Blog posts

Hillel and Shammai decided to settle it all with an arm wrestle

Here is a poem that occurred to me in a complete flight of fancy.

The Arm Wrestle

Hillel and Shammai decided to settle it all with an arm wrestle

But they couldn’t agree on the details.

Hillel said that they should start after a count of, “1, 2, 3,”

Whereas Shammai said it should be, “3, 2, 1.”

And there was big trouble when Shammai suggested that hitting with builders’ tools should be allowed.

They also had difficulty setting a date:

Shammai turned up on the 1st,

But Hillel didn’t arrive until the 15th.

Eventually, though, they both arrived at the Beit Midrash,

Each in team colours.

Peddlers were selling little figurines of the two contestants

And everyone in Jerusalem had a little flutter

(Though Hillel’s fans made sure that their stakes were held by the court – technically).

Unfortunately, it all kicked off between their supporters:

A few of Shammai’s students killed some of Hillel’s guys.

Shammai beckoned to Hillel and rolled up his sleeve.

In an unexpected twist, he had a tattoo on his bicep, of a skull saying, “Receive all men with a pleasant face.”

Hillel stood opposite him on one leg,

Until they explained that he could, and probably should, use both legs on this occasion,

And he extended his hand.

But at that moment, a Divine Voice emerged

#NoSafeSpaceForJewHate… except at the ‘Jewish Chronicle’

When Wiley went on his anti-Semitic rampage on Twitter last year, the Jewish community was united in horror, and the #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate hashtag was born.

The President of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, demanded that “social media companies … be required to appoint a minimum number of staff … to moderate content that is harmful”.

The editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, tweeted: “You refuse to act against Jew hate, Twitter. You enable the likes of Wiley to spread their poison. You choose to allow it on here.

There were two values underpinning the community’s approach to anti-Semitism on social media:

  • It’s not ‘just words’. Hate speech against Jews endangers Jews.
  • Those who provide and control platforms have (at least) a moral responsibility to police and moderate the content that others choose to post on those platforms.

These are extremely sensible principles and I endorse them both wholeheartedly.

Unfortunately, Stephen Pollard does not endorse them wholeheartedly, because when it comes to other forms of hatred, on platforms controlled by Jewish institutions, these principles apparently go out of the window.

Earlier this week, the Jewish Chronicle published an article about the two new students who will be joining myself and my colleagues at Leo Baeck College in September. They’re both women, one a former campaigner for the Democrats and the other a founder of the Jewish chapter of Extinction Rebellion.

How did the Jewish Chronicle Facebook page react to the news that two left-leaning women are to be allowed to study for the rabbinate? The reaction wasn’t positive. Specifically, the page was a cesspit of hate. My new colleagues were repeatedly called “kapos” (Nazi collaborators) and “enemies of the Jewish people”. Those who gently spoke up for them were labelled “arseholes” and “insane”. Their Jewishness was questioned. The Jewishness of the Progressive movements in general was questioned.  I was even labelled a bad rabbinic student for having chosen the name ‘Omri’ for my son.

And what did the Jewish Chronicle do about it? Nothing.

At about 11pm that day I personally reached out to a Jewish Chronicle staffer I know (whose role is nothing to do with the social media side of things) and she very kindly and very nobly logged on there and then to delete the nastier comments. The next day there was another tranche of “kapo” filth, and honestly I felt too bad to approach her again, because it’s not her job.

Whose job is it? Stephen Pollard’s. He’s the editor. He’s the senior manager. He must “appoint a minimum number of staff to moderate content that is harmful”. And Marie van der Zyl must push him to do that, in the same way that she pushed Facebook itself.

He can’t shrug his shoulders and say it’s a case of sticks-and-stones, because we all (sadly) know that the real-world impact of sustained social media abuse against named individuals can be disastrous, especially women, who are so often the target for the most vicious abuse.

He can’t shrug his shoulders and say that he’s not responsible for what other people post, because it’s his estimable organ that’s providing the platform and allowing these vile people to come together and find an audience. What was it he said to Twitter about online anti-Semitism? “You enable the likes of Wiley to spread their poison. You choose to allow it on here.” Well, Stephen Pollard chooses to allow mental-health-related abuse, and the ‘kapo’ slur, in his newspaper’s online space.

Let’s remind ourselves of the two values that motivated the communal response to Wiley:

  • It’s not ‘just words’. Hate speech against Jews endangers Jews.
  • Those who provide and control platforms have (at least) a moral responsibility to police and moderate the content that others choose to post on those platforms.

These are both uncontroversial and sensible values, and indeed they find their root in Jewish texts. The Talmud says that someone who uses verbal insults in a way that causes another to blush, is tantamount to a murderer. The Mishnah says that we must not participate in the building of amphitheatres, because the blood sports that happen therein – even if we personally don’t take part in them – are morally abhorrent, and we would be enabling them to take place if we helped to construct the building.

The Jewish Chronicle must clean up its act, and stop providing a platform for hatred, bullying and (in the case of the word ‘kapo’) outright anti-Semitism. Unacceptable comments need to be deleted immediately. Repeat offenders should have their commenting privileges removed altogether. And if the newspaper lacks the budget to dedicate sufficient staff time to moderating its social media presence, it needs to shut down its social media presence. If Stephen Pollard can’t afford to run a Facebook page in an ethically responsible way, he can’t afford to run a Facebook page full stop.

#NoSafeSpaceForJewHate.

Is calling the founder of a Jewish environmental group a Nazi not a form of Jew hate? Is stalking a rabbinic student’s family and using their 4-month-old baby as a weapon not Jew hate? Is saying that the Liberal and Reform movements are only ‘Jewish’, and only have ‘rabbis’, with sceptical quotation marks, not Jew hate? Is attacking a Jewish woman as “insane” and an “arsehole” not Jew hate? All of these epithets comprise hatred directed against Jews. The fact that they [well, some of them] were written by other Jews doesn’t affect that.

A communal newspaper is providing a safe space for Jew hate. I call on Stephen Pollard to set out an action plan for improving moderation of the social media spaces for which he has responsibility, and I call on Marie van der Zyl to hold him to the same standard to which she holds others.

Then, maybe, there will be no safe space for Jew hate.