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May 14, 2014
Letters the Week of May 15, 2014
J Street: Whose Free Speech Is It Anyway?
The vote to exclude J Street and its 180,000 members (Headlines, “Did J Street Win Fight for Mainstream Acceptance?” May 8) is not only a matter of organizational identity for the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations — it is also an assault against the free speech rights of American Jews.
The decision shows that we are living again through a period when the organized Jewish community wants to preclude free debate about the policies of the state of Israel.
While First Amendment rights may be good for America, some American Jews in leadership positions want to arrogate to themselves the power to deny those rights within the context of the Jewish community.
Jews who lived through the 1970s and 1980s will recall that the Jewish community tried such controls on free speech before, only to see them fail. When I was beginning to take a role in Jewish communal affairs and expressing my views in 1977, I was shouted down at a public meeting for articulating the need for Israel to talk to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Eventually, the views I expressed became the dominant views of the Labor Party under Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.
The American Jewish community does not speak with one voice, any more than the Israeli Jewish community does. Suppressing debate and dissent and attempting to foster a single form of acceptable speech among Jews in the United States does disservice to the complexity of politics both here and there.
By attempting to limit American Jews to espousing only one position, the recent decision effectively prevents American Jews from making a meaningful contribution to the central question facing the Jewish people: Can we Jews maintain a democratic, multiethnic Jewish state that can live in peace with its neighbors?
Herbert Levine | Philadelphia
‘Journalistic Negligence’ in Front-Page Stories
It is unfortunate that both JTA front-page stories on the Israeli-Palestinian talks (“U.S. Points Finger at ‘Both Sides,’ “With Peace Talks Stalled, Israelis, Palestinians Resort to Old Moves,” May 1) incorrectly placed blame on “both sides” for its failure with neither story uttering a word about Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or the continuous hostile rhetoric from Fatah officials during the height of the negotiations.
Ron Kampeas blames the breakdown on Israel for not releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners but ignores the Palestinian officials’ declarations that the only reason they agreed to talk in the first place was to get the prisoners released, not to reach an agreement.
Ben Sales says “Israel’s decision” to suspend talks “prompted both sides to resort to their old ways,” inferring that Israel should have continued talking despite Fatah’s move to unify with Hamas, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the State Department and is dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
The truth is the Palestinians never abandoned their old way; they give the appearance of negotiating but concede nothing.
They adhere to a principle of alternating violence with diplomacy. Kampeas and Sales owe their readership the truth about the Arab war against Israel and the Jewish people. Anything less is journalistic negligence.
Leonard Getz | National Board Member, Zionist Organization of America