Unfortunately, the J has landed themselves in hot water with the cancellation of one author’s session. The author in question, Peter Beinart, wrote a book called The Crisis of Zionism. Beinart contends, and this is my own, very simplified description, that the occupation of the West Bank is alienating young liberal Jews from Zionism. (If you don’t know what Zionism is, the ADL says “Zionism is the Jewish national movement of rebirth and renewal in the land of Israel – the historical birthplace of the Jewish people.”)
Right or wrong, that is Beinart’s stand, that’s what he wrote a book about and he and his book were booked, as it were, on the schedule of the Atlanta JCC’s annual Book Festival. Great. End of story.
Not so fast.
Apparently, some members of the JCC don’t agree with Beinart and rather than exercising their right not to attend his session or buy his book, they got the JCC to cancel his session.
Awesome. Censorship at work, people. God forbid, we should talk about the West Bank. Heaven forbid, some Jews may not self-identify as Zionists– it’s ashonda!
At least two Atlanta Rabbi’s have raised questions about this decision. One is my rabbi, Josh Lesser, from Congregation Bet Haverim. The other, who nearly became our rabbi, is Brad Levenberg from Temple Sinai. Brad wrote an interesting blog post about it. (Click here to read) Josh gave a sermon about it this past Saturday, which I’ll try to get him to post on the CBH website.
People, this is not good. Regardless of where you stand on the West Bank occupation, putting this guy on the book festival schedule and then pulling him when some people complain is asinine. Why don’t we just burn his books too, huh?
I’ve written my own letter to the Executive Director of the Atlanta JCC, Gail Luxenberg. I encourage you to contact her as well. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
My name is Howard Winer. I’m a member of the J’. My daughter goes to Club J. She just finished her fourth Summer in CIA. Ironically, my sister is on the executive leadership of one of the country’s largest and most successful JCC’s.
So it is with grave concern that I write to you this morning. I’m very dismayed that the JCC has chosen to take a position of censorship and remove Peter Beinart from this year’s Book Festival.
To say that our country was founded with values like freedom of speech would be a child-like argument for authors like Beinart to be included at the Book Festival. More appropriately, voices of dissent have protected our country and ideals for hundreds of years.
If not for voices of dissent, women would still not vote, blacks would continue to use different bathrooms, and Anti-Semitism would still be the rule, not the exception.
I’ve entrusted my child in your care for several years now but now I wonder whether the JCC is worthy of such trust. If the JCC is willing to censor Peter Beinhart, I have to wonder what values it teaches my child. Maybe diversity isn’t a good thing in the JCC’s eyes? Perhaps she ought not think for herself and follow the lead of other children, perhaps to her detriment. Perhaps she’s being taught that some Jews are better than others? Or maybe that unwavering support of governments is a good thing. Although we can find many examples when that has been found untrue, including one in which 6 million lost their lives.
The JCC uses a brand of “You Belong Here.” As someone with 24 years in marketing, I can tell you– that brand investment quickly becomes moot when you make choices like this one. When even Rabbi’s can speak out against the Beinhart decision and use social media to spread their message, fixing your brand becomes even harder.
Best of luck in your new position. Sounds like you’re gonna need it.