I wrote recently about some of the problems Ethiopian-Israelis are facing, as well as the entrenched attitude that Israelis, especially public figures, have towards the use of the word “kushi.” I got a lot of feedback, the great majority of which fell entirely in line with what I expected. Most people recognized that the word is racist, a few people seemed (in my opinion, a little inordinately) concerned with what word to use to replace it, and a very small number of people reserved the right to use it whenever the heck they felt like it, because it was in the Torah, G-d dammit!!
If a few people were educated who would have otherwise remained unaware (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they only read Times of Israel for my blog), and have now gone on to use less divisive terms, or better yet, thought about whether a racially based term was necessary at all, I’ll consider that a win. But the more unanticipated comments came not from people who were misguided enough to place their bets on racism, but rather from a completely different corner, my fellow Conservatives.
When I wrote a blog post saying that calling people the Hebrew equivalent of “nigger” is a bad thing, I thought the only arguments would be about the word itself. However, I soon began to get personal feedback from individuals with whom I generally tend to agree philosophically, first hinting, and then outright requesting that I remove my blog post because I had agreed with blogger Richard Silverstein regarding his assessment of the comments of Oded Tira, head of the Israeli national sports authority. Silverstein had called Tira out for using the term “kushim” in regards to members of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team, and he was right to do so. However, I was admonished that my support for Silverstein, even in such a limited scope, “gives sanction to his ideology.”
Frankly, I was shocked. One of the things I strive pretty hard for is to remain open-minded. While I may disagree with almost everything a person says, I’m not above admitting when they have made the right call. From what I’ve read of his work, I doubt that I will be making a habit of agreeing with Richard Silverstein. He has said things that were incendiary and unfortunate, and which I personally find to be untrue. But In my opinion, refusing to listen to people whom you disagree with, and perhaps despise, even when they are taking a stand you agree with is about two steps ahead of fascism, and about five steps ahead of a cult mindset. And either destination is far from the paths upon which I try to walk.
Is there ever someone so evil that I would never agree with them publicly? Well, to refrain from invoking Godwin’s Law, let’s use an example out of the distant past. Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess who lived from 1560 to 1614, tortured and killed hundreds of girls, some of them undoubtedly for pleasure, and some in a grotesque beauty ritual with the goal of preserving Countess Bathory’s youth. Now, if historians happened to unearth a treatise in which Bathory had deduced the final solution to a “Theory of Everything” uniting all of the known forces under one overarching principle, I’d still have to say, “Um, I’m not giving her props for that…” Because that is evil, Hecubus. EVIL. A blogger isn’t EVIL. I don’t have the power to command people to torture others, no matter how many Facebook shares my posts receive.
And, by the way, how do you handle someone EVIL who says something that’s true? Well, you could just … I don’t know … ignore it. This is not what the people who were so incensed by Richard Silverstein chose to do, however. They decided it would be much more powerful to make fun of him instead, by mocking his knowledge of Hebrew. If you really think someone is EVIL, you don’t take what he says and then make fun of it, especially when what he’s saying makes sense. Because then there’s always the chance that a little boy in the crown might point out that the Emperor’s wearing clothes this time, and his shoes are pretty cool.
I was almost ready to let this go as an anomaly when Emanuel Shahaf, a former Labor politico, wrote a piece on racism. Emanuel and I are on fairly disparate arms of the socio-politcal spectrum, and we publicly disagree with each other on various topics on a rather frequent basis. However, in this instance, Shahaf described an exchange between MK Haneen Zoabi and MK Pnina Tamano-Shatta, which pointed to a distinction that both parties had made regarding the role (or lack of one) for Arabs in Israeli society. I found the exchange compelling, and I shared my feelings in response to a comment on my own blog post.
Immediately, dissenters began to attack Shahaf, not regarding his blog post, but on previous statements he had made. And once more, it boiled down to not being able to see when people you don’t agree with are right. The problem with defining someone as completely good or evil is that it’s nearly impossible to make any progress in a democracy (particularly one so fragmented as Israel’s) when you’re so afraid that the person on the other side might have a point that you’re never willing to even listen. In the end, I’d always rather live in a world where “Jerkass Has A Point” than one of “Good Is Not Nice.”