Feb 11, 2010

Masorti Matters, by Rabbi Andy Sacks: "Silencing The Left"

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Thursday Feb 11, 2010

The silencing of the Left

Rabbi Andrew Sacks

I have never been one for conspiracy theories, but there seems to be something afoot in the Jewish world that is ugly, sleazy and disgusting. It may simply be a confluence of events, or it may be the zeitgeist.
The New Israel Fund (NIF) has come under a horrid and unjustified attack by individuals and organizations associated with the right-wing settler movement in Israel. The NIF funds organizations that promote civil rights and democracy in Israel. All of the organizations to which they provide funding are recognized legal entities in Israel.
Im Tirtzu, masquerading as a centrist Zionist organization, spurred the attack. First reported in the newspaper Maariv, later on TV and radio, the offensive moved into the very chambers of the Knesset. MK Zevulun Orlev accused the NIF, the Meretz party and the Israeli Left of nothing less than treason.
A Knesset committee has now been empowered to investigate the NIF. The NIF is more than transparent. They publish their goals on their web site and provide full financial disclosure to all who ask. We have no need for a series of 溺cCarthyite" hearings.
This is not an attack on the NIF, rather it is a cleverly orchestrated effort by those on the Right to silence the forces of democracy, or at least block funding for those with whom they differ.
Im Tirtzu, the very organization that has taken out ads showing the NIF president, former MK Naomi Hazan, with horns, receives some of its funding from the likes of the Reverend Hagee. They support the Women in Green (who have called for violence against those on the Left) and have taken funds from organizations that provide financial help to Jewish families who have family members convicted of violence against Palestinians.
Imagine European, or American newspapers, publishing full page ads with the caricature of a public Jewish figure with horns. Now imagine an Anglo-Jewish paper doing this. I am not suggesting denying freedom of speech, but I am advocating for standards of reasonable taste.
In a seemingly unrelated campaign, many Philadelphia Jewish leaders have expressed outrage over the rental of space at the University of Pennsylvania Hillel to a JStreet event, hoping to block the gathering. A member of the JCRC claimed: "What makes them pro-Israel? If the Palestinians had a lobby, it would be called JStreet. The Hillel building is an inappropriate spot for a group that's anti-Israel."

The comments that went back and forth in synagogue Israel committees and the JCRC were also ugly. Like the organization or not, they have the right to be heard, especially when they rent the space.

It is easy to call JStreet anti-Zionist, but the list of their Israeli advisers includes many prominent MKs, retired army generals, rabbis and intelligence agency heads.

This was an attempt by those on the Right, those who feel they have a monopoly on what is right, to silence those who hold a more leftist (though not out of step with many in the Israeli mainstream) view. Even Israel's consul-general attended one of the group's functions last week in Boston.
Both of these attacks, against the NIF and JStreet, are upsetting. This ought not be a question of Left Vs. Right. It is a matter of allowing free, uncensored, open debate within the Jewish community both in Israel and in the States.
All of this comes on top of police efforts to silence the left-wing demonstrators at  Sheikh Jarrah. Each Friday a group of protesters gather in Jerusalem's  Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to demonstrate against what they feel is the unnecessarily settlement by Jews in the heart of an Arab neighborhood. Although peaceful by any measure, the police have made many arrests - detaining those protesters over Shabbat. Israel's courts have now declared the arrests unacceptable.
And let us not forget the arrest of Nofrat Frankel (and the questioning by police of Anat Hoffman) , of Women of the Wall. Here too the voices that seek open change, equality, and democratic justice have been stymied.  Those who oppose change and basic civil rights have been allowed to run roughshod over these women who seek to pray in peace. I am not saying that the Women of the Wall are necessarily completely in the right with regard to the law - but the attempt to silence them can not be tolerated in a free society.
I recall in the seventies and the eighties the creation of an organization called Breira, followed by the New Jewish Agenda. They were established to push for participatory democratic process for all people, especially those marginalized within the mainstream Jewish community.
But those who affiliated were attacked as being anti-Zionist and self-hating. I recall  rabbis who identified with these groups fearing it may affect their employment opportunities.
It is time to put an end to this fear- and hate-mongering. The Jewish community can only be enriched by serious and thoughtful debate. As the Talmud states: "Both these and these are the words of the living God."

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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