By Joel Magalnick, Editor, The Jewish Sound
As this 91-year experiment in community outreach comes to a close, I have a question: Can we talk? I mean, really talk? In particular, I want to talk about Israel, because it seems like nobody else is. When I mean talk about Israel, I mean with each other, not at each other. Because lately, that’s all it’s been. One side talks at the other, that side talks back, and nobody hears a thing. Yet everybody gets angry, mud gets flung, tempers flare, and we’re once again a couple of steps behind where we started.
I can be talking about the recent election, or what the prime minister said, or what the president said, or the war in Gaza, or the previous war in Gaza, or the war in Lebanon. It doesn’t matter. But the net cost is the same: With all of this mud-flinging, fewer people find the energy to wade into the muck and feel any love for the Jewish State. And this at a time when Israel needs as much love as it can get.
If anything, in the 12 years I’ve sat in this chair, things have only gotten worse. I’m not suggesting things would be better if, love him or hate him, everyone stood behind Benjamin Netanyahu or adjusted their thinking to one view of how Israel should operate — far from it. What I’m suggesting is that everyone who does have an opinion about the ways of the world when it comes that tiny corner should take a step back, breathe deeply, and ask whether their point of view is the only one that matters. Then they should reflect on whether sticking with that opinion, come hell or high water, does damage to Israel, to their community, and to their own reputation. Because sometimes it happens to all three.
For those of us working in the trenches, we can see it, we can smell it, and we really don’t like it. Over the years, especially during times of war, many leaders in our community would tell me how the Israel issue made their jobs so much harder. Those who cared never got their news updates from the same sources, they couldn’t agree on solutions — if any existed — and nobody would hold their tongue. Those with a marginal interest ran as far away from the country as they could.
Here’s an example: In the past couple weeks, in the run-up to Israel’s election, this divisiveness reared its ugly head with op-eds that slammed the New Israel Fund as anti-Israel. While I’m not going to use this as a forum to defend New Israel Fund — they can do that on their own — I bring it up because the tenor got so bad that Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, actually demanded that the people leading this campaign knock it off. Or, think back a couple years, when a group of LGBT Israelis were accused by people they would otherwise consider their compatriots as being shills for the “Israeli occupation.” The issue blew up and nobody came out smelling like roses.
Both issues — and so many more — laid bare the lengths people will go to smear people they disagree with.
And that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it? Disagreement? A fundamental feeling that what the other side is saying doesn’t comport to our own world view? That’s why we’re writing blog posts and op-eds filled with half-truths and omissions? Or attempting to block container ships that would economically hurt the people the protesters are trying to help? None of it creates good will, and none of it brings us closer to a lasting peace in the Middle East.
We need to spend time listening to people outside of our own echo chambers. We need to hear that people may feel a love for Israel that’s different from the way we feel a love for Israel. We don’t need to agree with what our supposed enemies are saying, but we do need to respect that their opinions are coming from the same place of love as ours.
Which brings me to what the Jewish Transcript in all its different guises attempted to provide over the years: A forum for people with many different views on Israel. Not everybody liked it, and not everyone could understand why we would allow voices many considered to be “outside of the acceptable discourse” on Israel. But I see it as a hallmark of this newspaper in the last 12 years and beyond.
I lament that the magazine taking our place will not offer this type of forum, and I wonder where such a place that allows voices from across the spectrum can exist. That we would create a vacuum for people with an agenda or an ax to grind is too enticing and, sadly, likely to happen, given what we have seen even when this medium allowed such discourse. This issue is far too important to leave in the hands of idealogues. I hope that we as a community will eventually realize it before the next flare-up occurs.
L’hitraot. Until we meet again.
Joel Magalnick began as editor of The Jewish Sound, then known as The Jewish Transcript, in 2003.