Thursday, December 1, 2016

When narrow-minded bullies succeed in determining whose voice gets heard

Following is the text of an email sent today (12/1/16) to some of the Splendid Spitter's friends and associates

My friend,

This is not a fund-raising message.  It is a call to action to stand up to those in our community who work to inhibit your right to hear all sides of important issues.

It's happened this week in Miami.

Last August, Bet Shira Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Pinecrest, agreed to cohost, with J Street, a speech on December 5, 2016 (next Monday) by the eminent New York Times columnist, Roger Cohen, on The New Administration: Prospects for Peace (in Israel). Mr. Cohen is speaking in temples across the country on this vital subject.

On Tuesday, November 29—just six days before the speech—the lay leadership of Bet Shira Congregation rescinded the decision to host the Cohen speech at their synagogue. 

Why? Apparently a small number of synagogue members made clear to Bet Shira’s leadership that “there would be consequences” for hosting a lecture by a noted New York Times columnist in association with J Street. One member apparently threatened to withdraw his financial contribution to the synagogue. In the face of these threats, the lay leadership of the synagogue decided not to host the event.

Of course, the synagogue had the "right" to rescind the invitation--even at the last minute. But just because the synagogue had the right to give into this kind of pressure does not mean that this was a healthy thing for the community. 

Far from it. Can we agree that hindering the free flow of ideas is bad for every member of any community?

Is the Roger Cohen speech off? No.

We have relocated the Cohen speech to Pinecrest Gardens, in the Hibiscus Room at 11000 S. Red Rd, Pinecrest, FL 33156, Monday, December 5, 2016, at 7:00 PM.

But relocating the speech is not enough if people of good faith do not show up to the speech. Absent a good-sized audience, we will not demonstrate the strength of belief that we as Jews should not be forced to suffer attempts to squelch or hinder free discussion of important subjects.

Why should you come to hear Mr. Cohen:

Even if you do not have much interest in American policy to Israel, or even if you don’t agree with Roger Cohen--but listen closely to what he says, because you may discover that you agree with him!—you have a stake in preventing limitations of the freedom of people to decide for themselves whom they want to hear on an issue they care about.

History tells us that people of good faith cannot sit back and let others dictate who can listen to what views. If people of good faith remain silent, they permit this kind of behavior to become accepted as “normal.” We see where it is leading in our national politics.

I therefore ask you to SHOW UP and STAND UP!

This is what you can do to stand up for open debate, free speech and tolerance, and against efforts to squelch certain points of view:

1. Go to the Roger Cohen speech at Pinecrest Gardens in the Hibiscus Room at 11000 S. Red Road, Pinecrest, FL 33156, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 at 7:00 PM. Admission is free.

2. Bring your family and friends.

3. Let your other friends and acquaintances know about what has occurred and the importance of a strong attendance to demonstrate that people insist on the right to be exposed to all sides on important issues and to make up their own minds. 

4. Please RSVP to

5. Forward this email to ten friends, family, and colleagues.

Why should you care? What is the significance of this  decision?

Narrow-minded bullies are shutting down debate, questioning the very legitimacy of those with other perspectives, and inventing "facts" to suit their purposes. They seek to win political arguments not by reasoned debate but by excluding other voices entirely. Sadly, we’ve seen this pattern before—earlier this year  a Miami Jewish institution cancelled, in mid-run, its own presentation of a play, Crossing Jerusalem, concerning intra-Jewish and intra-Arab family disagreements about how to treat the "other." This came after claims from an out-of-town right-wing Jewish group that the play was “anti-Israel.” I read the script. It was not, in my view, anti-anything. It was, instead, pro-reality.

These actions are emblematic of a dangerous extremism and close-mindedness that is sadly on the rise not just in our community, but in the U.S., in Israel, and across the world. People of good faith have a vital interest in not allowing a few people to squelch free discussion of issues of interest to members of the community—even if it’s an issue that’s not high on everyone's own list of issues. The principle is as important as the message being squelched.  

Does J Street deserve to be ostracized?

J Street is an 8-year-old national organization, with an associated PAC, that was formed to give a voice to American Jews who love Israel and back U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: support of a two-state solution and opposition to expansion of the settlements. In 2015, J Street played a major role in supporting the international agreement with Iran curtailing its ability to build nuclear weapons. 

There is no question, however, that J Street is controversial among some supporters of Israel who apparently believe American Jews—even those who know and love Israel—should never criticize the Israeli government, at least in public. Sadly, opponents have put out false and misleading accusations about J Street's beliefs and its supporters. J Street has often been  inaccurately caricatured as being anti-Israel, pro-BDS, and worse. 

Q: What exactly is J Street “guilty" of? 

A: Publicly and strongly  supporting the official policies of the U.S. Government towards Israel and the Palestinians, and, through its PAC, contributing millions of dollars to pro-Israel, pro-peace candidates for Senate and Congress, and strongly opposing BDS.

In fact, over the course of eight years since its founding, J Street has built strong relationships with Israeli lawmakers and has assumed a leadership role in strong opposition to the BDS movement. Nevertheless, smears and threats have often succeeded in excluding J Street’s perspective from the Jewish space. 

These facts mean nothing to those who go to great lengths to demonize and marginalize J Street—and with J Street, the large segment of the American Jewish community who agree with J Street. If facts mean nothing, we have lost something very important in our society.

Silencing or inhibiting the free flow of ideas is not the American way, it’s not the Jewish way, and it’s not the Israeli way. Free and open debate are hallmarks of these two countries and of the Jewish faith. 

As someone who has devoted countless hours working to establish a J Street presence in Miami, I thank you so much for your careful consideration of this email. Whether or not you agree in full with Roger Cohen or J Street, I earnestly request that you attend this lecture on Monday. 

It will be two hours out of your life. Not only will you likely learn a lot from Roger Cohen, but it will immeasurably help the cause of the free flow of ideas in our community. I hope you will agree that it will be well worth your expenditure of time.


[The spitter]