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Exemplary test cases: symbols vs trivia?


Guidelines for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews: as exemplified by the need for non-antisemitic dialogue with Israelis? (Part #8)


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Who: As valuable test cases, the challenge for the following is to provide insight into the nature of the critical discourse in which they are prepared to engage without feeling it necessary to describe themselves as "above criticism":

  • an individual (who happens to be Jewish, but may even be a criminal)
  • a rabbi (of whom Meir Kahane was an extreme example)
  • a group (primarily Jewish)
  • a group promoting Judaism
  • a group promoting Zionism (of which an extreme example was the Irgun Tsvai Leumi)
  • Israeli citizens
  • State of Israel (notably in its policies towards Palestinians and in its engagement against the Hizbollah)
  • Jewish diaspora

The challenge for others is the degree to which they subscribe to blanket arguments of "anti-semitism" made on the occasion of critical dialogue.

What: Possible foci of criticism:

  • symbols: especially sensitive for any culture, such as that of the Jews, is the criticism of behaviours and artefacts that are of fundamental symbolic significance to the identity of that culture. As an example, the Muslim response to the cartoon depiction of Mohammed aroused worldwide protest -- perceived by many to be quite unreasonable. To what extent can a culture prescribe the limits of unwanted criticism, if others choose to make it? At the simplest level, this is analogous to the well-known challenge of bullying and teasing in institutional environments -- to which little effective response is made, even when it gives rise to suicide
  • aesthetics: the designs favoured by a culture, perhaps embodying features important to their culture, may be subject to criticism by comparison with those favoured by other cultures. To what degree is aesthetic criticism of Jewish artefacts to be construed as anti-semitic?
  • criminal behaviour: this issue has been much debated with regard to black criminality (in the USA) and maghreb criminality (in Europe). Typically identifiable ethnic communities engage in an unfortunate process of reframing criminality into a defensive community issue without elaborating a focused mode of dialogue about the behaviour. This exacerbates problems of complicity and of inappropriate stigmatization of the community.
  • socio-political issues: this focus is well-highlighted by criticism of the government of Ehud Olmert subsequent to the attack on Hizbollah in 2006. There has been extensive criticism by Israelis after the failure of the attack, presumably not to be defined as "anti-semitic". However most of the criticism by outsiders during the attack was labelled "anti-semitic".

Self-hating vs Self-loving Jews: The epithet "self-hating Jew" is applied, notably by Jews, against those that are in any way critical of Judaism and by extension, Israel and Zionism. One website (Self-Hating and/or Israel-Threatening List) claims to list 7000+ such Jews. One such is for example Rabbi Michael Lerner (Israel's Jewish Critics Aren't 'Self-Hating'), Los Angeles Times, 28 April, 2002).

The dimensions of dialogue in this area are a veritable minefield which merits sophisticated use of mapping techniques to clarify the modalities characteristic of each area. The argument from above is however that it would be fruitful for those subscribing to extremes stereotypes to clarify the guidelines for critical dialogue -- if only that no critical dialogue is admissible.

How should Jews make points against government Israeli policy without being stigmatized as self-hating Jews or being cowed into silence and complicity?


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