With Israel Feuds Raging, Can't Jews All Get Along?

Editor's Notebook

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By Jane Eisner

Published July 16, 2014.

Yesterday, Jews and Muslims in Israel, New York and other communities decided to take advantage of a calendric symmetry to assert their connection to one another, if only by breaking bread after a daylong fast.

For Jews, it was the 17th of Tammuz, when the walls around the ancient city of Jerusalem were breached, marking the beginning of the end of the Second Temple. It was also the 18th day of Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims refrain from eating from sun-up to sundown.

If a ceasefire can’t hold between Israel and Hamas, at least some Jews and Muslims could create one of their own.

Personally, I didn’t observe the fast, but I think this kind of nonviolent religious protest and attempt at reconciliation is a lovely idea.

But never mind Jew-to-Muslim. With all that’s happened over the past weeks, it looks like we need a fast day for reconciling Jew-to-Jew.

I’ve been in journalism a long time. I’ve written about Israel and overseen coverage and commentary about the Middle East for both the general and Jewish media for many years. I am accustomed to the vitriol that passes for comment, the mean personal attacks, the license that some Jews feel free to exercise in harshly judging other Jews.

I won’t say the level of discourse has reached a new low because it’s impossible to compare anything to today’s digital landscape, where every tweet is amplified and rules of engagement no longer exist. But it is bad out there. Very bad. As rockets fly and civilians die, we have lost the ability and the desire to speak civilly with and to one another.

This happens only when the topic is Israel. You can take controversial stands on intermarriage and conversion and child sexual abuse — and I have — and for the most part, commenters will stick to the subject at hand. But Israel is a version of our own third rail, except rather than being the subject too controversial to broach, it has become the subject too controversial to discuss with anyone other than your ideological fellow travelers. Oh, and those who disagree with you should be excommunicated from the Jewish people.

This is troubling me anew because of the reaction we’ve received to our coverage of Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli assault on Gaza prompted by Hamas’s assault on Israel. J.J. Goldberg’s writing, in particular, has drawn enormous readership and serious criticism.

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