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No more excommunicating people for their beliefs




The only way for us to tackle the antagonism thrown our way is as a strong, tactical, smart, and united force.

Therein lies the problem – we are far from united as a community. While there is a fairly extensive core that is united – to a degree – there is also a whole lot of verbal swiping at one another and backstabbing. While people are human, and arguing and differences of opinion are expected, there is a limit to how badly people within a community can treat each other.

Earlier this week, I was contacted by the venerable Professor David Bilchitz to ask if he and Judge Dennis Davis could write an opinion piece for the newspaper. Of course, I was interested, as they are both men of great brains (as Winnie the Pooh might have said). But when he suggested that they wanted to write about the issue of Limmud, and the people who had aligned themselves with BDS being disinvited, I became reticent, feeling that we had thrashed this issue out so thoroughly, there was nothing left to consider.

However, when he said that they wanted to address the issues of people being “excommunicated for their views” and “bullying” behaviour in the community, I realised these were important issues to tackle.

These problems keep coming up in our community, partly because it is our nature as Jews to be opinionated. However, we don’t all have the same views. We don’t all dress the same. We don’t all go to sleep at 9pm. We don’t all to go Plett in December. We don’t all live in Glenhazel. We are all different, and some of us are more different than others.

Most of us teach our children that we are all unique and different, and it is those differences that make us special. We tell them they don’t have to be like everyone else.

Yet, when someone has a view or a belief that is outside of popular communal-think, why do we treat them like pariahs? Why do we assume that they are wrong? And even if they are wrong – which they may well be – surely they have the right to think what they do. In the same vein, we have a right to debate their views with them. Perhaps in the debate and discussion, they might just rethink their views. Or, we may find food for thought that perhaps there is more than just one right way.

But if we don’t allow people to be different, and to have different views, then are we any better than those who refuse to see Israel as anything but pure evil?

We are such a multifaceted and interesting people. We are smart, generally knowledgeable and educated, but sometimes we can be so very blinkered about our own people.

I get upset with people who even consider that BDS could have a point. I also get upset with people who assume that women can’t have careers, and should spend their adult life focusing only on their husbands and children. What right do they have to tell me what I should do with my life? The truth is, they have every right. I don’t have to agree, but as long as they aren’t harming me or anyone else with their views, they have a right to them. And what if theirs is the predominant view? Should I be alienating myself or them for these views?

And if I do, who am I harming most? All of us. That is the issue.

As Jews, we have opinions, and we are very persuasive and sure of ourselves. This is to be applauded. However, if we don’t agree with people, so be it. Does this mean that we should destroy the extended family because siblings or cousins can’t agree? No, so why should we shred the community because of it?

Since I have been editor, I have been confronted a few times by people who vehemently disagree with me. They have an inalienable right to do so. They don’t have a right to threaten me and badmouth me, but to disagree with me… absolutely.

I have also met people who tell me they won’t comment or give their opinion in the SA Jewish Report because they will be ostracised for doing so. Some say they have already been shunned by the community for their views. What are we doing?

We are brothers and sisters. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to have each other’s backs. There is a world out there that doesn’t necessarily like our kind, so if we destroy ourselves from within, what chance do we have to survive?

Progressive, Maharsha, Zionist, not-so-Zionist, secular… we are all Jews. So, let’s stop making each other’s lives miserable, and start working together to change the way people see us.

Let’s start working towards showing the world we are a people who can be proud of how we look after our own. Let’s be those people who listen to each other and, if we disagree, we agree to disagree.

Let’s be the people who live this perhaps overused quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

That way we will be able to stand up to our enemies with pride.

Shabbat Shalom, and best of luck to our Absa Jewish Achiever nominees.

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