This ad appeared in this week’s West Side Spirit, published in New York, under the headline, “A Cloud Hangs Over Our Neighborhood.” The 44 signatories are listed below. –Editor.
We are your Jewish neighbors, and write to tell you that something unacceptable is happening on the Upper West Side.
Once upon a time, if you said you lived on the Upper West Side, people would immediately nod their heads in recognition: Oh yes, the UWS is a neighborhood where diverse peoples, diverse cultures, and diverse opinions are welcome.
Is this still the case? Apparently not when it comes to Israel.
Just look at what happened recently when one of our Upper West Side bookstores, Book Culture, promoted and sold a children’s book, P is for Palestine. Book Culture had been invited to participate in a book fair at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue when it received an email from the synagogue’s chief rabbi warning the bookstore that the invitation would be withdrawn unless it publicly rescinded its support of the book.
Are Upper West Siders proud—or repulsed—that Book Culture felt it necessary to issue a statement that “Israel has a right to exist” and that it is against BDS, both issues that are not mentioned in the book?
This is the most recent—and shameful—instance of Israel-related censorship in our neighborhood. There are others. In years past, at least two rabbis at synagogues on the Upper West Side cancelled events because they learned that Jewish speakers were going to criticize Israel. And an UWS church was warned by another rabbi that its discussions of Israeli human rights violations might be interpreted by their Jewish neighbors as anti-semitic.
It was not always so. Ironically, the former chief rabbi of Stephen Wise, the late Balfour Brickner, in the belief that rabbis were teachers, not censors, welcomed both critics and defenders of Israel into his synagogue.
Don’t be silent. If you belong to an institution in our neighborhood to which speakers are invited to share their perspectives about Israel and Palestine, speak up. Make sure that the Upper West Side continues its tradition of free and open inquiry into the moral issues of the day.
Sascha Altman Dubrul
James I. Meyerson
Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Lana Dee Povitz