Twitter and the Evil Tongue

For those of us immersed in social media, there is an endless assault on our senses by happenings large and small.

The president-elect sends a Twitter message criticizing the leader of a local union of the United Steelworkers for doing a “terrible job” and sending American jobs abroad. The tweet goes viral, and the union leader receives random threats from people on the basis of no known facts whatsoever.

A baseless charge linking Hillary Clinton to sex crimes is tweeted by a retired army officer, now in line to be the national security adviser in the new administration. The tweet is part of a deluge of fake news that reaches a particularly susceptible reader in North Carolina, who goes out and shoots up a pizza parlor to “investigate” the charge.

Comet Ping Pong is the pizza place in Washington where the shooting took place. Photo by Elizabeth Murphy from Alexandria, VA.

Comet Ping Pong is the pizza place in Washington where the shooting took place. Photo by Elizabeth Murphy from Alexandria, VA.

Being lampooned on social media is particularly harmful because there is no effective redress. Even if you find the source, there is no way to reverse the damage. The hundreds or thousands of viewers are beyond reach. Social media also offers an enticing immediacy and anonymity. Retweeting takes just a few keystrokes. One need not know the original author nor have any independent opinion of the worth of the message.

However, it would be wrong to single out Twitter in this regard. Moving at a slightly slower pace, but still beating out all news media, is Facebook. And not far behind is talk radio, a continuing stream of facts, fiction and innuendo.

We can’t help but respect movie stars, politicians and even friends and neighbors who achieve high numbers of “followers.” But we know that the path to achieving those inordinately large numbers is often just flavored or off-flavor gossip.

In Jewish law, gossip is a serious sin. Lashon ha-ra, the evil tongue, is a temptation we must resist. Yet in an age of social media, gossip is always too easy, too nearby and seemingly too impersonal.

Devout Jews perceive the injunction of lashon ha-ra to include two obligations: First, not to speak evil or gossip about others. And second, not to listen to gossip, because it is understood that the listener is an enabler and hence an inextricable part of the sin. So upon hearing gossip, a Jew should cover his ears, at one time a familiar motion.

Is there a similar defense while tapping on a cell phone, clicking at a computer or listening to your car radio? If not, we need to invent one. Perhaps there should be a special button on our electronics to mute evil gossip. Until that button is invented, however, we need to observe the mitzvah of “lashon ha-ra” and strike an electronic pose comparable to covering our ears.

Puzzling Out the American Voter 2016

Donald Trump’s “Locker Room Talk” tape wasn’t released until after this panel discussion, but even based on his other past behavior, it is incredible that Trump outscores Hillary Clinton by far on the question, “does the candidate share your religious beliefs?” Is it possible to make sense of the attitudes and preferences of American voters this year? The National Museum of American Jewish History presented a panel of journalists and academics to explain “Religion, Politics, and the 2016 Election.” [Read more…]

Shimon Peres: May His Name be for a Blessing

Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres.

The staff of the PJVoice joins with the world wide Jewish community in mourning the passing of Shimon Peres. Many American Jews, particularly those old enough to have experienced the formation of the State of Israel, see a direct line from Ben-Gurion to Shimon Peres. Peres helped shape the development of the Jewish State to a great extent.

The founding Israeli leaders were never divorced from the hard reality of Israel’s security situation. Each of them took a turn leading the military, and fully understood the need for protection from both internal and external enemies.

Still Peres, especially later in life, saw the need for an accommodation with the Palestinian Arabs, while protecting the State of Israel. When the opportunity came, he applied his utmost effort to carry out the goal of a two-state solution. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, for his work as Foreign Minister negotiating the Oslo Peace accords. [Read more…]

Advice and Consent and the Nomination of Judge Merrick Garland

One seat on the nine-member Supreme Court has been vacant since Justice Scalia died unexpectedly on February 13, 2016. To rectify this problem, will President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court be headed for a vote, for withdrawal or for a recess appointment? [Read more…]

J Street Marks a Turning Point

Peter Beinart, J Street Panel Discussion.

Peter Beinart, J Street Panel Discussion.

Under the heading “Evolving Politics of the Jewish Community,” J Street presented a panel discussion about Jewish politics and, in addition, about how the perception of J Street has changed. The panelists were David Axelrod, Peter Beinart, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D – Brooklyn) and Jim Gerstein. The speakers set out some of the important shifts in the beliefs and values of the American Jewish community. [Read more…]

Political Parties at the Crossroads

Professor Edward Newman

Edward Newman, Professor of Social Policy

How should political parties pick nominees for president?

This spring and summer have put both major political parties in the limelight, along with the candidates.

From the moment that Donald Trump appeared to be a serious contender, the Republican Party “regulars” have struggled to prevent his nomination. At the recent Republican convention, key figures (such as ex-presidents) were notably missing. [Read more…]

Rep. Mark Cohen: Looking Toward the Democratic Convention

Rep. Mark Cohen

Rep. Mark Cohen

Looking ahead to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) next week in Philadelphia, we interviewed Rep. Mark Cohen, a delegate and a high political official. Cohen is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from District 202 in Philadelphia. Having served in the House for 43 years, he holds the record for longest-serving state House member in Pennsylvania history. He also holds important positions, including chair of the vital House State Government Committee. [Read more…]

Keep America Great

US flag at half staff
First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How we respond to the disaster at the gay nightclub in Orlando clearly depends on who we are. Hillary Clinton responded by asking for better gun control, a stronger fight against ISIS, and national unity and resolve. Donald Trump announced the need to get tough fast or “we are not going to have our country anymore.”

According to Trump, the reason the shooting happened is that the shooter’s parents immigrated here legally, 30 years ago. Trump wants to bar Hispanics and Muslims alike from entering this country. When a second-generation American offends him, whether it’s a Muslim shooter or a Hispanic judge, the answer is the same: they are products of their foreign forebears, not to be trusted. So ban them from this country.

It is trite to say that we as Jews have an obligation to support immigrants and immigration. Trite, but true. Our obligation is to the Constitution and also to ourselves, our parents and especially our children.

A serious problem is the widespread unhappiness with the workings of our economic system, and lack of faith in the ability of government to meet people’s needs. The unfortunate result is that a candidate for the presidency who builds a campaign on hate and fear can amass 13 million votes, and in doing that, secure the inside track to nomination by one of our two major political parties.

A hallmark of democracy is respect for law. We have come through major attacks on that respect: Orval Faubus, Governor of Arkansas, standing on the steps of a public school defying court-ordered integration. Sen. McCarthy reading names of alleged proponents of the overthrow of the government with no evidence or due process whatsoever. Frank Rizzo, as police commissioner, allegedly boasting about his department’s handling of demonstrators: “When I’m finished with them, I’ll make Attila the Hun look like a fag.”

What we must recognize is that all the gains of the Civil Rights Movement are reversible, as soon as we – who fought for them – stop fighting for them. The First Amendment freedoms of speech and association, and separation of church and state, are reversible. In the primary campaign, candidate after candidate expressed the goal, if elected, to strengthen religion, meaning to use the power of government to strengthen Christianity.

But this is not just theoretical. Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, achieving school integration remains a battle. Every woman’s right to choose is challenged repeatedly by state legislatures, despite the likelihood that a court will strike down each effort. Under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we are told that the government monitors millions of telephone calls and Internet messages daily under blanket orders of a secret court. And we stand at a crossroads at which the next appointment to the United States Supreme Court could change the course of our civil rights and voting laws for decades. In short, our civil rights never stand still — they are always growing or shrinking or both.

So I am a one-issue voter, and that issue is keeping America safe for democracy. That includes respect for the government, along with a healthy desire to see it improve. That includes shouting out every sign of xenophobia, fear of the “other,” whether based on ancestry, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Before I even think about the traditional “bread and butter” issues, I insist on a candidate for whom equality and justice are real, not just fashion statements to be mouthed or discarded depending on the audience.