Last week, the inspiring Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy called for equal rights for Jews and Palestinians at Greenburgh Town Hall in Westchester County, NY, and was heckled throughout his speech by a bunch of rightwing pro-Israel zealots led by a shrill advocate named Lauri Regan.
Regan had nearly succeeded in having the event canceled by the Town of Greenburgh. Town officials tried to shut the event down the week before on security grounds, but organizers prevailed, and a metal detector was set up inside the town hall doors, and the town spent a lot on a police presence.
Regan wrote a letter to local newspapers describing the event’s organizers, Jewish Voice for Peace and WESPAC, as “evil” groups that “are the foot soldiers in a war to destroy Israel.” She called out the town supervisor, Paul Feiner:
Greenburgh Town Hall in Westchester County is hosting an anti-Semitic event on October 19, sponsored by groups working for the destruction of Israel. The administration of Paul Feiner, the town supervisor, refuses to cancel it on the basis of First Amendment concerns. It is on the wrong side of the moral compass, and in doing so, Mr. Feiner has put a permanent stain on his decades-long administration….
The ADL lists one of the event’s sponsors, Jewish Voice for Peace, as one of the most anti-Israel groups in America. “Like other Jewish anti-Zionist groups, JVP uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide a greater degree of credibility to the anti-Israel movement,” it writes. The other sponsors are all anti-Israel extremist groups that support BDS.
These organizations are evil, and they promote hate speech and violence. And especially given the outbreak of Palestinian terrorism in Israel, the last thing that Greenburgh should be hosting is an anti-Israel hatefest sponsored by promoters of terrorism and the people committing it, who are the foot soldiers in a war to destroy Israel.
When the event went forward, Regan held a “Jewish Rapid Response” rally in the town hall parking lot ahead of time. There were 100 people at that rally and they were fanatical. One man (video below) said on a loudspeaker that the Palestinians are “worse than the Nazis.” Regan– who has written that President Obama is trying to destroy Israel–began the rally by leading a song in Hebrew, The people of Israel live.
Her argument (in the video below) is that the Jewish community must organize against the Gideon Levy’s of the world because we were passive during the Holocaust. Again she attacked Feiner for allowing the event to go forward, and also blasted a local rabbi and the Westchester Jewish Conference for not endorsing her rally.
[a local] rabbi disseminated lies about [our] rally and said he had no intention of supporting us. We are now at the point where the organized Jewish community in Westchester has decided to boycott a stand in solidarity with Israel rally while remaining silent in the face of an anti-Israel pro-BDS event…
[They are advising us that] We should hope and pray that the anti-Semites go away. If we learned anything from World War II, it is that we cannot turn a blind eye to hate….
Ladies and gentlemen, Never again is not just a slogan, it is a commandment. The Holocaust began with boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses…
The anti-semites who support the BDS movement would like to make every single Jewish person in this country feel uncomfortable and unwelcome
So no; we will not remain silent in the face of anti-semitic hate speech.
Here’s the video of that Israel supporter saying the Palestinians are “worse than the Nazis.” They would torture and murder every Jew in Israel.
WESPAC does some great things on social justice issues. They have fought for affordable hosing, anti-discrimination and anti-fracking laws, among others. I disagree with WESPAC’s position on Israel…
Do I support Israel? Yes. I wanted to be a rabbi before I decided to make public service my career. I’ve been to Israel three times. I am active in my local synagogue. I have attended and spoken out at pro-Israel events. I do not support the BDS movement which supports Hamas and which has been fanning the flames of anti-Semitism. As a public official I have to comply with the law and the United States Constitution.
Feiner said he had no choice but to let the group use the town hall, but the policy will be changed:
Because the Town of Greenburgh has never denied any group or individual the right to meet at Town Hall it would be a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution if we denied them the right to meet here. Because the Town has not set up criteria to deny groups meeting space at Town Hall, we have to let every group use our building. The law prohibits us from restricting usage if we base our prohibition on content. The Town Board, police chief and I recognize that a new policy must be set and we plan to modify our existing policies within the next few weeks.
Lohud news website reports that the town has enacted a policy to limit uses of public meeting spaces because of the Levy event.
[Feiner] said a permanent policy will be formulated over the next several weeks to take effect next year. He said the new policy would probably allow Town Hall to be used by local civic groups, such as neighborhood associations, which would likely be charged a nominal fee.
“I’m very sympathetic to Greenburgh, and I understand why they would want to limit access in the future,” WESPAC Executive Director Nada Khader said Wednesday. “I do feel it’s a shame that they have to limit public access because a bunch of outside groups swooped in and made a big stink, but Greenburgh had to foot the bill for the extra security.”
This is a lot like Barnard College ending a tradition of free speech banners on the front of Barnard Hall after SJP put up a Palestine banner that ruffled feathers and was pulled down by the administration. There’s a special exception on free speech for Palestine. (Meantime, the pro-Israel groups say the policy is being enacted to keep them from holding events at the town hall.)
How tragic that a bigot like Regan can have an elected official pandering and apologetic about hosting a group that only wants equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians. Feiner sounds like a white southern mayor circa 1960 complaining about communist agitators coming in from out of town. How different is his argument equating wanting to be a rabbi with condemning BDS as the voice of Hamas, and supporting Israel?
Lillian Rosengarten said after that event Monday night that the struggle is “Jew against Jew.” That struggle is still at the margins; but when you see the degree of fanaticism in the videos above, you can understand that it is strictly a matter of time before the conflict comes to the United States. The U.S. is the ultimate and essential prop for Israel and its occupation, and if that prop actually gets undermined– heck, even the Washington Post is running pro-boycott pieces — die-hard Zionists will not give up the dream of a Jewish state without a struggle. When Regan describes BDS supporters as “foot soldiers in a war against Israel,” she anticipates just such a conflict. And for the time being, she is exercising a surprising degree of power.