A Broken Language, a Crippled
Debate, and the Gift of Art

Permission to Speak

In this exhibit space, you have a right to speak and a right to be heard. You even have a right to misspeak without bringing on the stigma of anti-Semitism. It cannot be expected that anyone without much experience expressing their feelings or ideas about Middle East events will do so with perfect precision right from the beginning. In this respect, we invoke the Jewish concept of t’shuva. It stands for the four stages of repentance: realizing that you have made a mistake, feeling remorse, correcting the mistake, and asking forgiveness from those who have been wronged and from God. Adopting the principles of t’shuva here is in no way intended to exonerate anti-Semitic speech. Rather, it is to say that people are permitted in the process of finding their voices to make mistakes, and to admit to their mistakes, without being permanently stigmatized.

For too long, anti-Semitism has been treated as a public policy issue, when in fact it is a public health issue. According to the principles of hasbara, everyone is assumed to be guilty of anti-Semitism until proven innocent. This is a subversion of the principles of due process that are fundamental to the definition of democracy. Under the principles of t’shuva, everyone is considered to be fundamentally good but capable of error and contrition: it stands as an antidote to a health problem that can infect a social community. Hasbara indicts people without consideration of ramifications or alternatives; t’shuva is based on respect for people, bringing them back to health where possible and containing the spread of the disease.

“Anti-Semitism is the rumor about the Jews,” said Theodor Adorno. A rumor is a dark idea that is whispered, anonymous, and opaque. In this exhibit, transparent public conversation will overwhelm private innuendo. We will not extinguish anti-Semitism by condemning whisperers. We will do so by preserving and expanding the arena in which democratic, free speech is allowed to flourish.

  images coming soon

Next Section: New Definitions to Advance Discussion

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