plus side, the vehemence of the objections to your having signed your name speaks of the influence and respect that those for, and against you, believe that you wield.

Two points:
1) A letter signed by one or more Jews taking a stand on any issue addressed to the government of Israel is entirely the correct way to go about expressing dissent. (I don’t know that it needed to be made public, or even if that could have been avoided.) However, the letter did not make a clear enough distinction between advising against ADOPTING and putting the Levy Commission report into action, as opposed to outright REJECTING it. The Report is simply a well-based expression of legal opinion, which has as much validity as any opposing opinion, pending adjudication by a universally accepted juridical system (which does not exist today.) It is important that there be such a Report in the armamentarium of the Government of Israel and its supporters, to counter the widespread legal opinions to the contrary, being falsely dressed up as accepted “international law”.

2) Regarding posters on various talkbacks. It takes a lot of time (which many of don’t have.) But the other option is to leave the field to the prevaricators, haters, and anti-Semites who will gladly spread their venom, unopposed. If only one mind is opened to counter-arguments, it is worth doing.

Finally, I thought you might find this article interesting:

Beyond Tears: Thoughts for Tisha B’Av

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

(This article by Rabbi Marc D. Angel appears in the Israeli newspaper,
Haaretz, July 26, 2012)

Matisyahu To Perform During Tisha B’Av Fast (FM)

and

Showering During the Nine Days ? (Matsav)

Washing one’s body should be a daily routine and even more if one does strenuous
activity or exercise. Obviously some countries have more options for personal
care than others depending on their wealth.

Also it has been prophesied that Tisha B’av will be a time of rejoicing in the Messianic
Era.

Two questions for readers…

(1) Is the Messianic Redemption happening now ?

(2) Where are we on the divine timeline ?

To Daniel Gordis: While we differ about the Levy report, I follow your writing with deep interest and respect. Every time I see your name in print I recall your father z”l, a piece of whose work I had the honor to edit for a long-ago book. We all try to credit our fathers’ memories and you do that well. As to how some people respond to what you say, unfortunately I find they are equally abusive to other writers whom they might envy and/or reject. The uphill battle for us all, and uphill it is, will be to find a way to achieve some Jewish unity. We don’t have to agree but we do have to work together for our common survival. To accomplish that, we all first need to lower the temperature of our debate. Keep on doing that!

Andrew Lappin says:

Appropriate comments relative to Tish B’av ( and any time for that matter). However your bemoaning of the “blatant intellectual dishonesty” expressed by your detractors seems a bit disingenuous.

I understand the complex set of weights and measures that you are struggling with. But if intellectual honesty is part of that struggle why would “silence” have not been an option?

After all what is blatantly illogical or untrue relative to the chronology of events as expressed in the Levy Commission Report? The timing was certainly interesting but of course just when would there have been a better time??

Upholding Israel’s legal right to Judea and Sumeria may at this time be an uncomfortable fact to sit with, and to those who have been seduced by the J Street campaign, it may be a downright offensive concept to even countenance. Regardless of the legal status however, Israel, may at some point be inclined under the right conditions, to make difficult choices.

For those who over the last 23 years have been inclined to “blame settlements” for the lack of progress , it was also an uncomfortable fact that simultaneous to Israel’s pursuit of the Oslo Accords, that our Palestinian partners were blowing up pizza parlors, buses and other areas of public assembly. To this day, Palestinian Govt media continues to incite venomous racist hatred. The problem was that the ugly inconvenient truth of Palestinian hatred and corruption was conveniently swept under the carpet. Until it finally exploded, leaving us with a terrorist encampment in Gaza and a neutered but controlled security envelope in the territories. Bottom line, we were enablers. The model just plain does not work. Whether it is an abusive husband, an alcoholic mother, or a drugged out teen, sweeping stuff under the carpet as a mode of group interaction and dynamics has proven to be a non-starter.

IPF’s letter was a continuation of the enabling process and was in itself a “blatant exercise in intellectual dishonesty”. Rather we should put similar energy into holding the Palestinian’s accountable for their lack of civility and civic responsibility.

Pam Green says:

Inculcating anti-Israel feeling among young and vulnerable American Jews cannot, in my opinion, be the work of web-posters “with too much time on their hands”. It is too methodical, and has the institutional support of the websites and blogs on which the most vicious comments appear, every day, regardless of the topic being discussed. For instance, yesterday on commondreams.org, in response to an article discussing the shocking ice melt in Greenland, someone wrote, “and you know which religion forbids usury and interest which always fu*9s over poor? islam. which is why our zionist right wing fascist denialist camp hates islam. ‘the more you know’.”

This is typical. Such comments are not flagged or removed. Nor does anyone typically object, perhaps because those who do are viciously attacked in turn. This has happened to me repeatedly. I hate to see these types of comments go unanswered, and I wish I had enough time on my hands to answer every one with irrefutable facts about the history of the Zionist movement and the Arab-Israeli conflict. There have to be a lot of well-meaning, confused, self-censoring readers on these websites who would be open to hearing pro-Israel arguments but are unfortunately not seeking out websites like Tablet.

bobbilurie says:

I think we Jews are fooling ourselves to think we are part of any type of debate at all. We, as a people, use logic and argument. Being as I am under too much stress to function at a high intellectual level, I’d say: go to the heart. What do you feel? Is there really a difference between the word “Zionist’ and “Jew”-Can Israel be named an actual country when most of the U.N. does not feel it has a right to exist? It’s not a matter of what anyone thinks of Israeli policy. Israel shall (perhaps?), more than likely, be the only place willing to accept the likes of “us,” regardless of our various views and political leanings. Such things are intellectual exercises and are a luxury. Ask if anyone is answering “us” but “us.”

bobbilurie says:

I apologize. I forgot to post link. (this belongs to comments below)

http://www.economist.com/node/21559677?fsrc=scn/tw_ec/old_and_nasty

mbsocol says:

he has donated to birthright programs…

mbsocol says:

You may want to take a step back and ask yourself whether 24-hour cable news, on the one hand, and our own ancient history, on the other, are the best metrics by which to judge the current state of our communal discourse, or our aspirations. I think you are suffering from artificially diminished expectations.

I used to intern at JPost, and one of my jobs was to moderate its Talkbacks (a peculiarly Israeli nomenclature that pretty much captures the balance between talking and listening on their news sites.) If you think what you read is bad, you should see what gets deleted before it ever reaches the site. It would…give you pause.

Years later, I published an article in the left-wing 972 Magazine explaining why I support J Street. The article focused in specifically on the group’s tactics as a lobbying organization. It was not polemical, and if anything placed me to the right of the average J Streeter, and quite a bit to the right of most of 972′s contributors.

The next day, my entire place of work (I worked in a Jewish institution at the time) was spammed by an individual accusing me of being the modern incarnation of a capo, the inmates who were placed in charge of prisoner units in Nazi concentration camps. I was not surprised by the content of this comment (though a bit by the writer’s ingenuity in emailing so many people…), having heard it and worse many times before. But I was a little sad to see how taken aback my older colleagues were. Those over the age of 40 hadn’t realized that this was the level to which our community has sunk.

For my part, I’ve carried that knowledge since my salad days deleting sinat chinam-byte after sinat chinam-byte on the night-shift at the Israeli newspaper.

philipmann says:

In delusional moments, I sometimes post here. usually on lighter topics . And for the reasons people here have mentioned-the sheer gutter level of hatred that shows itself here from time to time . Holocaust deniers, politically correct anti-Semites ( the bsd crowd ) and old fashioned haters of Jews all seem to have subscriptions to this e-magazine. It`s not common at all to have a civilised debate on any topic.

Samuel Goldring says:

Perhaps G-d destroyed the Beit Ha’Mikdash because people used it to fuel their hatred for each other .Each party argued they posessed the truth emanating from the Temple and insisted that only their position honors and preserves that Holy Place. But G-d wanted peace and caring not a building that leads to ugly arguments.
Sometimes we have to forgo what is rightfully ours to preserve life. The real mother cried out to Solomon- give the other woman the living child. Today the real “mother” of the Land crys out “Cut the Land and let no blood be spilled”.
But we must be strong and vigilant to preserve life.

esthermiriam says:

You don’t think saying that you’re “…saddened and worried by the growing numbers of even Orthodox students on college campuses making their way to the J-Street bloc” may be approaching, if not crossing, the line?
Spell out your principled objections to the policies J Street espouses and its pracitices — and thus your concerns — or skip generalized insult and find a way to make your point without snice reference to an honorable organization.

esthermiriam says:

You don’t think saying that you’re “…saddened and worried by the growing numbers of even Orthodox students on college campuses making their way to the J-Street bloc” may be approaching, if not crossing, the line? Either spell out your principled objections to the policies J Street espouses and its pracitices — and thus your concerns — or skip the snide phrase and generalized insult and find a way to make your point without reference to that honorable organization.

This is a good article. I have not read the Levy report, i suppose I need to. i suspect that I would not have signed the letter (not that anyone asked me), but I applaud your call for more civility in debate.

Danny Gordis is both right and wrong. Yes the discourse has dropped to an unfortunate level in the Jewish world. Look at the level of conversation about observant Jews. Why does the segment of the Jewish community that follows the dictates of Shulchan Aruch-the Code of Jewish Law warrant the title “Ultra” Are there any “ultra reform”, is J Street “Ultra Leftist”. Nor in truth is many of the comments form the religious sector filled with much dignity. We all could use a dose of Ahavat Yisroel,

Second I think Danny Gordis has stepped into dangerous ground with this letter. If you are on the left or right, It you are anti settlements or believe that Judea and Samaria are essential for Israeli security or a biblical homeland. Why handicap yourselves before the conversation begins. Why do the Jewish people have to relinquish their connection to their historical homeland as a precondition. Its simply a bad approach to negotiations.

We can learn something from the Arabs. They claim with great passion their so called rights to Jerusalem, and all of Israel. We act with insecurity, afraid we might offend someone. Be it the resident of the White House or a some representative of the European Union. Jews need to have a great sense of self respect and confidence in their own historical bond to Eretz Yisroel. It reaches back over three thousand years. We don’t need validation from the nations of the world.

This does not mean we do not have to operate as a nation in the real world of diplomacy. However we must approach the issues with self respect and knowledge of what is really ours, not with weakness and doubt. If the Jewish people make a decision that relinquishing territory (something that has not proven successful in Southern Lebanon, Gaza or the West Bank) would usher in an era peace, it should be from our position of strength.

By signing the letter Danny Gordis and others have emboldened the other side. If they would have shared their feelings in private with the political leadership in Israel then I would “nu they are expressing their viewpoint”. Instead they rush to publish sending a message to the world “look even the Jews don’t support Israel’s position” weakening the diplomatic hand of the government. While I think that Danny Gordis intent was as he views “Israels good”. Still one must ask what are the motivations of the organization standing behind this effort. Were their motives only noble, or did they want to seize the limelight and seek relevance and communal support.

In my view this letter is a profound “Chillul Hashem”:

There is a saying in Pirkie Avot, “that wise men should be careful with their words since others may come and drink from them and die”. Its a harsh statement. But we need to think of what we say and how we say it. And we need to ask ourselves that if by saying in public is there a chance that these words may be used by others in a negative way.

There are plenty of insightful comments in comments sections. However, plenty of comments are simply people calling the author, or some other commenter, stupid for reaching an obviously “wrong” conclusion, completely disregarding whatever arguments were brought to support the conclusion from the outset.

Are you familiar with Kasim Hafeez? He is a British-Pakistani Muslim who grew up as one of the most vile anti-semites/anti-zionists you could imagine. Sometime later in life, he turned around and became a forceful advocate ON BEHALF OF Israel, as you can read about here http://www.theisraelcampaign.org/default.html .

What led to this change of heart? Following your logic, one would think that following an encounter with self-secure Zionist who would not yield any claim on the right of Jews to any piece of their biblical birthright, he came away convinced that the Jews were actually correct and that he had been wrong all his life. The reality could not be further from that. His transformation started when he picked up Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel expecting to refute its arguments one-by-one. Instead he found that he had no response to any of Dershowitz’s arguments.

It should be noted that Dershowitz opposes the settlements, with the exception of the ones which were part of Yishuv settlement blocs. So what was it about Dershowitz that convinced Hafeez? It’s the fact the Dershowitz built his case on universal principles and those principles in such a way that one would have to recognize the right of the Jews to reconstitute their homeland.

The thing is, that basing your own rights on universal principles means that you have to accept what those principles apply, in this case that the Palestinian people, as opposed to the Palestinian National Movement, deserve something. Therefore, if you want to advocate the right of Jews to develop their national character and that all obstacles should be swept aside, no matter how great an inequality is created in Jews’ favor by doing so, you need some other principles. Do you seriously think that such alternate principles would have convinced someone like Hafeez.

brynababy says:

Well, I agree with you when it comes to Tablet and the overwhelming majority of thoughtful, respectfull and intelligent comments herein, but most of the comment sections I see, are just filled with ugly, threatening, disrespectful, ignorant, uneducated, (mostly right-wing, I must say) and meaningless comments. I have stopped reading them.

brynababy says:

I think his comment speak clearly and I too object strongly to the policies of J Street. I think, though many intelligent and thoughtful people have bought into the J Street, that it’s founder is self-serving, egotistical and searching the spotlight. I am a dyed in the wool Liberal, one might even say, an activitst, but I love Israel and I believe J Street does not help to correct Israel’s faults. It’s publicity seeking head compounds the dangers Israel faces.

brynababy says:

I totally agree with you. Sadly, the most vitriolic and hateful comments in response to any article about Jews and Israel, seem to come from the far-right and Ultra Orthodox thinking.

brynababy says:

This is exactly what Dr. Gordis was talking about!

Chaia Beckerman says:

Not only do you not seem to have read Daniel Gordis’ many earlier pieces disparaging the left, you don’t seem to have read him very carefully now. However, as an Israeli/US citizen and lover of Zion who is tremendously grateful for J Street’s pro-peace, pro-Israel stance, I greatly appreciate your careful wording (“and”) noting that BDS and J Street (which opposes BDS) are not one and the same.

salemst says:

This is an incredibly wise/sage post. Thank you, David, for taking the time to make a strong sensible reasoned point regarding Jews and an optimal approach to defend Israel’s existence.

I appreciate your words.

salemst says:

Well stated, Pam. Revisionist and subjective history slanted towards an author’s self-interest influencing those without knowledge do nothing more than obfuscate issues dividing us.

Pretty soon we’ll have Jewish deniers that the Arabs have ever attacked Israel and that Arabs and Jews always lived peacefully and respectfully with one another, therefore, no need for a Jewish state of Israel.

Words are indeed powerful tools. The Jews have a proud tradition of the highest opinion prevailing, e.g. the Talmudic debates. However constructive criticism is quite different to verbal abuse, slander, libel or defamation. Regarding Tisha B’av…

Jews Read Lamentations Outside Temple Mount in Defiance of Ban (Arutz Sheva)

“…and going up to the Temple Mount in purity according to halacha (Jewish law) is the beginning of the process of rebuilding.” – Rabbi Chaim Richman

This is an incorrect interpretation of the prophecies. There is a timeline to the Redemption. I repeat…Pushing one of the messianic imperatives before its time could prove dangerously counter-productive. The recognition and acceptance of Moshiach’s sovereignty precedes any building of the Third Temple on the Mount.

emunadate says:

Wow, great article! Is that enough for the Jewish people to unite behind Israel?
http://emunadate.blogspot.co.il/2011/02/king-david-video-david-king-of-israel.html

Samuel Goldring says:

You can’t see into a person’s heart only G-d knows a person’s deepest thoughts.Why would they even bother talking and dreaming about Israel if they are self- hating. Argue about the plan for Israel, those you disagree with have. Show them why they are mistaken, how your ideas are more workable than theirs.What is obvious to you may not be to someone else. The Torah is more concerned about hating others than hating ourselves. Because each person has an innate bias in favor of themselves .
Whoever says what is yours is yours and what is mine is yours is considered pious. But of course you don’t have to donate to someone who
wants to harm you.

Rabbi Gordis, I start out not really knowing you though I have heard of you, read a few things from you and listened to you debate Peter Beinart. But when you try to paint people who oppose your action as participating in the same fashion as those whose bickering destroyed the Second Temple, well, you lose me already. But the grievance here should be about what you have implicitly called the settlements, that is, not worthy of respect. Between Jewish kids having a problem with Israel if it is accepting of settlements and the rights of the settlements, I simply choose the rights of settlements. You, however, implicit in your signature have decided that deception of Jewish children is preferable to the truth. Is this a tell about you, that you want to throw away principle in favor of lying to the kids? It is worse that you place both feet squarely in quicksand and then wish to extract yourself by attacking those who seek to stop your fool-hearty behavior.

Rabbi Gordis, I start out not really knowing you though I have heard of you, read a few things from you and listened to you debate Peter Beinart. But when you try to paint people who oppose your action as participating in the same fashion as those whose bickering destroyed the Second Temple, well, you lose me already. But the grievance here should be about what you have implicitly called the settlements, that is, not worthy of respect. Between Jewish kids having a problem with Israel if it is accepting of settlements and the rights of the settlements, I simply choose the rights of settlements. You, however, implicit in your signature have decided that deception of Jewish children is preferable to the truth. Is this a tell about you, that you want to throw away principle in favor of lying to the kids? It is worse that you place both feet squarely in quicksand and then wish to extract yourself by attacking those who seek to stop your fool-hearty behavior.

Rabbi Gordis, I start out not really knowing you though I have heard of you, read a few things from you and listened to you debate Peter Beinart. But when you try to paint people who oppose your action as participating in the same fashion as those whose bickering destroyed the Second Temple, well, you lose me already. But the grievance here should be about what you have implicitly called the settlements, that is, not worthy of respect. Between Jewish kids having a problem with Israel if it is accepting of settlements and the rights of the settlements, I simply choose the rights of settlements. You, however, implicit in your signature have decided that deception of Jewish children is preferable to the truth. Is this a tell about you, that you want to throw away principle in favor of lying to the kids? It is worse that you place both feet squarely in quicksand and then wish to extract yourself by attacking those who seek to stop your fool-hearty behavior.

Rabbi Gordis, I start out not really knowing you though I have heard of you, read a few things from you and listened to you debate Peter Beinart. But when you try to paint people who oppose your action as participating in the same fashion as those whose bickering destroyed the Second Temple, well, you lose me already. But the grievance here should be about what you have implicitly called the settlements, that is, not worthy of respect. Between Jewish kids having a problem with Israel if it is accepting of settlements and the rights of the settlements, I simply choose the rights of settlements. You, however, implicit in your signature have decided that deception of Jewish children is preferable to the truth. Is this a tell about you, that you want to throw away principle in favor of lying to the kids? It is worse that you place both feet squarely in quicksand and then wish to extract yourself by attacking those who seek to stop your fool-hearty behavior.

Larrysturn says:

I don’t have any magic answers but do believe that many new conversations need to happen to help Israelis and Palestinians to come together as two peoples enough to begin to understand each other as human beings and to then determine how to live as neighbors in peace. To get there Jews in Israel and across the globe need to engage in a more inclusive and positive conversation.

Larrysturn says:

I don’t have any magic answers but do believe that many new conversations need to happen to help Israelis and Palestinians to come together as two peoples enough to begin to understand each other as human beings and to then determine how to live as neighbors in peace. To get there Jews in Israel and across the globe need to engage in a more inclusive and positive conversation.

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