Seattle Rabbis Condemn Showing of J Street Challenge

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The October 23rd event featuring Israel critic Peter Beinart had garnered the endorsement of not just the standard left leaning organizations but also the imprimatur of Seattle’s Jewish Federation, the much sought after stamp of communal endorsement. The well filled lecture hall at UW Hillel included some of the most prominent Jewish leaders in the Seattle area. While there was no organized opposition to Beinart’s appearance in Seattle, many expressed concern at the choice of venue and the stamp of approval proffered by the Jewish Federation. Despite Beinart’s enthusiastic advocacy for a BDS style boycott of Jews beyond the green line, event sponsors maintained that such difficult conversations are necessary and valued.

Many from the *pro-Israel camp attended the Beinart event and engaged as best as possible in the tightly controlled conversation. The questions for Mr. Beinart were submitted on note cards and were pre-screened by event planners. Only a small number of  hand selected questions were presented to Mr. Beinart. Many attendees expressed disappointment at the stilted, sanitized dialogue. 

Video below: Peter Beinart on CNN during recent Gaza war.

Fast forward three weeks as the Seattle Jewish Community anticipates the premiere of the documentary film, The J Street Challenge this Wednesday, November 12 (details here). The film features some of the most respected intellectual heavyweights in the world Jewish community, all expressing their grave concerns regarding the actions and agenda of the J Street lobby.

The contrast in communal reaction to the second event as opposed to the first is stark. The Jewish Federation inexplicably lost the bravery and principled dedication to a free exchange of ideas that they possessed only three weeks earlier when sponsoring the Beinart lecture. What came next, to our knowledge is unprecedented in the history of  the Seattle Jewish community. First, from the pulpit of a prominent Eastside congregation came a scathing Sabbath sermon condemning the film and advising the assembled congregants to avoid the screening.

This morning the Washington Coalition of Rabbis disseminated through their email account a joint pronouncement signed by thirteen Seattle area reform and conservative Rabbis. (The Mike Report was informed of the well-distributed email via multiple sources today). In the letter the Rabbis join together in condemning the local screening of the J Street Challenge, expressing concern that the mere act of their parishioners viewing a  documentary film could morph into communal division, dissension and mistrust. The Rabbinical letter prophetically anticipated and execrated the lack of direct dialogue and respectful exchange at the yet to be held film screening. 

Organizers of the film screening informed The Mike Report that in fact a major component of the event will be direct dialogue and respectful exchange. Questions for the producer of the film  will not be pre-screened and those with concerns and critical questions about the film will be given priority in the conversation.

The above mentioned respectful, open dialogue format will be in marked contrast to the Federation/Hillel UW sponsored Beinart event, which by any measure did not offer an “open dialogue”. We are in fact perplexed that the closed Q&A format of the Beinart event combined with his advocacy for a BDS style boycott of over 300,000 of our fellow Jews did not warrant a similar rabbinical letter of concern, a condemnatory Sabbath sermon or an emergency meeting regarding the lack of menshlachkeit  on display.

At this point we could make various references to hypocrisy, censorship, and add a few clever 1950’s era inferences to the pile, but being a blog of good taste and measure, we won’t. Rather we will posit the obvious, that ideas when disseminated publicly are and ought to be subject to civil public debate and thoughtful scrutiny, all the more so when the future of our community and our only Jewish state lies in the balance. Many of us are looking forward to that civil conversation.

The Seattle Premiere of the J Street Challenge will be screened this Wednesday, November 12th at Congregation Ezra Bessaroth. All are welcome. Tickets are free (although a $10 donation would be appreciated to defer costs). Register HERE. 

*Pro-Israel in the conventional sense by actually supporting Israel.