Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hey Karl Rove: What happened to two Jews, three opinions?

Yesterday, I added to my story list the fact that many Jewish Angelenos are upset with American Jewish University for inviting Karl Rove to speak at its vaunted Public Lecture Series. Then today I opened The Jewish Journal and saw that Rob Eshman had dedicated his column to that exact topic, and I realized how much better a story like this reads when it has the voice of someone who is allowed to inject their opinion.
Something has happened in the Jewish community, all across the political and religious spectrum, and it isn't good.

Somehow too many people in the Jewish community have become stuck in a very dangerous place: their comfort zone.

They are loathe to confront and really hear ideas that differ from their own, and they cleave to the company of voices that echo their preconceived ideas and long-formed opinions.

A few people have picked up on this.

"There was a time," Haaretz's Gideon Levy said in an interview with The Nation, "when you'd ask two Israelis a question, and you'd get three different opinions. Now you only get one."

In The Jerusalem Post, columnist Larry Derfner noted the problem in Israel, where public opinion fell into "lockstep" behind the war in Lebanon, the invasion of Iraq and the criticism of the National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran. How different, Derfner writes, from the Israel of old, where robust public debate was the norm.

"This is a society that's been brainwashed by consent," he wrote. "And when all hands are raised together, it not only enhances certainty, it offers the added comfort of unity."

J.J. Goldberg, The Forward's brilliant executive editor, wrote that the national Jewish debate is similarly afflicted. In fighting nouveau anti-Semitism, he wrote, "It doesn't help when Jews ignore or deny Israel's genuine shortcomings. It doesn't help when they overreact to criticism -- hostile, benign or just clumsy -- and intimidate their critics into resentful silence, reinforcing their enemies' worst stereotypes."

The response to Goldberg's essay? One organization head accused him of blaming the Jews for their own victimization.

And here at home things aren't any better.

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