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Jewish Community Deserves Better Than a “Heckler’s Veto”
Adat Shalom Synagogue’s decision to cancel the May 18 concert by Israeli singer Noa (Achinoam Nini) (“Safety Squeeze,” May 11, page 10) does a grave disservice to the Detroit Jewish community by allowing fear of violence and disruption to ban a world-renowned artist while misrepresenting mainstream Israeli and American Jewish views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As progressive Zionists active here in Detroit and around the country, we of Ameinu (“Our People”), have noted with distress the troubling trend to limit freedom of speech due to actual or perceived threats of disruption — the “heckler’s veto.” Canceling Noa at Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills is just the latest case — one that has occurred in other North American cities as well.
We are ashamed that our Jewish community has endorsed a tactic so often used by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to silence Israeli speakers. At the national level, protestors shouted down Professor Moshe Halbertal of New York University and Hebrew University at a lecture in 2015 at the University of Minnesota. They accused him of being a “war crimes apologist” for writing the Israeli army’s code of ethics. In 2016, LGBT activists disrupted and forced cancelation of a reception with the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance by claiming the Israeli speakers were “pink-washing” the persecution of Palestinians in a presentation on LGBT issues in Israel.
Noa herself has been the victim of BDS campaigns to boycott her performances simply because she is a Zionist and an Israeli. For example, in 2013, Spanish BDS activists protested a concert by Noa arguing that her “sympathies to military Zionism are notorious.”
Whether Noa’s critics gave Adat Shalom legitimate reason to expect violence or the synagogue overreacted to online and in-person criticism, neither justifies canceling the concert. Noa has performed for audiences around the world, including for three popes, but has been banned now from Metro Detroit because of fear. While it is too late to reinstate this concert, Noa should be welcomed back to Detroit at the earliest opportunity to demonstrate our community’s commitment to freedom of speech and to celebrating the highest forms of Israeli artistic expression.
Beyond the disturbing reality that our community gave in to the heckler’s veto, Ameinu, both in Detroit and around the country, believes the effort to marginalize activists for peace, democracy and reconciliation, like Noa, is a symptom of a dangerous narrowing of “acceptable” viewpoints within the Jewish community.
Noa, like so many of us here in the United States and in Israel, is committed to a two-state solution where an independent and viable Palestinian state is created next to Israel. She is alarmed at anti-democratic trends in Israeli society and in recent legislation, and the corrosive effect of 50 years of unjust occupation of the Palestinians. She also is a fierce opponent of the BDS movement, reiterated most recently in her blog post responding to the cancelation in Detroit, and efforts to delegitimize Israel — her homeland and the nation that she loves.
Zionists and activists for Israel are diverse, and many will disagree with the values and ideas of Zionists like Noa and Ameinu. That is to be expected from a pluralistic community. But to shun views from liberals and progressives, to struggle to bar them from communal tables and to demonize them as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic is tragically counterproductive.
This effort to enforce a rigid “pro-Israel” orthodoxy stymies debate and discussion on existential security and identity issues facing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. With so much at stake, Israel needs as large a pool of thoughtful and engaged advocates as possible, not an ever-diminishing number of rubber-stamps for the current right-wing Israeli government.
Ultimately, the decision to bar Noa from Detroit sends a message to progressive Jews throughout our community — including large majorities of younger Jews who are committed to social justice and human rights at home and abroad — that they, too, are not welcome. For Zionists of all ideological stripes, this limitation on debate about Israel should be seen as a threat to the Jewish state and a stance that cannot continue if Israel is to thrive in today’s challenging environment. Ensuring that Noa can bring not only her art, but her ideas, no matter how proactive or controversial they are to some, is a crucial step toward building a truly strong Zionist movement. We challenge the Jewish community to join us in this struggle.
Mark Phillips of Oak Park is treasurer of Ameinu Detroit, and Gideon Aronoff of New York City is the CEO of Ameinu National.