The other day, I received an email from the Zionist Federation titled ‘Hecklers removed from ZF event’. The event was intended to highlight Israel’s contribution to environmental causes. Seeing as I had seen an email from JBIG (Jews boycotting Israeli Goods) a couple of days earlier calling on members to protest outside the event and put questions to speakers inside the conference, I wasn’t too surprised to hear that something like that had happened. Now personally, I don’t really get why such groups attach such a high importance to disrupting Israeli events such as Israeli dancing workshops, and I wonder exactly what ‘spurious scientific claims’ (referred to in their email) they envisage the Zionist Federation propagating, but still that is for another article.
What woke me up from my slumber, was a statement by Alan Aziz, Director of the Zionist Federation, quoted in the ZF email, “it is pathetic that self hating Jews, who unfortunately don’t know much, try to turn these events into something they are not.” Should the director of the Zionist Federation be calling people self-hating Jews so freely? What exactly does he mean by the term? I called him to find out.
Anyway, he never got back to me, or at the very least, the person who answered the phone didn’t pass my request for an interview on, but I was going to ask him: 1) what exactly does he mean by a self hating Jew? [Alan, feel free to write us an article on the subject] 2) Does it make sense to call someone a self hating Jew just because they are critical of Israel? 3) Should the director of the ZF be using such terms so freely? 4) How was the ZF gala dinner on Sunday? 5) Is he comfortable legitimising the use of such terms within the general communal discourse?
One argument is that making an accusation that someone is a self hating Jew serves to stifle debate. For me, that is not the major issue. The issue is that such accusations feed into a community that is ever more to the right of the political spectrum, that is ever more willing to see the world in simplified ways and is ever more willing even at the level of community leaders to engage in such simplified discourse. When community representatives go around thinking and speaking in such ways this in turn legitimises such discourse, and people are thereby less likely to challenge their own similar beliefs.
I would like to say Alan Aziz’s statement is a one off. But it isn’t. In a forum on the JC, http://www.thejc.com/blogpost/british-jews-owed-apology Jonathan Hoffman called another blogger, “a lying malodorous shameless libellous trolling reptile.”
Then went on to call the blogger:
“a lying toerag, an insignificant troublemaking muckraking creep, a pathetic time-wasting nonentity, a coward who will not use his real name”
Now, the debate was about whether the ZF by asking members of the ZF to vote, was trying to skew the results of the JPR’s Israel Survey. I agree with Jonathan Hoffman – the ZF were not, they were simply encouraging people to vote, in what is an important but methodologically flawed survey (how will it be possible to judge how representative the survey is of the Jewish population as a whole?).
My point is whether the vice chair of the Zionist Federation, an organisation that represents 55,000 Jews, should enter into a slanging match where he calls someone a malodorous reptile however malodorous that person might be? Is that the level of debate we want our communal representatives to engage in? What happens when he is debating against someone who responds with sophisticated, nuanced arguments, do we have faith that our community leaders will be able to respond with sophisticated nuanced arguments of their own. Maybe one day they will come up against sophisticated and nuanced arguments. Until then, they should raise their game. It simplifies complexity. It lets themselves and us down.