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J Street

Some recent happenings:

  1. “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.”
  2. The ADL has posted a top ten “anti-Israel” groups list. Among the names, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.
  3. Some members of Netanyahu’s audience respond violently to young Jewish protesters during Jewish Federation General Assembly in New Orleans two weeks ago. A barometer:

So it seems pretty timely that for the past few weeks I’ve been planning an event with a friend at Hampshire titled “What’s so wrong with Zionism??” We have not received any institutional endorsement for this event, but it is not for our lack of trying. We have been in conversation with two different offices on campus, both of which have been too concerned with the “structure” of the event to offer outward support. Here’s our description——>

An Open Discussion on Zionism from Jewish anti-Zionist Perspectives

Want to participate in a candid discussion about Zionism, its history and the baggage that comes with this conversation?

Two students… are facilitating a conversation about Zionism- what it has meant historically and what it means today for Israel, for Palestinians, and for each of us.

We will be giving a presentation on Zionism from an anti-Zionist perspective and then opening up the space for honest discussion about these viewpoints and where we all come from.

We would really love to have a diverse array of voices and perspectives so please come even if you are hesitant about it- we welcome anyone that feels they have a stake in this conversation.

This event is intended for Jewish students to have a specific conversation about how Jews understand and feel about Zionism, so please come with that in mind.”

Our intention with this event is to provide a space for Jews to have a critical discussion about Zionist politics. A space which, judging from recent events, is hard to come by. In the process of organizing for monday, I have wondered about whether we can truly create a “safe space” for this discussion. While it is certainly something to strive for, I’m inclined to say that if we are intending to have an “open” discussion, then the nature of these issues are too personal to make each one of us feel entirely safe. Perhaps this is why so often these conversations fail to happen. But we are trying! Monday will be the first of what I hope are several productive discussions between Jews on campus about the many meanings of Zionism.

So, many thoughts have been stirring in my mind lately about antisemitism, Zionism and the role of dissent. I’ve been book jumping quite a lot, and happened upon a  James Baldwin lecture from 1983 on “Blacks and Jews.” Baldwin was speaking in response to the media storm that followed an antisemitic remark Jesse Jackson had made during his campaign for office. Baldwin had begun to talk about why suspicion and bitterness had developed between Jewish and Black communities in the U.S., and his personal experience of seeing what were once far left thinkers turn to neoconservatism in their olllld ageeee. Read away:

“But these are people [the Jews] from whom I did expect something at one time in my life. And I thought they were better than that. I thought that they knew more than that. I thought that they could be clearer than that. What is behind it, in another way, has to do with something else– something else which no one ever wishes to discuss. And that is the actual role in the Middle East of the state of Israel.Whenever Israel is mentioned one is required, it appears sometimes to me, to maintain a kind of pious silence. Well, why? It is a state like other states. It has come into existence in a peculiar way. But it does not, does not, become a state because people who wrote the Balfour Declaration, or Winston Churchill, or for that matter anyone in Europe, or in the Western world, really cared what happened to the Jews. I wish I could say differently, but I would be lying if I did– it came into existence as a means of protecting Western interests at the gate of the Middle East. The British promised land back and forth, depending on which horse would be in the lead, to the Arabs and to the Jews. The English… have a policy which they are experts at, and the policy is called ‘divide and rule.’ Sometimes I think the British may be the authors of twentieth-century racism. They certainly codified it. In any case, in order to be a Zionist, it is not necessary to love the Jews… And to be a Jew is not necessarily to be a Zionist.” (Kenan, 141-142)

I practically jumped out of my seat after reading “in order to be a Zionist, it is not necessary to love the Jews.” It’s true, on many different levels. Especially considering the tendency to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. HELLO Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL! Amira Hass was at Hampshire just a few weeks ago and, to paraphrase, said something about how American governmental “support” for Israel is really just the “assisted suicide” of the Jewish people. What do you have to say about THAT Foxman? But anyway, this “divide and rule” bit that Baldwin is talking about is particularly useful, especially when thinking about what it means to be in solidarity with the Palestinians.

On yet another separated but related note: does anyone from the greater Boston area remember when Noam Chomsky came to speak at Newton South High School?

By Rachel Lebeaux/Staff Writer
Posted Apr 04, 2007 @ 12:00 AM
Newton — A student group’s decision to invite linguist and MIT professor Noam Chomsky to speak at Newton South High School about the Iraq war next week has touched off a heated debate on freedom of speech as it relates to Chomsky’s controversial political views.

School officials, however, are sticking to and justifying their decision to allow Chomsky to speak to the South community, with Principal Brian Salzer saying that the most important factor is that the talk be “educationally valuable” for students.

Newton South’s Social Awareness Club invited Chomsky to discuss his thoughts in a talk called “A Unique Perspective of U.S. Foreign Policy: Finding Peace in Iraq.” The invitation was made and accepted two weeks ago.

Chomsky will speak April 11 at 11 a.m. in the Seasholes Auditorium at South, during a lunch block. Attendance is voluntary.

Despite his Jewish heritage, Chomsky has been accused of anti-Semitism based on his views of Israel and, in 1979, his stated support for Robert Faurisson’s right to express his views. Faurisson wrote a number of articles and letters to French newspapers in which he described the Holocaust as a hoax, denied the existence of gas chambers and questioned whether there had been a systematic killing of European Jews.

Resident Jim Epstein said that he approached Mayor David Cohen to express his concerns about Chomsky’s impending appearance at a school “with a large percentage of Jewish students,” but Cohen would not intercede.

“I don’t agree with Mayor Cohen that it’s a matter of ‘freedom of speech,’” Epstein said. “Just because statements are protected under ‘freedom of speech’ does not mean that schools don’t have discretion to determine what should be presented there.”

Epstein said he believes the Newton Public Schools are in fact liable for not exercising their discretion, whether or not Chomsky is determined to have propagated “hate speech” in the past.

The question, Epstein said, is whether the city wants to have public schools providing such a forum to its students.

“This is ‘cultural relativism’ run amok,” Epstein said.

South parent and TAB columnist Tom Mountain also expressed disgust over the invitation to Chomsky in a column in this week’s TAB, in which he writes, “The volume of information indicting Noam Chomsky is so acute it leaves one to gasp in astonishment that any intelligent, responsible educator would invite him to address an auditorium of high school students.”

School Committee Chairwoman Dori Zaleznik said her committee would not step in either to stop the speech.

“The School Committee supports the right of a student group to invite a speaker to Newton South for a lecture,” Zaleznik wrote in response to questions from Mountain. “We trust the very intelligent and capable students at Newton South to listen to a point of view, question what they hear and form their own opinions.”

In a column to the TAB, South Principal Brian Salzer said he asked himself many questions in arriving at his decision, including whether to accept a speaker with an opposing and possibly inflammatory viewpoint; whether students would be unfairly or unreasonable influenced by the speaker; and whether he’d listened with an open mind to those opposing the presentation.

“With every difficult decision, there is a political price to pay and political capital to earn,” Salzer wrote. “It is my hope that whether you agree or disagree with the decision, you will respect the process I used to make it.”

Salzer said he expected students to “bring thoughtful questions, healthy skepticism, remarkable academic preparedness and the values their parents have instilled in them to listen to a philosopher, academician, linguist and informed scholar.”

Seating in the auditorium will be reserved for South students and staff only. Parents of current students are invited to view the lecture from another classroom area with a live broadcast of the presentation.”

I remember that the event was moved out of the main auditorium to the smaller lecture hall for fear of, well, I’m not quite sure…a RIOT? At any rate, I (along with most other students) didn’t get to see the lecture because the administrators guarding the door outside the event said that there was no space. Well now, isn’t that the problem?
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