As he spoke last Monday at Rodef Shalom Congregation about civil discourse, Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, lamented the case of … Peter Beinart.
If only the well known journalist, author and frequent critic of Israel, had published his controversial op-ed calling for a boycott against the West Bank settlements in a Jewish publication instead of The New York Times, Felson said. Not that he would have liked what Beinart wrote any more or less, but at least it would have been a safe place for the Jewish world to have the debate.
And that, in the proverbial nutshell, was Felson’s point. Jews in Pittsburgh (and across the country for that matter) need a safe place to have a free, unfettered and respectful conversation about all issues related to Israel — a two-state solution, religious plurality, the Iranian nuclear threat — and a host of other issues, too.
These are difficult issues that require serious debate if we’re ever to resolve them (or at least understand each other’s position), but too often that debate is stymied by a polarized community that lacks a safe place to listen to all parties.
By safe place, we mean a venue where Jews can air their grievances, and listen to others’, secure in the knowledge that there will be no personal attacks, no jeering, nothing that would make anyone feel unheard or disrespected.
Interestingly, when the audience got a chance to talk at Monday’s program, many people said the same thing: We need a safe place in the community, a place where we can talk and listen to each other, and exchange thoughts and ideas — however unpopular they may be.
Without such a place, civil discourse on Israel, and any other subject affecting the Jews, will be stymied.
We agree. More than that, we have good news: There is such a place in Pittsburgh; it’s called The Jewish Chronicle.
The pages of the Chronicle were always meant to be a safe forum for the expression of all kinds of ideas and opinions, and they still are, through the myriad letters to the editor, guest op-eds and regular columnists — all of which feature authors from the political right, left and center.
Don’t get us wrong; some people strenuously assail us for being too conservative or too liberal. We respect those critics, but we also wear that criticism as a badge of honor. Their remarks on what we write and the columns we publish come from both political poles — a sure sign that we are attempting to be a fair and equal forum for the issues important to our readers.
Being the address in Jewish Pittsburgh for safe, sane and productive community discourse has been our job — the mission for which we were established — for 50 years. And we’re planning to do it for many years to come. So try us out, if you haven’t already. Write a letter, propose an op-ed, suggest a point-counterpoint. And tell your friends and neighbors.
Looking for a safe place to talk about Israel, religion, etc.? Here it is.