Friday, October 22, 2010


Rabbi Danny Gordis seems a lot like me in the views which he holds: he is a staunch defender of Israel. He is often quite frustrated with the unfair treatment which Israel gets in the press and in the International Community. He thinks that those who blame Israel and the settlements for the lack of peace, while ignoring the constant calls for Israel’s destruction from her enemies, are sadly, tragically misguided. And, he thinks that Jews and Israelis who join others in blockade breaking flotillas are, too.

But, we also agree that there is a difference between disagreeing – even vehemently, even stridently – and denying that that person has a right to have, and express, their views:

[Famous Israeli poet] Natan Zach’s announcement that he would be joining a Gaza-bound flotilla might well have passed unnoticed.

But this is Israel, where few nonstories are allowed to pass without someone fanning the barely flickering flames. This time, a member of the Likud’s Knesset faction reacted with outrage and immediately wrote to Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar demanding that Zach’s poetry be removed from the high-school curriculum.

Suddenly, the nonstory had become a story.

What matters about the story is neither Zach nor even our high-school curriculum. What matters is the story’s sobering reminder of how low intellectual life here has sunk. When someone says something with which we disagree, we evoke the magnificent Soviet tradition, calling for his eradication from our collective memory.

The hosts of The View have been getting quite a lot of press, of late, because two of them stormed off the set in reaction to some comments made by Bill O’Reilly. Look – I find O’Reilly fairly despicable, and I thought his comments were detestable. And, inviting him on your show, and then acting shocked and offended when he does what he does…well, that’s just silly*. But, more importantly, it’s just another example of how intolerant we have become of people who disagree with us. About how ready we are to vilify and attempt to silence those with views in opposition to our own.

* One thing I will say for O’Reilly [and, I’ll admit I never expected to be writing anything positive about him] is that he’s gone on The Daily Show and had John Stewart – a man who has mocked him incessantly – on his own show. And, has engaged him in a substantive debate. Clearly, O’Reilly has been as guilty as anyone of vilifying those on the other side of the spectrum, but at least he’s been willing to sit with them and argue it out.

Gordis is a wonderful writer – it’s worth clicking through to read his article. And, it’s worth thinking about how far we’re willing to go to allow others to express their views, even when we disagree with them passionately.

Whether or not Natan Zach ultimately boards a flotilla is utterly unimportant.

What does matter is whether we can produce a generation of students who, when they hear something about which they disagree, can debate the ideas at hand, rather than merely seeking to silence those with whom they disagree.

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