Anti-Dissent Disorder (and How to Cure It)

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect:

The film shows emails scrolling across a computer screen. Addressed to Peter Stein, director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, they carry more venom than it seems mere pixels of text could contain. They accuse him of being an anti-Semite and of running an “anti-Israel hate-fest.” They include words like “Hitler” and ask if next year he will present a retrospective of Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl’s work.

This sequence comes early in the documentary Between Two Worlds, which premieres later this month in New York. Stein’s offense during the 2009 film festival was showing another documentary: Rachel, about Rachel Corrie, an American activist killed several years earlier in Gaza by an Israeli army bulldozer as she tried to stop it from razing a Palestinian house. At the same festival, Stein also showed 36 Israeli movies as part of his effort to catalyze intelligent conversation of Jewish issues.

That didn’t save him from the hate letters or from the protests outside the Castro Theater when Rachel screened. For balance, Stein invited a representative from the right-wing group Stand With Us explain his objections before the screening began. A barrage of cat-calls from the audience interrupted the guest’s comments, as if to prove that silencing opponents is a game everyone can play.

Between Two Worlds, by directors Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow, portrays the internecine fury that has seized the American Jewish community. This is a periodic illness, a social auto-immune disorder in which healthy dissent—particularly regarding Israeli policy—sets off panicked accusations of perfidy. The outbreaks date back at least to the 1970s, when Jews on the right succeeded in ostracizing Breirah, an early group promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. In a more advanced stage, toxic self-righteousness may afflict spokespeople of the left as well as the right. The current bout is so virulent that many Jews prefer to drop out of the argument about Israel entirely—a symptom akin to gourmets finding they can’t bear to eat. As Daniel Sokatch, head of the liberal New Israel Fund, tells Snitow and Kaufman’s camera, “People will walk away from an argument that looks like, ‘Israel, right or wrong,’ or, ‘Israel is an apartheid demon state.’ That is not a compelling paradigm for most young American Jews.”

So here’s a proposal for three-part introductory course for anyone who wants to conduct an educational cure for Anti-Dissent Autoimmune Disorder among Jews or other groups.

Read the rest here.


4 thoughts on “Anti-Dissent Disorder (and How to Cure It)”

  1. No external source–Obama, J Street, etc.–will change Israel. That must happen from within. One may escape the battle awhile elsewhere for welcomed respite, but Israel must make Israel.

    So I have begun (I being a most important person) advocating naively for an Israeli Constitutional Convention. It would perforce be Israeli, any import, American or otherwise, would be by Israeli hands. I continue to think the outcome might serve Israel well.

    What are you? Don’t tell me–tell yourselves.


    I have read the Haartez article referenced and await the book. Thanks for speaking of them.

  2. The South Jerusalem blog itself exemplifies that reasonableness and thoughtfulness. Keep up the great work.

    Sometimes the extreme view is the correct one, of course (I say that as a moderate on the question of Israel). And even people on opposite extremes can have a civil, intelligent conversation if they want to. I have no problem talking to “Israel can do no wrong” extremists or to “Israel is a demon apartheid state” extremists, as long as they’ve got something halfway intelligent to say and are willing to listen. Your enemies will tell you truths that your friends are too polite to utter.

Comments are closed.