Thursday, July 31, 2014 | return to: columns, the column


the column |  In crisis, emotions run high and wagons get circled

by sue fishkoff

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Yesterday a friend left a message on my voicemail saying he was canceling his subscription to J. He spoke calmly, even kindly, and said how he’d been enjoying the publication lately. But, he added, the last two issues were just too much, and he no longer wished to receive future editions.

What were those two issues about? The war in Gaza. A war that we at J., like every right-minded person, hope will come to a swift conclusion.

sue_fishkoffApparently, what my friend objected to was the Israel-centric focus of our editorials (and, presumably, overall coverage). He didn’t care for a page one column that called Hamas homicidal and jihadist, that suggested it wasn’t hard to choose sides in the current conflict. He didn’t use the term “warmongering,” but I suspect that was what he meant.

A few months ago, another reader threatened to cancel his subscription, as well. Not because he thought J. was too pro-Israel — quite the opposite. What this reader objected to was one of my columns where I mentioned that I read the New York Times at breakfast. The Times, he explained to me, is anti-Israel, and I should not be promoting it in J.

This reader ended up not canceling his subscription. Nor did I expect him to, for he is a longtime friend of the paper. Plus I called him personally and we had a good discussion. I told him that rather than chastise me for reading a newspaper he considers anti-Israel, he should be worried if the editor of J. did not read the national paper of record.

I don’t know whether he bought that argument. And I don’t know whether, when I phone the friend who left yesterday’s voice message, I will be able to persuade him to keep his subscription. But I so very much want both of these gentlemen — and the viewpoints they represent — to remain within the Bay Area’s Jewish communal conversation rather than outside it.

In the three years I’ve been editor of J., I’ve tried to widen that conversation to include everyone in the local Jewish community. That doesn’t mean I agree with every column or opinion piece we run (although I do agree, by definition, with the editorials). But every reasoned opinion that does not violate our standards deserves to be aired.

I’ve noticed, however,  a sharper tone to the back-and-forth commenting on our Facebook page and website these past few weeks as hostilities between Israel and Hamas increased. A funny thing happens when folks are under attack, literally or figuratively — the boundaries between sides become more clearly drawn, and wagons get circled. You want to criticize Israeli government policy in any field? You’re a traitor. You want to sympathize with the family of a fallen Israeli soldier? You’re a warmonger. There seems to be little time or patience for nuance, listening or empathy.

The same thing is going on in Israel, as well. I recently returned from a two-week visit, and was dismayed by many of the comments I heard from people in the street. The Arabs don’t understand anything but killing, one cabdriver told me. Israel is too right-wing for me to live there anymore, said one longtime friend.

Emotions are running very high. That’s because the pain is very real. And those emotions and that pain belong in the pages and on the digital platforms of J., your community publication. That’s one of the essential services we provide — serving as a public forum for hopes to be shared and grievances aired.

But that forum must remain a safe space. Comments or letters that demean another person or group, that violate our standards regarding race, ethnicity, gender, religion or nationality, or that repeatedly make the same points in a manner we deem harassing, will not be tolerated. Anything we consider anti-Semitic will not be tolerated. A list of those standards are published very clearly on our website. You can’t post a comment without seeing it.

This issue of J. is, once again, about the war. Bay Area parents of lone soldiers fighting in Gaza talk about the terrible pain and worry they are going through. A San Francisco surgeon who is volunteering with the Israel Defense Forces shares his experiences. We chronicle solidarity events throughout the Bay Area,  as well as anti-Israel protests. We include wire stories about the crisis on the ground, and how it is affecting everyone in the region.

And we invite you to add your voice to the conversation.

Sue Fishkoff
is the editor of J., and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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