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“About As Silent As a Circus”

[Last week, Ha’aretz Chief U.S. Correspondent Shmuel Rosner featured Jewcy editor in chief Tahl Raz as a guest on his site. Rosner and Raz e-mailed about the future of Judaism, Jewish peoplehood in America, and the frequency of debate about … Read More

By / April 16, 2007
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[Last week, Ha’aretz Chief U.S. Correspondent Shmuel Rosner featured Jewcy editor in chief Tahl Raz as a guest on his site. Rosner and Raz e-mailed about the future of Judaism, Jewish peoplehood in America, and the frequency of debate about Israel in the U.S.among other topics.]

Dear Tahl,

In a recent article, you wrote: "The fact is debate about Israel is not being silenced on college campuses or anywhere else. On the contrary, there is no country more openly criticized, supported, or argued about than Israel."

Since I agree with you, let me ask you this:

1. Why is the "silencing" argument so common, mostly among people of the liberal-left both in the Jewish community and generally (Carter)

2. What's bothering you about itthe tone of constant whining or the possibility that it is an excuse for lack of convincing arguments?

3. Is there a convincing argument on the part of those complaining about the suppressed debate?

Thank you,

Rosner

Dear Shmuel,

When it comes to Israel, people across the political continuum have their sacred tropesthe left cries about censorship, the right about antisemitism and self-hatred. This is propagandistic masturbation masquerading as moral fervor. Both sides have learned that righteous indignation is easy, and feels great; both ignore the very coherent internal logic of opposing arguments.

Claims of censorship, or the “silencing argument,” are particularly curious, though. It's easy to spot endemic antisemitism because no one is sure what the term means, exactly. It's easy to find evidence for a phenomenon that you can define more or less as you wish. But there's no such ambiguity about the left's claims of “silence” on Israel. Israel/Palestine very clearly generates more coverage per square foot than any story in the history of the world, and there is nothing you can state publicly about the conflict that won't be vigorously and loudly contested. And that contestationseen, in just one example, in the endless public flogging Dershowitz and Finkelstein deliver to each other with such crypto-sexual ravenous delight at every opportunity, in every forum, through every mediumhas become a reliably entertaining spectacle for editors and TV producers. It's as silent as a circus.

And I do think there is a danger in this self-glorifying myth of a silence punctured only by the lonely, prophetic voice of the countless and voluble opponents of Israel. The willful tuning-out of every nuance, every substantive argument that would make anti-Israel activism just a little less orgasmic, is what allows for the fairly popular image of Israel as the pristine embodiment of hubristic, amoral, colonialist evil. These people are not spiritually crippled antisemites, and they're not going to be responsible for the destruction of Israel. But they demonize one party in a conflict that involves two sets of legitimate claims, and in so doing they may complicate or delay the concerted-but-delicate international intervention that will ultimately be required to resolve that conflict.

Israel is like those puppets that family therapists use to get troubled children to express their feelings. Our parents' generation (the baby boomer Jews, more or less) often seems like a confused rich kid in the throes of a very uncomfortable puberty, using Israel to work out their identities at a comfortable remove. So although the Jews in pro-Israel organizations can't silence debate, they do often respond bitterly to reasoned criticism from Jews, and hysterically when it comes from non-Jews. There are too many Abe Foxmans reflexively branding every perceived dissenter as a “self-hater,” and too many Michael Lerners lost in fantasies of their own prophethood.

But younger American Jews aren't nearly so damaged by Jewish history. We want freewheeling debate. We're not frightened by tough, smart, incisive criticism, we're eager for it. That's why we created Jewcynot because we'd been “silenced,” but because in the age of the decentralized web, in a country with a first amendment, no one need stay silent, or whine about how others conduct the debate. Create your own space, and make all the noise you want, how you want.

Tahl Raz

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