March 18, 2015
Four New York organizations — Jewish Voice for Peace-New York; Nakba Education Project
; Jews Say No!; and the National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee — have expressed outrage that Lincoln Square Synagogue (LSS) on Manhattan’s Upper West Side has canceled a program scheduled for Thursday
night giving just one day’s notice. The program was to include representatives from a Palestinian human rights organization, Badil
, and an Israeli human rights organization called Zochrot
. They were to discuss the “Ongoing Nakba” affecting Palestinians, both in historic Palestine and in the diaspora, as well as their joint work on practical implementation of right of return for Palestinian refugees — issues critical to achieving a just and sustainable solution to the crisis. Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the forced displacement of Palestinians that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948, and continues to this day.
Candace Graff from Jewish Voice for Peace-NY stressed that “it is precisely these kinds of open discussions that we claim to value in the Jewish community. We encourage the pursuit of justice and yet many synagogues and other Jewish institutions are shutting down fundamental discussions about how to achieve it.”
Ben Kell, the executive director of LSS, and Gail Miller had signed a contract for rental of space at the synagogue, and the synagogue had accepted a $600 check as payment. Ms. Miller had advised Mr. Kell of the names of the presenting organizations and wrote that “Although we are renting the space and not working under the auspices of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, we need to be sure that somewhere down the line there won’t be a problem. The event, as I indicated, is an opportunity for an Israeli group and a Palestinian group to talk about their work.” Mr. Kell responded, saying that: “For a rental like this, I’m not particularly concerned about the political stance of your program.” However, today Ms. Miller received an email stating that “As I said on the phone just now, I’m sorry, but we cannot host your event at Lincoln Square Synagogue.”
Alan Levine, longtime civil rights lawyer and member of Jews Say No!, wrote Mr. Kell today that his offer to return the rental fee did not relieve the synagogue of its contractual obligations. Levine warned that the sponsoring organizations retained their right “to pursue appropriate legal remedies” and urged the synagogue to reconsider its position.
Julia Kessler of the Nakba Education Project, one of the organizations sponsoring the event, said: “Given the election results in Israel, in which it is clearer than ever that Israel is becoming increasingly anti-democratic and unapologetic in its occupation of the Palestinian people, it’s obvious that we have to do more talking, not less, about the crucial issues like the Nakba and what happened in 1948 and how its effects are being felt, even today. Shutting down discussions and closing the doors to differing views will not help us to arrive at justice for all peoples.”
**A protest will be held in front of Lincoln Square Synagogue (180 Amsterdam Ave. at the corner of 68th St) at 6 PM on Thursday, March 19th. The event will then be held at 7 PM at a new location: Advent Lutheran Church 2504 Broadway, corner of 93rd St. and Broadway.**