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Think about it: Verbal violence
By SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF
15/12/2013
“Freedom of expression” in the democratic world tolerates almost anything as long as it cannot be proven that it leads directly to physical violence.
 
Last week Ma’ariv columnist Erel Segal wrote about being verbally and physically attacked by Jewish American animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky.

According to Segal, Yourofsky told him he wished for Segal and his children to be raped because Segal was wearing a leather jacket. Yourofsky then tried to provoke Segal into hitting him, before pushing him off a chair.

Though I am no fan of Segal, I sympathize with the predicament he found himself in. Yourofsky, who has got himself into a lot of trouble in several countries because of his violence, had the following to say in an interview to an Australian human and animal rights website, seven years ago: “Deep down, I truly hope that oppression, torture and murder return to each uncaring human tenfold! I hope that fathers accidentally shoot their sons on hunting excursions, while carnivores suffer heart attacks that kill them slowly.

Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever. While every man entrenched in fur should suffer an anal raping so horrific that they become disemboweled. Every rodeo cowboy and matador should be gored to death, while circus abusers are trampled by elephants and mauled by tigers.

“And, lastly, may irony shine its esoteric head in the form of animal researchers catching debilitating diseases and painfully withering away because research dollars that could have been used to treat them were wasted on the barbaric, unscientific practice of vivisection.”

I think this quote is an epitome of verbal violence. Many of those who oppose vegetarianism and veganism conclude from this that it proves that vegetarians and vegans are evil people, and tie this evil to their being vegetarians and vegans. Among the examples they cite are Hitler, who was a vegetarian for at least part of his life, and the murderous Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who was vegan.

My conclusion is that being vegetarian or vegan does not in itself turn one automatically into a good person, just like eating meat and wearing leather shoes and jackets does not turn one into an evil person. I know many vegetarians and vegans who are wonderful people, and others who are bastards.

Another conclusion is that any fanatic, no matter how just the ideals he advocates, who claims that all means – including verbal abuse – are kosher to promote what he believes in, is dangerous. That includes Yourofsky.

Unfortunately, in our very intolerant society, in which many do not really and truly believe in pluralism, and believe that anyone who thinks differently than themselves is an enemy and traitor, verbal violence is rife.

The ease with which people viciously hurl the term “Nazi” at each other – and this among a people that lost six million of its members to the death machine of the Nazi regime of Germany – is a truly sickening manifestation of verbal violence, which unfortunately does not lead to the punishment of those who practice it.

The people who most frequently yell “Nazi” at others are extremist groups among the haredim (ultra-Orthodox).

Almost invariably, when policemen are called in to stop violent illegal demonstrations by these extremists against the background of cars passing by on the Sabbath, supposed Jewish graves allegedly being dug up in the course of construction activities, haredi youngsters being detained for refusing to report to the IDF recruiting office, rabbis being detained on charges of corruption, and such-like – these policemen are accused of being anti-Semites and Nazis, whereas at worse they might be accused on occasion of using excessive force. YouTube is full of examples of this phenomenon.

Who on earth has told these haredim that yelling “Nazi” at a policeman is legitimate? Their rabbis? And if the rabbis are not responsible for inciting them, don’t they have a duty to restrain their flocks? But it is not only haredi extremists who feel free to call members of the security forces Nazis. The same applies to some members of the hilltop youth when the security forces try to stop some of their illegal settlement activities, or rampages against Palestinians.

In addition, back in the 1980’s, militant, Ashkenazi-hating Mizrahi groups covered walls with graffiti that said “Ashke-Nazim.” Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz may also be accused for coining the term “Judeo-Nazis,” when what he was really talking about was manifestations of Israeli chauvinism, racism and xenophobia, which are worthy of condemnation, but are not in themselves Nazism.

Finally I should like to say something about anonymous talkbackers, many of whom who feel free, behind ridiculous pseudonyms, to use disrespectful language at best, and abusive violent language as a general rule. These talkbackers clearly have a political agenda, which might or might not be legitimate, but their “contributions” are generally shallow, and meant to insult the writer, mock him and delegitimize what he says. In Internet jargon most of them may be regarded as “trolls.”

The other day I looked at the talkbacks that follow the columns written in The Jerusalem Post by my old-time friend Yisrael Medad – a right-winger with whom I have been friends for over 30 years, and with whom I have a relationship of compassion and mutual respect – to see how these compare to the ones which follow the articles written by those of us who present left-of-center positions.

What I discovered was that while there are anonymous left-wing talkbackers, whose “contributions” can be as nasty, biased and violent as those of their right-wing counterparts, there seem to be fewer of them, or as Medad admitted to me: “I get a bit – but not like you.”

Since I noticed that Medad is in the habit of answering some of “his” talkbackers, I asked him why he did this, pointing out that I didn’t think that an anonymous writer deserved to be honored with any sort of attention or reaction.

In fact, I think that with very few exceptions anonymous talkbacks simply shouldn’t be published in the first place, even though I understand that the more talkbacks there are the more income can be generated by the sites that publish them from ads (this was explained to me by a friend who is in the field of online marketing).

At any rate, Medad answered that the main reason he takes the trouble of answering some of the talkbackers is that “there might be one person reading the comments and thinking, wow, if Medad doesn’t respond, maybe these guys have a point.”

My response to this argument is that there is no sense in trying to convince a troll since trolls are not interested in holding a dialogue, but rather in spewing venom, and the best way to deal with them is simply to ignore them.

Beyond the question of what one can do about verbal violence, which is apparently not very much, since “freedom of expression” in the democratic world tolerates almost anything as long as it cannot be proven that it leads directly to physical violence, there is the question of what those who use verbal violence get from this activity. I suspect that in most cases it is a manifestation of psychological disturbances of one sort or another, so that it is a means of feeding such disturbances. I doubt whether in the long run the verbal violence helps those using it achieve their goals.

The sad result, however, is that the general atmosphere of our daily lives is much more unpleasant and discouraging than it ought to be, and the hate level among various groups in society just continues to rise.

The writer is a retired Knesset employee.
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