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Betsy Aldredge, a spokesperson for the Museum of Jewish Heritage, told anti-Zionist Jewish blog Mondoweiss that the museum scratched the event because it was “concerned that the controversy would overshadow the content.”
The museum’s communications office did not return two calls from the Forward seeking comment.
The controversy follows decisions by several other Jewish organizations to disallow speakers critical of Israel from speaking within their walls. But the museum’s decision to cancel Judis appears to take things one step futher. Judis’s book, while seen by several reviewers as unsympathetic to the Zionist enterprise, does not attack Israel per se; nor has Judis himself been notable as a public critic of Israel. His work has concentrated on recent and contemporary American history and politics.
That distinguishes Judis sharply from other speakers who have faced cancelations or bans, such as Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, or even Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of the moderate dovish Israel lobby J Street.
In January, the progressive Zionist author David Harris-Gershon was also barred from addressing an event at Santa Barbara’s Hillel about his recently published book, which relates his effort to reconcile with the family of a terrorist who nearly killed his wife. Hillel officials cited one of Harris-Gershon’s past blog posts expressing sympathy for the tactics of boycott and divestment against Israel as a way to push its government towards reaching a two-state solution with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
Following that decision, the Washington D.C. JCC also rescinded an invitation to Harris-Gershon to speak.
Yet unlike Harris-Gershon, who believes the bans he experienced represent a shrinking of debate within the Jewish community, Judis says that the museum’s decision is an exception, not a norm.
“We’re at a turning point and actually the discussion is opening up, it’s not closing down,” he said. Judis observed that criticism of the Israel lobby in recent years has become mainstream in the media – something that may have roused accusations of anti-Semitism in the past. “I don’t think we’re at a point that anyone who opens their mouth is immediately accused of anti-Semitism,” he said.
Michael Berenbaum, a former director of research at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, said that museums choose to handle controversial speakers in different ways. Some decide to host controversial speakers while also presenting opposing views, while others choose to avoid the controversy altogether.
“No one in the community who speaks lacks a forum today,” said Berenbaum, who is currently a professor of Jewish studies at American Jewish University. “[Current] discourse by its very nature is open. In a very real sense, you can’t control it.”