The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) has dis-invited liberal Zionist Peter Beinart from a speaking engagement at its annual Jewish book festival, presumably because he has called for a boycott of settlement goods, and it’s causing quite a stir. Everyone from J Street to Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is weighing in. The event is expected to attract over 10,000 people this year.
Beinart is one of 55 authors, some best selling, listed on MJCCA’s 2012 festival brochure (pdf ). His talk, named “Zionist Zeal” about his book The Crisis of Zionism, is listed on page 16, relegated to a spot alongside ‘Low Cal Gal‘ Lisa Lillian and right above Marni Davis’s Jews and Booze.
The center’s president and CEO are now defending their decision to cancel Beinart’s invitation, claiming that once that brochure went out with word of Beinart’s appearance, protests came “pouring in.”
However, just how many of the center’s 18,000 members participated in this screeching avalanche of disapproval is not information Steven Cadranel, the president of the MJCCA, is willing to disclose. Nor is he saying if any arm twisting measures were employed. After all, it’s entirely possible merely a few big donors expressed their disapproval in a way that could impact the economic future of the center and phff… and so, for the first time in the history of the festival, a scheduled writer’s invitation went kaput.
San Franciscans are quite familiar with this kind of blacklash against Jewish cultural events since the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation announced extremely restrictive funding guidelines a few years ago accompanied by “witch hunts.”
Gail Luxenberg MJCCA’s CEO had this to say, from Access Atlanta:
“He has become a little bit of a powder keg,” Luxenberg said, referring to Beinart. “We were concerned about those issues being on our campus.”
Those issues, Gail? Are certain people having a tizzy-fit over the suggestion the illegal settlements should be boycotted? Or is it merely any and all discussion of Zionism, outside of lavish devotion, that’s so threatening to certain members of the organized Jewish community? Presumably someone knew who Beinart was when speakers were scheduled for the event–his book only came out last March. Buckle up and show some courage please! Your community deserves it. The topic of Israel’s intransigence is not going anywhere anytime soon and the American public are being force fed regular doses of Israel Israel Israel nowadays, or did you forget?
“This is a bestselling book by a Jewish author on a Jewish topic of concern to the Jewish community, and where better to have this conversation than at a Jewish event?” said Dotan Harpak, chair of the left-leaning, pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, which is now helping to sponsor Beinart’s event at the Mitchell House. “To move it from the book festival is upsetting.”
“I don’t particularly like his book and he made some irresponsible statements, but to dis-invite him is counter productive,” said Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University. “There are Israelis who agree with him, and his views are not so beyond the pale to dis-invite him. Now, if you find out that a person is a closet Nazi or that they call for the destruction of Israel, that’s another thing. But he is not saying that. To dis-invite him, it’s silly. If you were so concerned, you shouldn’t have invited him in the first place.”
Ultimately, the actions of Atlanta’s Marcus Jewish Community Center will just fuel the fire of American impatience with the special relationship. Bernart is now set to speak at Atlanta’s Margaret Mitchell House , the “Birthplace of Gone With the Wind,” on Wednesday Nov 14. It will probably be packed to the brim.