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Internet intensifies Jewish squabbles over Israel, identity
Religious Jews at Jerusalem’s Western Wall earlier this month.
September 25th, 2012
02:30 PM ET

Internet intensifies Jewish squabbles over Israel, identity

By Dave Schechter, CNN

(CNN) - Forgive those who have sinned against you. Seek forgiveness for your sins against others. Forgive yourself.

In a nutshell, that is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, which begins at sunset Tuesday.

There are many forms of sin, to be sure.

In their sermons some rabbis will no doubt voice concern about the way American Jews talk to each other about Israel, about politics and even what it means to be Jewish, lamenting an often divisive and sometimes caustic tone.

These rabbis may suggest that on Yom Kippur some among their congregants may wish to atone, at least symbolically, for the nasty language and name calling too frequently employed in discussions that turn to argument, whether in-person or online - notably in the comments sections after articles at Israel and on social media platforms such as Twitter.

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Twitter provides abundant examples of caustic exchanges. Without naming the offenders and focusing instead on the type of language used, there was the Jewish organizational leader who suggested that a politically liberal Jewish commentator might be a registered lobbyist on behalf of Nazis, while that same liberal Jewish commentator referred to an organization well-known for its attention to hate crimes and anti-Semitism as “flatulent frauds” and to a well-known Jewish academic as “dementia-struck.”

Old-fashioned, face-to-face discussion also has become problematic. “When it comes to talking about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian situation, that heat can burn up even the most well meaning friendships, community relationships, family connections,” observed Rachel Eryn Kalish, an organizer of the San Francisco-area Year of Civil Discourse Initiative that was “designed to elevate the level of discourse in the Jewish community when discussing Israel.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles was asked by Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal, why he would deliver a benediction at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, given the polarized political climate. “I see this not as politics but as prayer,” Wolpe said. “It’s a chance to present Judaism on a national, if not international, stage. It’s a shame some see it otherwise.”

Eshman followed with a comment of his own: “Yes, a shame — but a predictable one. Hyper-partisanship has infected the Jewish community, as it has America. Too many of us have bought into the idea that our side has all the answers. But no party, like no person, is invested with perfect insight and far-seeing wisdom. Fixing Medicare? Boosting unemployment? Defanging Iran?

To quote Woody Allen, most of us don’t even know how a can opener works.”

The idea that argument is central to the Jewish experience is not new. Serious debate over the meaning of phrases within the holy books has existed almost since the beginning – and this is the year 5773 on the Jewish calendar. The old joke about “two Jews, three opinions” did not originate without some measure of truth behind it. But the most modern communications technology has brought a new intensity to disagreements.

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Ron Kampeas, the Washington bureau chief for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news service utilized by Jewish newspapers, online services and other media, offered CNN this perspective: “American Jews are eager to attach their Judaism to their broader ways of thinking - political, social mores, even what and how they eat. America's is the first society in which Jews, like other minorities, were encouraged to take pride in their difference from others.”

“It took decades for American Jews to figure it out,” he said. “But when they saw what ethnic pride did for the American Irish, the American German, the American Italian, they embraced it with a vengeance. By the 1960s, cultural refractions of Judaism through literature, movie, pop culture, song became de rigeur. And then, with the ascension of political figures like Bella Abzug, Ed Koch and Jacob Javits this was true of politics. So real differences in outlooks - from what's funny to what role government should play in out life - become enshrouded in Jewish rationales.”

And as these differences in outlook extend into discussions of politics or Israel, there is strain. “Because Jewish identity is so fraught - even as it has evolved into an outright pride, Jews are still acutely aware of the humiliations that once attached to being Jewish - these arguments are more prone to become bitter exchanges over self-definition,” Kampeas said.

That theme of a community tearing itself apart also was evident in a piece written last year in The Jewish Daily Forward by David Hazony, author of “The Ten Commandments: How Our Most Ancient Moral Text Can Renew Modern Life.”

“With so many Jewish ‘umbrella’ groups, Jewish community centers, federations and so on, it’s easy to believe that, at least on the face of things, Jewish peoplehood in America is thriving,” Hazony wrote. “Yet, something does seem to be dying in the American Jewish fire. The infighting among Jewish groups, the polarization on Israel and the willingness to demonize whole communities of fellow Jews have become so extreme that one begins to wonder what, exactly, is left of the Jewish family.”

Hazony went on to say that “the problem may be at its worst when it comes to politics. Here, American Jews are ferociously divided, with each side accusing the other of fraternizing with a perceived enemy. For Jews on the left, conservatives have joined forces with that most fearsome part of America, conservative Christians, to undermine the liberal, secular space that Jews have worked so hard to carve out for themselves as the real solution to the Jewish problem. For Jews on the right, liberals have joined forces with pro-Palestinian activists, universalists and others who threaten the Jewish state that we worked so hard to create and protect as the real solution to the Jewish problem.”

By most estimates, only 20-35% of American Jews have visited Israel, although a survey of more than 1,000 American Jews by the American Jewish Committee found that 41% said they had visited Israel. “That a majority of American Jews have never been to Israel, and that those who have are, for the most part, infrequent visitors, is an old and sad story,” the American Jewish Committee’s media director, Kenneth Bandler, wrote in The Jerusalem Post.

This could be interpreted as meaning that a significant percentage of the American Jewish community is getting hot under the collar and on their keyboards about a place that exists firmly in their hearts, without ever having been there.

Last month, author Daniel Gordis referenced the response he received to adding his name to a petition on an issue related to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Gordis, who has written that “Fairly or not, I’m seen as slightly right of center on Israel,” did not foresee the response to his signature. What “genuinely shocked me has been the level of vitriol, blatant intellectual dishonesty, and expectations of conformity,” he wrote.

“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?” Gordis said.

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“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,” Gordis wrote, adding “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?”

Scientific American recently published an article titled “Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?”  in which Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas characterized online comments as "extraordinarily aggressive, without resolving anything.”

"At the end of it you can't possibly feel like anybody heard you. Having a strong emotional experience that doesn't resolve itself in any healthy way can't be a good thing,” Markman wrote.

Among those who, depending on your viewpoint, inspire or provoke online is M.J. Rosenberg, who is active on Twitter, where, as in the writings on his website, he pulls no punches. Rosenberg’s resume ranges from working for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, widely regarded as among the most powerful advocacy organizations in Washington, to a stint as a foreign policy fellow at the Media Matters Action Network, a politically liberal organization.

Asked why American Jews have such difficulties with civil discourse over matters related to Israel, Rosenberg told CNN: “The answer is that both sides take this issue very seriously and, frankly, believe that the other is risking the survival and security of Israel and the Jewish people. I know I feel that way about the right and I know that people on the right feel that way about my side - the left. I think both sides feel that the other is jeopardizing a basic part of our selves, our Judaism and the Jewish state.

“And that produces anger and even fury,” he said. “Those on my side are particularly angry because the right tends to act as if it is speaking for all Jews. It isn't. We need to speak all the more forcefully to be heard. Additionally, they have resources we don’t have. We only have our voices.”

From what might be termed the other side of the political spectrum is this perspective from Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, who told CNN: “There's a reason for the old adage that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite company. These topics often lead to impoliteness, and it's no less true of Jews discussing Israel and religion as anyone else.

“I spend a lot of time in my job arguing about Israel, and the fact is (as verified by polling) that American Jews are pretty unified on a range of Israel questions – they are firmly on Israel's side in matters of war and diplomacy,” Pollak said. “However, there is a small minority of left-wing American Jews who dissent from this consensus, and they have an unfortunate tendency to invoke their Jewishness in the course of denouncing Israel, as if their religious affiliation lends some higher credibility or insight on the question of what to do about Hamas or Iran or the peace process.”

“Me, I'm fine with heated arguments,” he continued. “Jews have been arguing for thousands of years - we privilege and enjoy debate, and as far as my side is concerned, I'm pretty sure we have the winning case.”

But if everyone believes they have the winning case  ...

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Holidays • Internet • Judaism

soundoff (495 Responses)
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    February 25, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  2. Iqbal Khan

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCQx47kN6tI&w=640&h=390]

    September 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Barry Van Kleeck

      I am tired of hearing about how “poor Israel” needs our help. They have victimized the Palestinians for years and yet they are “victims”.
      In 1946 we pushed the Arab peoples off their land and created “Israel”, and ever since that time the Arab people have been angry with us Americans. So, we have had to bow down and kiss Jewish ass every time the poor Jewish people feel threatened. This has cost our country untold billions of dollars. It is time that it ends. The Jewish people in this country found out early that we as Americans like to laugh to help us get through bad times. So, they capitalized on that and bought the copy writes to most every bit of material that makes us laugh. That is a sorry business, but it is true. That is why they control most all media as we know it.
      The Yiddish people have enough wealth and control, it is time our country stops bowing down and spending billions of dollars for this tiny minority—we simply can no longer afford it. Israel has plenty of its own missiles and naval power—they can defend themselves.
      My opinion.

      October 2, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  3. Sam

    The internet can be used for good or bad. I find it a great place to discuss Torah and Tanakh and spiritual matters. I am Messianic. I believe Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel. I have found great peace inside since I asked G-d to forgive my sins through faith in Yeshua/Jesus and His atonement for me. I pray that more, like me, may find peace with G-d through faith in Yeshua as their own personal Savior. Yeshua HaMachiach, Messiah of Israel. Shalom

    September 30, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  4. Rich

    It is forbidden for a Jew to put another Jew into a bad light.

    September 29, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  5. paganguy

    Jews are semitic people just like Arabs. This was OK until the House of David declared themselves to be superior to others. The old testament is a fake written about 2400-2500 years ago to bolster the status of these "chosen people". But it doesn't matter. Soner or later you will all die and go to infinity never to be seen or heard by anybody.

    September 29, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • MSL58

      Gee – and i thought the US did away with all the Nazis in WW II...

      September 30, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Nic

      @MLS58- classic move. Someone disagrees so you drop the anti-semitic hammer. Pathetic.That is the one thought process that will really hurt the faith. Continually doing it will make us hated.

      September 30, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  6. Iqbal Khan

    From http://www.middleeast.org

    GIVE NETANYAHU A RED LINE!
    28

    09

    2012
    Dear Bibi Netanyahu: Do you really want a RED LINE?
    How’s your historical memory Bibi? A little refresher may be in order. In 1962 the U.N. condemned Apartheid and called on nations to end economic and political relations with South Africa. When the South Africans continued creating Bastustans and defying international law in 1974 the U.N. suspended the membership of South Africa though the Americans vetoed expulsion. Oh yes, let’s not forget, Apartheid South Africa was a close ally of Israel and Israel was clandestinely helping that racist state build nuclear weapons until 1994!

    Get the message Bibi? Maybe it’s time for the nations of the world to give Israel a bright Red Line? No juvenile white board and magic marker is needed!

    Stop defying U.N. Security Council Resolutions – Israel is the worst offender in history!
    Stop building illegal Jews-only Settlements – Israel constantly violates international law and international agreements!
    Stop building the illegal Wall – the International Court of Justice has clearly ruled!
    Stop threatening and planning to attack countries – only the U.N. Security Council has such authorization!
    Stop your Apartheid-like policies – actually much worse than Apartheid ever was!
    Stop blackmailing the U.S. with your powerful Israeli Lobby – a backlash is already underway and you are endangering Jews everywhere as well as Israelis!
    Stop the Judaization of Jerusalem and allow any and all persons, most especially Palestinians as well as Jews, to freely live there, build there, and come and go at all times.
    Share this: EmailFacebook3Twitter1
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    Date : September 28, 2012

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    September 28, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • david

      your post is complete BS. sorry to break it to you but Israel is not an apartheid state as muslims and christians enjoy equal rights including the right of free speech and the right to vote. It is however the only democratic country in the middle east. The only solution for the settlements and final borders will come ONLY from negotiations and a final peace deal between israel and palestine. This was the agreement between the two country's set in the Oslo accords and the Road Map.
      Now lets talk about Iran. The EU and UN and US have all agreed that Iran having a nuclear bomb is unacceptable given the support for terrorism (hezbollah, militatants in iraq, syrian regime). Iran has a regime that has oppresses its own people while voicing the destruction of a UN member.

      October 3, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  7. derf

    ....

    September 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  8. snatch

    snatch

    September 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • snatch

      snatch

      September 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
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    kerned universal

    September 28, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
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    September 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
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    September 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
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    September 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
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    September 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  14. dirtypantieslover

    i am better than you! i am going to heaven and YOUR not! please, applaud my arrogance and ignorance! i was born special while you all are gentiles, destined for hell!

    September 27, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Tony

      Jews do NOT believe non-Jews go to hell – they believe they go to the same heaven as they do. Do your research before blabbering. Orthodox Jews look at their status as a yolk – a burden they have to carry simply because they were asked to do it by their maker. In fact many rabbis have said that if a non-Jew wants to convert to Judaism... You ask – why the heck would you want to do that??! Non-Jews get a place in heaven through good deeds, and they don't need to have or need the yolk of 613 commandments (some downright bizarre). In fact you put yourself at more risk by being Jewish and not observing all the 613 commandments (like me!)

      September 28, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • MSL58

      I had no idea that Goebels was still alaive and was trolling in CNN.

      September 30, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  15. hippypoet

    belief itself isn't a bad thing. i can say that honestly and believe those words. any belief that makes one want to be a better person is a grand belief to be sure! however, the belief in something unpovable full heartedly is what i find to be disconcerting. the real issue with religion is when those that believe full heartedly run a country or when the majority of the cizitens are religious. For as we all know, the majority make the rule. wether it be thru having more votes or greater numbers in your army the idea is the same, strength in numbers! But when this is the case what you get is oppession.

    any religiously ran government is an oppressive one. All religions state what people should, should not, can, and can not do and even at times religions state when one should do these things. it is in its most basic function a form of social control that warps the mind of the creature being controlled so that the end result is a person who willin
    gly acts in accordance to that very same oppressive government thereby making the government appear to be not controlling at all.

    it is a very nice trick, but aren't tricks for children?
    should we not grow up?
    are dreams really worth giving reality up?
    how is a hope greater then knowledge?
    why aren't other things taken at face value with the same "faith"?
    if anything then at least shouldn't the tenets of your faith be adhered to and be upheld?
    should you stone your own children because they were dissrespectful to you?
    should you kill those of differing cultures or beliefs because they have differing cultures and beliefs?
    would you allow those that survive YOUR jihad to be enslaved and turned into property?
    should women be viewed as property and treated as such?
    how many commandments do you follow and how many do you think there are?
    shouldn't the followers of the abrahamic faith know the answers to these questions?
    was hope greater then knowledge?
    did the dream live up to its reality?

    food for thought.

    September 27, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society
      .

      September 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs^!

      September 27, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Kyeld

      Religion is mindless indoctrination. Your trolling attempt is hilarious.

      September 27, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  17. 200 TON HAMMER

    Have another question for the born again christians all over the world how many jewish people have you bring back to isreal???????

    September 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Chad

      you mean "Israel"?

      Quite a few as it turns out, Christians are one of the largest sponsor groups for repatriating Jews to Israel.

      See "Christian Zionism"

      September 26, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Munroe

      Chad how do you figure that when the Ephesians weren't even on the scene yet then.

      September 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Chad

      hunh?

      September 26, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      There are more then 100,000 churches in America chad not all churches are bringing jewish people back too Isreal????? Where is the Third Mishkan have not been rebuilt on mount moriah?????where are the urim Thumim?????????

      September 27, 2012 at 3:28 am |
  18. 200 TON HAMMER

    can any one who knows the bible please explain psalms122:6 and 1st kings chapter 8:41~43 ??????

    September 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Chad

      I rejoiced with those who said to me,
      “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
      2 Our feet are standing
      in your gates, Jerusalem.
      3 Jerusalem is built like a city
      that is closely compacted together.
      4 That is where the tribes go up—
      the tribes of the Lord—
      to praise the name of the Lord
      according to the statute given to Israel.
      5 There stand the thrones for judgment,
      the thrones of the house of David.
      6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
      “May those who love you be secure.

      7 May there be peace within your walls
      and security within your citadels.”
      8 For the sake of my family and friends,
      I will say, “Peace be within you.”
      9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
      I will seek your prosperity.
      Psalm 122

      what has you confused?

      September 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      No chad why christians are not bringing more jewish people back too isreal
      http://www.ifcj.org

      September 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Cheerleader

      Hammer,

      Try this:

      Two, four, six, eight... who do we appreciate?
      Hebrews. Hebrews. Yay!

      Two, four, six, eight... who do we annihilate?
      Other tribes. Other tribes. Yay!

      September 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Chad

      @200 TON HAMMER "No chad why christians are not bringing more jewish people back too Israel"

      @Chad "oops, my mistake, I thought you said "can any one who knows the bible please explain psalms122:6"

      September 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      1st Kings Chapter 8:41~43 chad whats your understanding of that section of verse

      September 27, 2012 at 3:32 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.