Synchronicity: Forward publishes article about vitriol on blogs

On the very same day we posted our decision to stop comments indefinitely, the Forward published Vitriol Proliferates on Jewish Blogs, in which Rebecca Spence describes the difficulty in having civil conversations about Israel-Palestine politics in particular on Jewish blogs.

Is the harshness of language a natural outgrowth of a male-dominated medium in which anonymity gives many a chance to speak without accountability? Does verbally attacking others give generally powerless people the illusion of power? Is it a sincere expression of anger between people discussing emotional issues? Or is it a deliberate strategy to muzzle debate about US-Israeli policy, with people simply wearing others down through a daily onslaught of verbal abuse?

How about, all of the above?

Spence describes the vicious fake blog that was started just days after Tikun Olam‘s Richard Silverstein took credit for bringing down the extremist, hate-filled Masada2000 website (When the site was moved to another host, Silverstein successfully got it taken down again. The site seems to be up now with yet another provider.)

The case of Silverstein, a 53-year-old former Jewish charity fundraiser who operates his “Tikun Olam” Web site out of Seattle, is but one example of the below-the-belt discourse that has taken hold in the world of Jewish blogging. Scurrilous barbs and sharp-tongued insults are routinely tossed back and forth through cyberspace from one Jewish blogger to another, appearing in long threads in the sections reserved for reader comments. The invective often revolves around political stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with bloggers on the left and on the right painting one another into corners and caricaturing one another’s beliefs.

Some, like Israel blog Jewlicious founder Abitbol defend such discourse:

Abitbol, a 42-year-old Jerusalem resident, said that to adopt a code of speech for the Jewish blogosphere would tamp down the free and open debate that gives it its zest. “There’s a lot of testosterone on the Internet, a lot of swagger,” he said. What makes “the blogosphere interesting is the fact that it is dynamic and anything can happen.”

Others, like Jewschool’s Daniel Sieradski, who one launched a “Jewish Bloggers for Responsible Speech Online” campaign in response “his frustration over verbal skirmishes with a competing Jewish group blog,”, have said:

“Because of the challenging views I’ve expressed with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I’ve been called a Zionazi by Left-wingers and a self-hating Jew by Right-wingers,” Daniel Sieradski, founder of the blog, wrote in an e-mail to the Forward. “I’ve had people write that I, personally, am why the Holocaust happened.”

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