VOTJN: Refusing debate is just not Jewish

VOTJN: Refusing debate is just not Jewish

This week's editorial reflects on Sir Mick Davis' warning in this week's paper - of the perilous state of argument over Zionism in the UK Jewish community

Pro Israel demonstrators at the Al Quds Day Rally, July 2018
Pro Israel demonstrators at the Al Quds Day Rally, July 2018

For millennia Jews have debated.

In writing, around the dinner table, it’s what we do, and it has stood us in good stead.

By comparison, we’ve not had long (70 years) to debate the actions and direction of the State of Israel, but debate it we have – and then some.

So on one level it is bizarre to think some of the most respected people in our community, those who don’t warn unless there’s a real threat, now say the nature of the debate is risking the viability of that community, of Zionism and of Israel.

Yet that is what Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner did in May, and what Sir Mick Davis – a Zionist with an unimpeachable record of supporting Israel and Jewish causes – did this week.

The problem is polarisation and extremism (admittedly mirrored in society at large) and how this is causing Jews to “leave the floor”. That it is happening is beyond doubt.

Most of us know people who have simply switched off, chosen to walk away from a crucial element of their Jewishness, such is the vicious nature of today’s commentary, such are the legions of “far-left” and “far-right” Jews just waiting to type their latest vitriol or scream in someone’s face.

Jews feel harangued online and off for their views on Israel, Palestine, peace and the “ugly” new legislation passing through the Knesset, to use Sir Mick’s phrase, so now don’t offer them.

Debating used to broaden mindsets, offer different perspectives. Not, it seems, for Jews and Israel.

How did this come to be?

For thousands of years before the concept of ‘safe spaces’ even entered the dictionary, it was a given that for Jews the debate itself was a safe space to offer thoughts without fear of abuse, character assassination, smear, accusations of being a ‘kapo’ or, at worst, death threats.

The Jews of old, of tradition, would be appalled by this unwillingness to hear alternative views, or to learn that Jews now fear voicing them because extreme bloggers post photos and identities online.

A Jew’s views should never threaten their safety, only their argument, as more powerful arguments are respectfully made.

That we refuse do so these days is abhorrent. Not so much because it is vile in itself but because it is so un-Jewish.

We must remember who we are: a people with more than one opinion, who have done well because we’ve heard them all.

Good on Sir Mick for saying so.

That he knew he needed to should be a source of deep shame.

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