US Jews call for kindness

By Simon Rocker, November 11, 2010

A leading American Jewish organisation has launched a campaign to get Jews to speak more kindly to each other, alarmed by the fractious tone that has crept into community debate.

More than 150 rabbis and community leaders have signed up to the Statement of Civility issued by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which wants to encourage a "respectful and healthy debate" without acrimony.

According to the statement, "The expression and exchange of views is often an uncivil, highly unpleasant experience. Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults and outrageous charges."

The JCPA believes that there is a need to promote civility in the USA more generally, especially given the negative advertising and personal mudslinging that has characterised recent electoral campaigns. But its immediate goal is to tackle "a similar breakdown in healthy communications" within the Jewish community.

It says that the "essential element of a community" is the "ability to meet and talk as brothers and sisters" and that people should "treat each other with decency and honour" even when they disagree.

Dr Giles Conrad, chairman of JCPA, said: "The tone used in campaigns across society demeans our democracy and makes it nearly impossible to find common ground.

"The leaders of the Jewish community are clearly saying that we're ready to choose a different way of doing business."

Ethan Felson, JCPA, said that he had noticed a "marked decline" over the past four or five years. "We see a lot of demagoguery and demonisation."

As an example of unacceptable rhetoric, he recalled one meeting about sanctions on Israel in a church where he had heard a Jewish speaker remark: "If you haven't been accused of antisemitism, you are not doing your work for justice."

But he said that the "take-no-prisoners approach" was evident across the community and not just among a particular ideological wing. "That challenges those who play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules to come into the mud."

    Last updated: 3:21pm, November 11 2010