On the eve of an important event to discuss the Nakba* scheduled to take place this evening, the Executive Director of a tony uptown synagogue in New York City where the event was contracted to take place has attempted to cancel the event with no explanation in what can only be perceived as an effort to shut down discussion of the “ongoing Nakba” within the Jewish community.
The event was to feature the Palestinian human rights organization, Badil (whose timely recently released Corporate Complicity in Violations of International Law in Palestine [pdf] is a must read), and Israeli human rights organization Zochrot. It is part of multi-city speaking tour, and was sponsored in New York by four organizations: Jewish Voice for Peace-New York; Nakba Education Project; Jews Say No!; and the National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee.
Prior to LSS Executive Director Ben Keil signing a contract to rent space for the event and accepting a $600 payment, Gail Miller of Jews Say No! made clear the event was “an opportunity for an Israeli group and a Palestinian group to talk about their work”, and expressly emphasized in writing “we need to be sure that somewhere down the line there won’t be a problem.”
Thusly, Keil responded, “For a rental like this, I’m not particularly concerned about the political stance of your program.”
So what happened? Yesterday Miller received an apologetic email from Keil “I’m sorry, but we cannot host your event at Lincoln Square Synagogue.”
Civil rights attorney and Jews Say No! member Alan Levine, informed Keil returning the rental fee did not relieve the LSS of its contractual obligations and warned him the sponsoring organizations retained their right “to pursue appropriate legal remedies” urging the synagogue to reconsider.
The last-minute cancellation has sparked outrage in the community. “We encourage the pursuit of justice” stated Candace Graff from Jewish Voice for Peace-NY , “it is precisely these kinds of open discussions that we claim to value in the Jewish community yet many synagogues and other Jewish institutions are shutting down fundamental discussions about how to achieve it.”
The sponsoring organizations, who represent hundreds of New Yorkers, are holding a protest tonight in front of Manhattan’s first new temple in 50 years, the Upper West Side’s landmark Lincoln Square Synagogue, at 6PM.
Thankfully undeterred, the organizers have found a new venue. Advent Lutheran Church (2504 Broadway, corner of 93rd St. and Broadway) has offered to host the event which will take place on schedule tonight at 7 PM after the protest.
The timing of the LSS cancellation is auspicious. Julia Kessler of the Nakba Education Project, one of the organizations sponsoring the event, said: “Given the election results in Israel, in which it is clearer than ever that Israel is becoming increasingly anti-democratic and unapologetic in its occupation of the Palestinian people, it’s obvious that we have to do more talking, not less, about the crucial issues like the Nakba and what happened in 1948 and how its effects are being felt, even today. Shutting down discussions and closing the doors to differing views will not help us to arrive at justice for all peoples.”
*Nakba, means “catastrophe” in Arabic and refers to the forced displacement of Palestinians that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948, and continues to this day.