Editor's Notes: Halting the hatred

We at the 'Post' believe that hate speech harms the civil discourse in Israel; it poses a real danger to the country’s very existence as a democratic Jewish state.

July 22, 2011 16:43
A haredi protest in Jerusalem

haredi protest 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

While I am convinced that Israel has good friends all over the world, it also has bitter enemies. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, comes immediately to mind. He would like to wipe the Zionist state off the face of the earth.

Then there are the more subtle haters of the Jewish state – people who don’t always articulate the type of venom Ahmadinejad spouts regularly.

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But they clearly are, deep down, haters of Zion. Some of these people are Jewish, and yes, some are even Israeli.

Within Israel itself, we have too much hatred – between the Left and Right, Orthodox and secular, and Jews and Arabs.

Undoubtedly, Jews should as a people who survived the Holocaust be working to eradicate this kind of antipathy, most of all in the Jewish state itself.

The media play a vital role in such an enterprise. The press frequently feeds stereotypes, stigmatizes and overgeneralizes. We sometimes, perhaps unwittingly, fan the flames of hatred.

These were my thoughts on Tuesday, the 17th of Tamuz which, inter alia, marks the breach of Jerusalem’s walls by the Romans before the Second Temple was destroyed.

One of the reasons cited by the Talmud for this tragedy was sinat hinam (baseless hatred).

Why do I raise this issue? Well, in the past week, The Jerusalem Post has received a spate of mail harshly critical of some of our coverage, opinion pieces and even advertisements.

One reader, Gitti Kornfeld, pointed to our coverage of a recent haredi protest against the opening of a parking lot in Jerusalem on Shabbat, saying it fed anti-haredi “hatred.”

“I read the entire article. There was not one indication of a riot! It ‘was largely limited to pushing,’” she wrote.

“How is allowing incitement and hatred against religious people in The Jerusalem Post justified? It can only lead to evil,” she said. “A newspaper, the ultimate purveyor of words, must be especially careful and sensitive.”

Kornfeld continued: “Israel, sadly, has somehow, despite all the good we do in the world, become a pariah among the nations. No matter what we do, it gets turned against us. This should be taken as a warning to us!

“Causing dissension among our people should be avoided. Differing opinions should be aired, but that does not include allowing writers to disseminate hatred of certain sectors of our people by using the same 3-D’s (delegitimization, demonization, double standards) that our enemies use against us as a nation.”

Kornfeld’s points are well made and should be taken seriously, which is why I am publishing them – and endorsing them – here. I apologize if our newspaper has been perceived to be anti-haredi; that is certainly not our intention.

Our website (jpost.com) has, meanwhile, reported a significant increase in “hate mail” in talkbacks that have shocked the most hardened of journalists here.

Several readers issued death threats in talkbacks this week against a regular columnist.

Such comments are pure sinat hinam, and we deleted the talkbacks immediately.

All I can say to the disseminators of such personal assaults is. Stop it! Did we learn nothing from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin? Free speech ends when hate speech begins.

According to Dictionary.com, “hate speech” is, outside the law, any communication that disparages a person or a group on the basis of some characteristic such as race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.

WE AT the Post believe that hate speech harms the civil discourse in Israel, and in my opinion, it poses a real danger to the country’s very existence as a democratic Jewish state.

One letter to the editor suggested that we print excerpts from the controversial book Torat Hamelech, so that other readers “will know what it says about killing gentiles.”

I understood what he meant (“let’s find out what the book actually says”), but why would we reprint excerpts after at least two prominent rabbis have been targeted by police over their endorsement of its philosophical principles? Readers are free to read the book for themselves, and writers are free to criticize or praise it. Incidentally, Post columnist Rabbi Shlomo Riskin offers an interesting study of the book – and its context – in his weekly Torah commentary for Parshat Masei which will be published next Friday.

Dozens of readers expressed outrage over our publication of an anti-Messianic ad from Yad Le’Achim in last Friday’s paper.

Although it is illegal in Israel for Christians to proselytize while offering financial incentives, I do think our advertisers should refrain from angering their audience, particularly when they are strong supporters and even lovers of the Jewish state, such as Evangelicals.

On the other hand, in our July Christian Edition, there is a five-page advertisement that upset some Jewish readers and staff members.

The ad, published by Pastor Afzal Ali from Trinidad, urges Christians to get ready for “the second coming of Jesus” (“The Great Future Event.”)

My purpose in publishing the above examples is not to offend anyone any further, but rather to demonstrate the delicate nature of the issues involved and issue an appeal for reason.

Readers are inevitably going to find certain material offensive. I am, however, urging our journalists and contributors to be more sensitive – especially when it comes to reporting and commenting on potentially inflammatory topics in the news.

I similarly appeal to readers to keep in mind that journalists are people, too – even those columnists who anger you. In any dialogue about current events – no matter how much they rile us up – we should treat one another with civility and courtesy.

Let’s learn from our past, and put a halt to hate speech in the future.

Shabbat Shalom!

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