January 3, 2018
Our capacity for discourse about difficult issues is being steadily eroded by a culture that celebrates acerbic, often vitriolic, attacks which defeat the possibility of a thoughtful exchange of ideas. This problem was recently brought into sharp relief by an incident within the Greater Boston Jewish community which prompted a statement by AJC New England: an appeal for a return to constructive and civil debate.
AJC New England Reflection: Civility and Intra-Communal Discussion
By Robert Leikind
Our Jewish community is diverse. We come from many backgrounds, affiliate Jewishly in different ways, and hold many different political and philosophical views. This has been the model for Jewish life for millennia. Regrettably, in recent years we have witnessed a turn from vigorous debate towards acerbic and sometimes even toxic attacks against those who see issues differently. These efforts often generate animosity rather than informing the community on important issues. We deeply regret this and hope that our community can recapture a spirit of civility, even as we debate many consequential issues.
This concern has been brought to the fore by a series of attacks directed against major Jewish organizations and more recently an esteemed Rabbi, who was accused of providing a platform for organizations connected to terrorism to raise money. The accusation and the subsequent unseemly campaign directed at the Rabbi’s congregation maligned a dedicated and respected servant of the Jewish community. This is not to say that there may not have been issues that could have been the subject of legitimate communal interest and discussion. It is to suggest that taking issues and spinning them into offensive caricatures does more than defeat the possibility of constructive civil discourse. It undermines community cohesion at a time when we desperately need to find ways to come together.
Some will notice that we have purposely not named organizations or people in this comment. The reason is that we do not want to further inflame discussion. Instead, we hope that others will join us in rejecting presentations infused with vitriolic characterizations of community members, whatever the source, and insist that real issues be discussed with respect.
Two thousand years ago, the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Roman army. This began a 2,000 year long diaspora that lasted until 1948. In commenting on what took place, Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, noted that the Jewish defenders helped precipitate their defeat by investing so much effort in fighting one another. We must never allow this to happen again.