Keeping the conversation civil

This article by Sue Fishkoff describes a San Francisco initiative aiming to keep the discussion on Israel within the Jewish community on a civil and respectful plane.

According to one individual, “The issue of Israel is really tearing this community apart.”

The article continues “To deal with the growing rancor, the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council has launched a “year of civil discourse” to encourage local Jews to agree to disagree on Israel without name-calling or violence.  The question now is whether dialogue will help heal the rifts. The effort, which was launched Sunday with an invitation-only, all-day conference in San Francisco, is being watched closely throughout the United States by communities considering similar efforts.

The kickoff event at Congregation Beth Israel Judea and the Brandeis Hillel Day School drew more than 200 people. Each invitee was asked to bring two friends who disagree on Israel.  “This is not about changing people’s views but about listening respectfully and hearing divergent views, with the health of our community at stake,” said Rabbi Doug Kahn, director of the San Francisco JCRC.

The civil discourse program here is being co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation and the Northern California Board of Rabbis.  “Dialogue has gotten a bad rap, that it’s about glossing over issues,” said Rachel Eryn Kalish, lead facilitator for the San Francisco initiative. “That’s not what this is about. You can be an advocate and still be civil.” 

Here is one example of a discussion that is kept civil despite significant disagreement.

Kenneth Levin in “The Oslo Syndrome” writes about the potential for Jewish intracommunity conflict, especially when under external pressure, see a prior blog item.

We all have friends with whom we have disagreements on the best approaches in the Middle East.   …  It’s a reminder of the need to be as informed as possible, to be able to listen to other points of view, and for civil discourse.  Here is some advice to Israeli travellers on how to discuss the Middle East which has broad relevance.

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