Beyond the pale: NYC Jewish community center cancels workshop on Palestinian nonviolent movements

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Young, Jewish and Proud’s “Go & Learn: BDS Education in Jewish Communities” event taking place outside the 14th Street Y. (Photo: Young, Jewish and Proud)

Catching up on news from the long weekend. On Saturday, Young, Jewish and Proud sent out a press release saying the 14th Street Y, a Jewish community space in New York City, had cancelled a room they reserved for an educational event on BDS.

From the press release:

Dr. Stephen Hazan Arnoff

With less than two full days until a Jewish educational workshop on Palestinian nonviolent movements planned for May 27th at 3pm, the 14th Street Y, a Jewish community space, has pulled the plug. In a phone call made to Liza Behrendt of Young, Jewish, and Proud (YJP) on Friday night, Executive Director Steven Hazan Arnoff cancelled the event and refused to reschedule, although YJP had signed a contract and rented space months before.  Event organizers have chosen to move forward with the event and plan to meet as scheduled, in front of the 14th Street Y.

Arnoff cited concerns of high attendance as the Y’s reason for cancellation, although the rented space holds 75 and only 40 have RSVP’d. . .

“What is the 14th Street Y afraid of?”  asked Behrendt. “We want to sit together, eat blintzes, and share our thoughts on what it means to be Jewish and grapple with Palestinian nonviolent movements.”  Organizers had encouraged BDS opponents to attend and take part in conversation.

The 14th Street Y’s last minute cancellation is emblematic of a larger trend of silencing discussion on Palestinian nonviolent movements within the Jewish community. In March, YJP organizers were excluded from Tribefest, a youth conference of the Jewish Federations of North America.  Last year Brandeis University Hillel excluded a campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.  Before that, a Boston-area synagogue cancelled a talk by J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami.  Jewish institutions nationwide have instituted guidelines that silence discussion of the BDS movement and intimidate Jewish leaders who wish to engage publicly with criticism of Israel. 

The event was part of the new JVP initiative Go & Learn: BDS Education in Jewish Communities, and similar events have taken place in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Despite the cancellation the event did happen . . . on the sidewalk in front of the 14th Street Y. A perfect metaphor for a Jewish communal leadership that refuses to acknowledge the conversation knocking at its door.

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