December 10, 2010
Posted by James Besser
The Jewish Week
Yesterday I received a solicitation for contributions for the “civility project” of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA); given the vituperative email and comments I see every day, I’d give these guys $10,000 if I had it. Heaven knows, we badly need a dose of civility in Jewish life, not to mention in American politics in general.
But I’m wondering if there’s something missing; I don’t see any plan to call out those in our community, in the media and in politics who are leading us into a morass of incivility.
This isn’t political; I get raging rants from the left and the right, from Republicans and Democrats, from pro-Israel hawks and anti-Zionists.
What the JCPA is doing, according to the solicitation , is getting Jewish organizations to sign a “civility pledge,” and so far at least 600 leaders have done so. The group is also providing guidelines for community meetings and training for leaders.
And one more thing, perhaps the most interesting: “Dozens of Jewish thought leaders are working through the JCPA to identify the sources of the breakdown, strategies to restore civility including why doing so is a Jewish imperative.”
That’s all praiseworthy – as far as it goes.
But without calling out those most responsible for the ugliness in our public discourse, I’m wondering if any of this will have much of an impact.
The most uncivil people I hear from don’t think they’re being uncivil at all – they say they’re just driven by the urgency of the issue, whether it be the socialist/anti-Semitic/Muslim Barack Obama or the imperialist/oppressive/murdering Zionists. I doubt whether new guidelines will tamp down their overflowing rage.
Moreover, it’s undoubtedly not the 600 who have signed the civility pledge who are turning democratic debate into rhetorical killing fields. I’m guessing that the loudest, shrillest, nastiest voices in our community aren’t attending JCPA panel discussions on the subject.
I realize identifying and criticizing the most uncivil voices in the Jewish community – shaming them, in a real sense – is hard for any Jewish group, especially an umbrella organization like the JCPA.
But without doing so, I’m finding it hard to see how its civility campaign is going to do much more than make a lot of people who are already being relatively civil in their public discourse feel good.
I’m not disparaging the idea; it’s a good one, and I say, kudos for JCPA for raising the issue.
I’m just saying to JCPA: go to the necessary next step and challenge those – left wingers, right wingers, no-wingers – who think bloodletting is an appropriate mode of discussion and debate.