Thanks to Engage for keeping me up-to-date (give or take a week).
There’s a new group (or a media-shrewd rebranded group) – Independent Jewish Voices. It has a Comment is Free blog, a declaration and plenty of signatories who profess their right to dissent without the wrong kinds of responses. This is weird. Personally, I’m scared of having rings run round me in an argument – sometimes I suspect my working memory space is closer to 5 than 9 and I fluster easily – but I’m not signing that. I might cringe as I click on Publish, but I’ll (gulp) take all the flak my 3 readers can muster. And if there’s a debate because of what I say and I don’t win, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong – I might be, or I might merely have been steamrollered by a more competent debater. At least if I make a point freely and publicly, people can judge for themselves and I get the chance to develop my argument and powers of argumentation.
Freedom of speech is most exercised and most important when you use it i.e. when you say something controversial. And if you say something controversial with enough publicity, you can guarantee that people – ‘The Establishment’ or people who just feel differently – are going to test it in various ways. If they don’t, then something’s gone a bit wrong – apathy, or you weren’t being quite as radical as you thought. So you should expect and welcome the discomfort. Nastiness is something else – nastiness (accusations of being a self-hating Jew, for example) aims to crush an argument by undermining somebody’s self-esteem rather than systematically dismantling what they say. Character indictment is something else again – it can be a lazy short-cut or it can be a legitimate factor in assessing somebody’s credibility.
But IJV are not campaigning against nastiness, sleaze, bullying or suppression but for – from what I can gather – individual voices speaking out in unison. Because right now we have plenty of individual voices – but they’re saying different things. We have Engage, BRICUP, JfJfP, Board of Deputies, FFIPP-UK, IIC and various individual J media worthies regularly at each other like a bag of ferrets much to the gladiatorial relish of everyone else (Alex reckons that the Guardian considers Jew-on-Jew riposte thrilling). Jews make enthusiastic use of their individual voices already, and the result is quite a cacophony – so is IJV really after some kind of vocoder effect whereby different voices speak out in a “coherent and consistent” manner? Isn’t that otherwise known as a ‘consensus’? IJV appears to want to marshal individual voices into consistent utterances – but you can’t do that, surely, because – or am I missing something – they lose their individuality. And don’t e.g. the Board of Deputies (whom I’d admittedly quite like to take the cheesey, corporate and transparently wishful “Voice of British Jewry” strap away from the front page of their site) conduct elections and debates just like the rest of us? Yes, according to the Finance and Organisation section, they do. I’m not familiar with the BoD, but in theory that’s a pretty good stab at organised individuality. Ditto OneVoice (whose name suggests it would take a very different line from Independent Jewish Voices) which widely consults individual citizens to build consensus. Whereas IJV seem only to be campaigning for a turn on the heavy end of a non-existent dissent/establishment see-saw.
Norman Geras, Shalom Lappin, and Eve Garrard are pissed off about the “vanity and self-regard” of signatories who get a cheapy out of imagining themselves on the ropes valiantly ringing out truth and justice in a world gone bad. That’s a serious accusation, a character indictment – is there any justification? Yes they do have a point and here is why: where are the records of this muzzling implied by the signatories? I only half expected to find documented nastiness and suppression perpetrated by establishment-Jews on independent-Jews on IJV’s Web site, so I was only half disappointed when I was proved half right: there is none. And I don’t reckon there’s been much (and no, habitual conspiracy theorists, it’s not likely that the evidence has been suppressed). So we look for other reasons for this declaration, and I think that vanity and self-regard is a plausible explanation.
One more thing. The declaration ends with:
We hereby reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice. The lessons we have learned from our own history compel us to speak out.
I resent this attempt to rally me by appealing to national pride. And I seriously resent the implication that Jews’ historical experiences oblige us to be more vigilant and more vocal. I reserve the right to be equally apathetic, equally ignorant, equally forgetful, equally self-serving to Shami Chakrabarti, John Humphrys, Rowan Williams, &tc.
Consequently I consign IJV to the Purveyors of Straw Men, Red Herrings and Mischief pile.