It is hot and heavy these days what with the counterattacks by the organized Jewish community’s Israel protectorate against dovish Jews. We’ve covered here a number of these stories. Now, here’s a new one (actually not ‘new’ but new to this blog). Cecilie Surasky of JVP told me recently that Joel Beinin, Stanford University professor and Mideast peace activist, had had an invitation to speak at the private Harker School in San Jose rescinded at the last minute by the School’s headmaster.
I contacted Joel to ask him what happened and he advised me he was writing an Op Ed piece about the incident. Now, Cecilie informs me via Muzzlewatch it’s been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Silencing critics not way to Middle East peace:
Last Sunday in San Francisco, the Anti-Defamation League sponsored “Finding Our Voice,” a conference designed to help Jews recognize and confront the “new anti-Semitism.” For me, it was ironic. Ten days before, my own voice was silenced by fellow Jews.
I was to give a talk about our Middle East policy to high school students at the Harker School in San Jose. With one day to go, my contact there called to say my appearance had been canceled. He was apologetic and upset. He expected the talk would be intellectually stimulating and intriguing for students. But, he said, “a certain community of parents” complained to the headmaster. He added, without divulging details, that the Jewish Community Relations Council of Silicon Valley had played a role.
It is instructive to read the “explanation” provided by the JCRC of its actions:
[Editor’s note: Diane Fisher, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Silicon Valley, says that although she left a message for the school principal, she never actually spoke to him, and any suggestion that the council was responsible for the cancellation of Beinin’s appearance at the school is inaccurate and an “unlikely inflation of JCRC’s influence.”]
If you’ll recall the ADL’s involvement in getting Tony Judt’s invitation to speak at the Polish consulate cancelled recently, Abe Foxman and David Harris used almost precisely the same language in attempting to mitigate their role. We didn’t tell them to cancel Judt. We merely explained to them that it wouldn’t look good for the government of Poland, given its history, to host a speaker inimical to Israel and Jewish interests.
So Fisher’s denial of playing a major role in this incident is disingenuous. Besides, one must ask whether other JCRC community volunteers or Harker parents with some connection to the JCRC played an even more direct role.
Harker’s headmaster used code to explain his decision to cancel the event:
And the Harker School in San Jose recently canceled a talk by a Palestinian supporter after a few students and parents complained that a different lecturer already aired that viewpoint in the fall:
“We’re slowly learning how sensitive this really is,” said Christopher Nikoloff, head of school at Harker.
These are almost precisely the same words used by James Nicola of the NY Theater Workshop in explaining why he was delaying the production of My Name is Rachel Corrie scheduled for his theater. He believed you couldn’t put on the play in the hypercharged political atmosphere in New York City without first “contextualizing” (whatever that means) the entire issue and preparing the Jewish community for the controversy that would undoubtedly ensue.
Over and over, we read of otherwise progressive individuals intimidated by the firestorm of opposition coming from groups like the JCRC. Silencing of respected academics like Joel Beinin is shameful. We in the Jewish community only do ourselves a disservice when we reveal we’re afraid of letting the world hear about ideas that diverge from the so-called communal consensus around Israel.
If you look on the JCRC’s own website you will see that it sponsors events that have a hard-right Israeli nationalist perspective. You will never see this community sponsor a talk by Israeli doves like Yossi Beilin, Yossi Sarid or Amir Peretz. I doubt you’ll ever hear Peace Now’s perspective represented at any event of theirs. You will hear Ehud Olmert’s press spokesperson. You will hear Palestinian ‘Zionist,’ Noni Darwish. This JCRC (not all local JCRC’s are so rigid) seems to take a hardened ideological perspective on matters related to Israel. So when Fisher claims her group’s influence is being exagerrrated, don’t you believe it.
When will groups like the JCRC, AIPAC, ADL and AJCongress and Committee realize that shutting Jewish dissenting voices out of the debate makes them look like the Israel hegemonists that they really are. No one likes someone who claims to speak for all Jews when it’s clear they don’t. You lose crediblity when you overstate your case or overreach in the way the JCRC did in this case.