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Posted in: Anti-Semitism, Culture Wars & Censorship

Published on Dec 23, 2008 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

When Friends Fight About Ideas


I have to get this off my chest or I will explode. This is my therapy session. Today, I am truly a blogger.

The internet seems to incite cowards to strike-and-flee, often under assumed names. They have no shame and no manners. I accept this as par for the course at the hands of strangers. In addition to kind words, praise, and some admiration, I am also used to a certain amount of vitriol, sarcasm, thinly veiled anti-Semitism, and to more overt demonizations of Israel, America, feminism, or of one political party over another.

Look: I received my first death threats in 1970-1971, when I began speaking out about rape and gender-based double standards in general and in psychiatry in particular. The threats continued as I led campaigns against batterers, incestuous fathers, and a host of other not-so-lovely characters. Most recently, complaints from a public library computer in Oklahoma were lodged against me with the FBI. Among other things, I was accused of conspiring to bomb Muslim holy sites (!). After talking to the agent in charge, he finally suggested that, given what I’m writing, (I sent him to my blog and website), that I might be wise to keep his number handy. I have taken his advice.

Thus, I am used to being maligned in the public sphere and have learned how not to let it get to me. After all, it’s not “personal.” However, I do badly when I am forced to field up-close-and-personal ideological attacks especially when I have not solicited them. I do not like arguments or debates at my table. I find them uncivilized. I avoid them if possible. I am willing to debate the devil in public–but in private, I will not even debate Peter Rabbit. I save it for where it counts.

Therefore, I do not know what to do when a friend or acquaintance insists on fighting with me or with another guest and cannot stop himself or herself, not even when asked to do so. I had to strongly admonish two guests for this reason; they would not stop verbally attacking another guest. (And by the way, one was a conservative Republican and the other a liberal Democrat).

In the last few days, I have been attacked via email by a right-winger and a left-winger. Both are people I know and respect. Both were upset by something I had written. Both could have responded to what fired them up by writing a piece of their own, a letter to the editor, or by posting a comment. They could also have kept silent. Instead, they both launched a veritable campaign of emails against me. Nothing I said could get either of them to stop.

The right-winger did not like my blog about Bernard Madoff. She felt that I was being anti-Semitic when I described Jews–any Jews–as “greedy.” She felt that this would encourage real anti-Semites to go further, much further. In my opinion, the subject I’d written about had obviously upset her so much that she’d decided to shoot the messenger. I begged her to stop badgering me. I told her to post her comments at my blogsite. Nothing could get her to stop. It was a wearying, troubling experience.

But, maybe her hysterical tirade might not have bothered me quite as much if I had not just dealt with a series of harsh and critical emails from a left-winger. In my opinion, this exchange bears repeating. This person routinely receives my mailings. (”Never again” has just taken on a new meaning).

Last week, I published an article about a speech delivered by Rabbi Yisrael Lau, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel. What interested me was this: Years ago, Rabbi Lau had famously challenged the Palestinians by saying: “We know how to die together. Can we learn how to live together?” He now turned to Jews–to other Orthodox Jews–and recast his question. “We are the problem, ourselves, we Jews. We know how to die together, can we learn how to live together?”

I published this piece in the Jewish Press, the largest Orthodox newspaper in the country. Rabbi Lau, a beloved and influential voice, was preaching tolerance, perhaps even love of one Jew for another. At least, that’s what I heard. It’s a theme that interests me and one that I have written about too. I did not hear him say that such “love” or “tolerance” was meant only for other Orthodox Jews. I assumed he meant…all Jews. Yes, it’s a radical concept.

I was therefore shocked when my friend, a prominent rabbi, (who shall remain nameless), read the piece and immediately attacked me in a series of private emails. He is a sweet man who is well known for his views on diversity, tolerance, peace, womens’ rights, definitely Palestinian rights. He was outraged, perhaps heartbroken, that I had attended a “right-wing” dinner; had not publicly challenged and shamed my hosts, perhaps by launching a one-woman demonstration; worst still, instead of hiding the fact that I’d dined, (from his point of view), “with the enemy,” I’d brazenly, foolishly, published a positive piece about what the presumed Enemy had said.

Apparently, the politically correct, progressive rabbi did not believe that the Enemy “Other” Rabbi really wanted Jews to love each other, to treat each other with redemptive kindness; that Rabbi Lau was really challenging Jews to get along–before it’s too late. Thus, the peacenik damned me for not having caused a bloody riot while dining among right-wing Orthodox Jews.

His attacks angered and saddened me. Why are so many Jewish “peace-niks” this angry and bitter? Why is their hottest hatred reserved for other Jews whom they perceive to be their greatest enemies–as opposed to Saudi Arabians, whose inter-faith feasts they are proud to attend and while there, would never dream of disrupting?

There are some Jews who yearn to be accepted into exclusive clubs–and are, therefore, easy prey for someone like Bernard Madoff. And then there are Jews who see their greatest problems as caused by other Jews, not by Jew-hating Islamists or un-Christian Christians; who do not see God in their tribal brother but only in the tribal faces of those who are “other,” including those who wish to kill us.

I am sure that my friends see me as a powerful woman: Indestructible, maternal. They probably don’t believe they have the power to demoralize or hurt me. I hope this article sets them straight. But to be honest: I am not sending it to the two people I’ve written about! I am not sure they will be able to resist writing to me again at length.

I hope you are all warm and safe for the Holidays. To the Christians who are being forced to flee Bethlehem by Palestinian Muslim attackers: My thoughts are with you. Merry Christmas. To Indians who are recovering from but still mourning the victims of the Mumbai massacre: I hope that Israel and India become even stronger allies. To Jews: May miraculous light continue to guide us in this very dark time of year this Channukah. To Muslims who themselves are not terrorists and who are as horrified by being branded as such–may your outrage against Islamism empower you to take your religion back and to help it evolve into the 21st century. To the atheists and secularists: Have a fine old Pagan time of it.


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