Ask The Rabbi: Charlie Hebdo, Netanyahu and ethnic minorities

Ask The Rabbi: Charlie Hebdo, Netanyahu and ethnic minorities

Ask the RabbiShaming is like bloodshedASK THE RABBI 2

Dear Rabbi,

What is the Jewish response to freedom of speech in light of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons? It occurs to me that people should have a right to express themselves as they wish. For anyone else to interfere with that is counter-productive to democracy.


Dear Kelly,

Freedom of speech has to be offset against responsible speech. There is an inherent paradox between the legality of freedom of speech and the illegality of incitement toward religious hatred.

Freedom of speech should never be unbridled. There has to be an element of restraint, otherwise we can have one freedom or the other but not both. Any sensitive human being who cares about the rights of another will find these cartoons abhorrent. All the more so as a Jew, who knows well the sting of anti-Semitism and discrimination, I find the cartoons more than merely insensitive, but a breach of fundamental values that form the stability of any civilised society.

Judaism says that putting someone to shame is like bloodshed and in that respect the magazine in question has committed a sin against society. To be sure, lest this be misconstrued, the murderers are nothing less than rabid killers who take life indiscriminately in the name of their faith and then take the cowardly way out by having themselves killed as well.

There is no place or room in this world for radicalism in any shape or form. But our response to radicalism should not be by fanning further flames of animosity.

Publishing more cartoons, causing gratuitous offence, makes no sense. Sure, it may be somewhat necessary to demonstrate that we will not yield to terror.

But by the same token, it is not welcoming to observe people, who lack a sustained reading of what shapes social forces, choosing to fight the causes of radicalisation by using a language or actions that in themselves only compounds the problem.

Why focus on Bibi at rally?

Dear Rabbi,

Was it right for Benjamin Netanyahu to attend the rally in Paris, especially when he was asked not to and because of what he represents in the Middle East?


Dear Jade,

What exactly does he represent? Whatever his shortcomings, to blame the Middle East crisis and the passé with the Palestinians on him is, at best, gross naïveté.

Why should he be different to any other world leader who wants to demonstrate unity in the face of terror? Indeed, why was all the focus on his attendance when neither Obama nor any other high ranking official from the White House bothered to turn up? If you believe something is fundamentally wrong then you must react intuitively and immediately.

If you are only going to play to the masses and respond when you determine that others are upset, then that is a categorical lack of conviction and reflects poor leadership.

Since you asked a question, let me ask one in return: what on earth was Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas doing there?

For one, he is not a world leader. Furthermore, his own Palestinian Authority glorifies terrorism as a matter of policy.

There are streets in his jurisdiction that have been named after terrorists who have slaughtered men, women and children. His being there makes a mockery of the message the rally was looking to convey.

It also just proves the clowns who invited him really just don’t get it either. Until the next time… (I pray I’m wrong).

Let’s consider others’ feelings

Dear Rabbi,

Do you think it’s perhaps necessary – now more than ever – to be more sensitive to ethnic minorities and perhaps go out of our way to accommodate their individual sensitivities?


Dear Howard,

If by being more sensitive you mean to avoid the gratuitous offence I referenced above, then I say yes, absolutely! But if by sensitivity you mean to ban piggy banks from high street banks, as the Halifax and NatWest did some years ago; or avoid reference to any pig or pork-related words in books, such as the directive the Oxford University Press apparently issued after the recent Paris attacks, then I say, heck no! Sometimes our own hypersensitivity and political correctness that exacerbates the problem.

Here’s my bottom line to all of the above.

There’s nothing wrong in having pride in your own nationality and heritage: English, German, French, Jewish and Muslim.

Every one of them has a heritage. And there’s an obvious virtue in taking pride in your own heritage.

The problem is when it spills over and it gets to a point of excess when it is no longer about being proud of your ancestry, but turns into a lack of respect for others. I

t all comes down to one of the opening verses in the Bible: “And God created man in His image.” We all live with the objective of striving to be in His image; our lives are all different and yet the same.

If we all respected that reality, if you really believe that “you are God’s child,”, then you would believe that about others as well, because you know that God has many children. And then we would all be more enriched from the experience as the world would become so much more of a better place in which to live.

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