Letters to the Editor

Gelbart wrong on ‘hate pill’ and limiting opinions

I was a participant in the Steadfast Hope series that Guy Gelbart refers to in his “Shaliach’s View” column in the June 17 issue of the Arizona Jewish Post.

I really cannot disagree with him more on his characterization of the series as a “hate pill.” The series was designed to provide alternative viewpoints to the commonly disseminated views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as is expressed in the mission statement on its website http://www.steadfasthope.itbymo.com/:

“To create an ongoing dialogue with the greater Tucson community surrounding the issue of Israel/Palestine that aims to promote a just and lasting peace in the region, to provide educational resources, materials and speakers that focus on alternative viewpoints to current events, debunking of political and historical myths, nonviolent resistance and resolution to the conflict, to support individuals and groups that promote peace, justice and ‘speaking truth to power” (italics mine).

Some of the attendees may have expected more of a discussion group, but the organizers made it clear from the beginning that their intention was to provide an alternate viewpoint, not to cover every “side” of the issue. The organizers themselves don’t even have a unified opinion on many of the issues they presented. While the program was certainly critical of Israel, there was also criticism of the Palestinians, including by some of the Palestinian presenters. Guy Gelbart’s contention that the Palestinians were presented as being “all good” is simply not true. I also did not get any sense of “hate” in the presentations; instead there was a constant reiteration of fairness to all the involved parties, and to non-violence.

The opinions expressed were all within the range of opinions that one hears within Israel itself.

To be honest, the only hatred I felt in the series was actually from Guy Gelbart and some other participants, who clearly came to the series with an agenda, and often spoke in a very aggressive and demeaning fashion. There was no admission on these individuals’ parts of any possible wrongdoing by Israel, and very negative stereotyping of Palestinians and Arabs. These individuals did not appear to be interested in really hearing and understanding the presentations, but only in trying to refute what they had heard — often arguing about details of a much larger picture, and monopolizing the discussion.

I am also very concerned at Guy Gelbart’s comments about setting boundaries on opinions about Israel that he finds ­dangerous or hateful. When I hear a staff ­member of the Jewish Federation talking about limiting free expression, or being the arbiter of what opinions are permissible, I get very concerned. The last thing the Jewish community needs is any attempt to censor “undesirable” opinions.

—Paul Afek