Leftist Jewish Groups Want Synagogue To Cancel Speech by Pamela Geller

Are Groups Flip-Flopping on Free Speech?

Scrapped?: Conservative blogger Pamela Geller, left, protests the cancellation of a planned speech at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles last year. Leftist activists want a Long Island synagogue to cancel her appearance there this month.
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Scrapped?: Conservative blogger Pamela Geller, left, protests the cancellation of a planned speech at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles last year. Leftist activists want a Long Island synagogue to cancel her appearance there this month.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published April 04, 2013.
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JVP was a co-sponsor of a February 7 panel at Brooklyn College on the BDS movement featuring U.C. Berkeley professor Judith Butler and Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti. The event drew condemnation, including from some elected officials. One group of legislators went so far as to threaten the funding of Brooklyn College, a publicly-funded institution.

All three of the sponsors of the campaign against Geller’s Great Neck Synagogue speech made statements in defense of the Brooklyn College event.

“A group of City Council members has even threatened to cut college funding if the event is not cancelled, or the political science department does not withdraw its sponsorship. This abuse of power evokes the purges and repressions of the McCarthy era,” wrote JFREJ, one of the three activist groups, in a February statement. “We as JFREJ position ourselves as watchdogs for justice here in New York City and we feel mandated to speak out against this attempt to silence political viewpoints.”

Speaking on April 4, JFREJ executive director Marjorie Dove Kent said that the elected officials’ effort to block the Brooklyn College event was different than the activist groups’ efforts to block Geller’s speech. “Free speech is a first amendment right. So it’s a right that only the government can violate,” Dove Kent said. “It’s one thing to open one’s synagogue for a dialogue reflecting different political viewpoints, it’s another to invite in someone who spews racist hatred.”

A local news website in Great Neck reported that one local official had asked a local interfaith organization to oppose Geller’s talk. Dove-Kent said that her organization had not determined whether or not to cooperate with that effort.

JVP, for its part, was actively critical of the LGBT Center’s decision to bar a talk by Sarah Schulman, a College of Staten Island professor who backs the BDS movement. The LGBT Center later reversed its decision.

Members of JVP and Jews Say No! were also involved in a recent dispute over a panel indirectly about the BDS movement that was retroactively canceled by the rabbi of the synagogue where it was supposed to take place. The event was eventually rescheduled, and is set to take place at a different synagogue this week.


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