OVERVIEW – PHILISOPHICAL UNDERPINNINGS
REGARDING THE YEAR OF CIVIL DISCOURSE
1. The Jewish community relations field (JCRCs) have always been the exemplars of civil
discourse – and therefore have a unique and important role to play in addressing the
2. The growing polarization within our own community (particularly around Israel) means
that the expertise we’ve applied in building bridges beyond the community now also has
to be applied to building bridges within our community.
3. The breakdown of civility – particularly as it relates to Israel – has a multi-layered
- Takes precious time away from our core work/advocacy
- Demoralizing/tears at the core of our institutions
- If reach the point that can’t talk about Israel everyone loses
- Serious implications for flight away from engagement with the community
- Empowers the most extreme voices in our community
4. The term “Year of Civil Discourse” which we adopted in the Bay Area is not intended
to suggest that all can be made right in one year but rather that to restore proper
balance – which means not to eliminate extremist voices but rather return them to the
fringes – we need a focused campaign.
- to empower the huge middle that is sitting it out
- to create early warning systems
- to build a culture of passionate commitment to civil discourse
- to transcend the challenges that exist in an era of instant platforms
It is a continuous commitment, with a focused campaign.
5. While emphasizing the issue of polarization and breakdown of civility within our
community, can’t lose sight of the extent to which we are also affected by the
breakdown of civility in the broader society – and to inject the powerful reminder
that extremism of any kind is a threat to every principle for which we stand and
therefore we have a tremendous stake in the ground.
6. Add to all this the fact that JCRCs and our field have something very tangible and
urgently needed to contribute to Jewish institutions groping for help, and we end up
realizing that both for philosophical/value reasons and pragmatic reasons the subject
of civility represents a tremendous opportunity and a critical juncture for our field.