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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)
  1. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    What is star of Davis?

    September 16, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      to find out visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html

      September 16, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Star of David.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Sorry who was Star in David?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • I AM ALLAH THE CRIMINAL

      Mullahs have corrupted the minds of young people to that extend that these innocent young people are willing to kill and be killed in the name of a person whom they dont even know whether he existed. And these filthy murderes call followers of other reglions as infidels.. what an Irony.

      September 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  2. Buddy Longsworth

    Interesting that this article, which discusses Judiasm, doesn't have the amount of posts calling its religion "fake" and "false" that you may notice on articles regarding Christianity.
    It must be true what they say: the news media hates Christianity, but wouldn't dare to criticize other religions.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Many of us don't discriminate: All religions are frauds.

      Happy now?

      September 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  3. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    have you seen my Mohammad?

    September 16, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  4. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Islam is healthy for other living filthy things, religion of denier Thin Allah, consti tution of Israel, truth absolute and foundation of every consti tution on earth, heaven, and beyond where no man has gone before.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, ignorant from hindered gutter of hinduism, racism called india.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Get your own ID you filthy Nile Crocodile thief, your Hind hurts. Read Quran and ask Thin Allah for forgiveness. visit my link beagoodmuslim.com/blog.html and click on Ramses I and Ramses II.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  5. Robert

    When we forget history, we will bear the burden to repeat it. My fellow Jews need to remember this when they tell the world how much they love Israel. If you really love Israel, why would you want to divide it? Haven't you had enough "division" in the 20th Century? NEVER AGAIN! L'Shana Tovah and Gut Yontif!!!

    September 16, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  6. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    Not a bright idea to put the semite version of the hatfields and mccoys so close together.You can pin that one on the rapturists and dispensationalists. I see the grand vicar is buying it, too.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  7. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    hindu Jew's, criminal self centered have nothing to do with Hebrew's, but hindu' deniers of truth absolute from hindu Egypt and Persia ,

    September 16, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  8. Arvoasitis

    I heard an imam say that the Quran prophesied the re-emergence of a strong and stable Israel. It seems that many Israeli and Muslim politicians are determined to prove the Quranic prophesy wrong.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of some hindu Jew' criminal self centered pretending to be Muslim. http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html

      September 16, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      don't forget to turn off your virus protection. Let Mohammad explode on your computers.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  9. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    There was this little matter of divorce. It messed up the inheritance big time.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  10. Keith

    If you all don't like each other it seems like maybe the other folks aren't that wrong after all.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  11. Gnarlodious

    Mostly this is happening because some hysterically fearmongering websites like WND make up stuff that a lot of people think is news but it isn't.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  12. Destroy all religions!

    Those racists who call themselves Jews have no justification, not even the shoah, for acting like a bunch of bigoted wanna-be nazis in the "homeland". In the future many years hence, we will see the end of all such delusional hate groups who think they are a better "race" than other people. Religion will be eradicated through intelligent and rational education and rule of law and then humanity will finally be able to move forward without these rabid racists and other sorts of bigots clawing us back into stupidity and ignorance.
    All those "debates" and arguing "Jews" do is a total waste of time and one of the worst things any culture could encourage amongst it's ignorant "students" of religious texts. Teach living and thinking skills. Teach trades and professions. Teach anything but the insane festering sludge of the Torah – one of the filthiest curses upon humanity that was ever written.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      Amen!

      September 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Mike

      And so we have a graphic demonstration of WHY the Jewish people consider these discussions important– because there are still those infected with the virus of anti-Semitic hatred.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Even Handed

      It is certainly true that religions–whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam–are simply ancient myths and fairytales that are the source of many of the world's problems. However, my understanding of Judaism is that it's not only a religion (i.e. a myth) but is also a culture and a people; a very ancient culture and people that have survived a lot of oppression down through history. I am no instinctive supporter of the policies of Israel, and I am especially opposed to the policies of its current right-wing government under Nettanyahu, just as I am opposed to the current extremist Republican Party in the U.S. However, I think its existence is a good thing in light of history–though I'd like to see religion removed from its politics, and I'd like to see the Israeli left bolstered and given the strength it needs to oppose the current neo-colonialism taking place in the West Bank.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  13. Bud Longhorn

    A little remembered fact–in 1947 left wingers supported creation of Israel as a sovereign nation because Stalin supported it.
    Now that the Soviet Union is gone, left wingers revert to former anti-democratic tactics. The anti-Israel crap about Israel being apartheid glosses over fact Israel has to separate Arabs who want to murder innocent women and children. This distortion is consistent with radical goals.. Lastly, the ruthless campaign of the NYTIMES to distort the truth so as to impact Israel"s survival as a Jewish nation. Shades of 1930's German Jews.
    Respectfully,
    Bud Longhorn

    The NYT doe not want a Jewish nation, and manipulates its news content to achieve that goal.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Keith

      Wasn't it a Nazi that invented the tactic of telling the big lie. It seems you learned it well.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Israel is not a country but a name of a person, used by hindu Jew's, filthy self centered to hind, fool humanity and a tool to steel and rob. visithttp://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html

      September 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Israel's consti tution is written on teaching of Thin Allah, the truth absolute, 300*, Jews self centered pagan god, used by hindu Jew's, filthy self centered to hind, fool humanity and a tool to steel and gold, and brass, and diamond. visit http://www.isthetruthlimit.com/blog.html and click on Jew to open file.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  14. Farnam P

    Hey Dave Schecter, do you always write such bad stuff? Time to print up your resume, sucka!

    September 16, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  15. Bleh

    Meh

    September 16, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  16. Drink my Kool-aid

    Religion is retarded. Each religion has thousands of sects and denominations, the can't even agree which fairy tale or fictional characters to follow. Religion is the name of human existence. You ruin and poison society with your garbage.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  17. AvdBerg

    The local media, including CNN, Fox and your local TV stations and newspapers are a very important element of social and political behavior as society is shaped by what it sees, hears and reads and it is conditioned by the events that influence the mind of every person. You reap what you sow.

    To allow anyone to be directed by public opinion is dangerous because most public opinion is the view of the media. If the media does not like something, their bias taints information getting to the public, and this forms public opinion. Public opinion is never based on research and facts. The public uses the media for its sole source of information and for this reason social behavior will continue to deteriorate and wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13).

    For a better understanding of the role of the media we invite you to read the articles ‘Influence of the Media’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    The media does not provide accurate information on ‘Religion’ as it continues to ignore the truth and its history of deceptions (John 14:17). They have created the big chasm that now exists, without offering any solutions.

    Consider the truth about Evangelicals, Christianity and Islam and all the others and ask yourself the following question.

    Are so-called Israelites, Evangelicals and Muslims and all those that call themselves ‘Christians’ followers of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, or do they follow after an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 4:8)?

    For a better understanding of the history of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and its spread throughout the world, we invite you to read the articles ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’, ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’ and ‘Clash of Civilizations’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    For there is none other name (Jesus Christ) under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:10-12).

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 16, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  18. Sheila

    200 Ton Hammer I can explain to you Zechariah Chapter 14. If you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior by the time Zechariah 14 happens, you are in trouble too bad boy.

    September 16, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Keith

      Sheila – your Jesus never ask people to do that. Your religious leaders invented that accepting Jesus stuff. The Christ only ask us to put down our burdens and follow him to the father. No church, on religion needed.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      It is hindu Mithraism, pagan savior ism with an invented figure Jesus.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Hey sheila when you read romans chapter 10:9~10 the salvation words
      you become a spiritual jew in the messianic kingdom,its the spiritual salvation jewish roots,jesus was jewish not religion or baptist or AME
      or cogic aka church in God in christ
      and all christian with salvation is too know the very jewish jesus and christains are too bring jewish people back too isreal really read zechariah chapter 8

      September 16, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Can you quote from other works of fiction? Mother goose seems to be at your level of intelligence...

      September 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  19. E=MC2

    Israel will bomb Iran the first week in October...

    September 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Keith

      Let us all hope Russia retaliates and nukes Israel off the map, it will solve 6000 years worth of problems.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  20. fred

    Still waiting for the moderate Jews who realize that Israel is an apartheid state and the Israel should not be the focus of American politics.

    September 16, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Mr fred please expain zechariah chapter 14

      September 16, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Keith

      mr 200 ton hammer, we don't care what it says. We don't care what the Koran says, and I don't care what the Bible says. YOur plece in History is a mistake and I for 0pne am ashamed for the part America played in stealing other peoples land to give to the Jews.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
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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.