From 2007-2009, I had the privilege of representing the State of Israel on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Israel as a shaliach (Israeli emissary) at one of the most notoriously anti-Israel campuses in the nation — University of California at Irvine.
One of the “premier” methods of the anti-Israeli movements is to boycott Israel, prevent people from buying Israeli goods, using Israeli technology, and listening to Israeli speakers and artists.
At Irvine, the anti-Israel movement protested and tried to disrupt many of the events we organized. Sometimes they would attend and ask anti-Israel questions. Sometimes they would protest loudly to drown out the speaker’s voice.
In one notable instance, they were so disruptive, Michael Oren (who was the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. at the time) could not finish his remarks. As the adviser to the pro-Israeli activists, the pro-Israel students and I decided to take the high road.
We, the pro-Israel voice, never disrupted a speaker from the “other side.” We protested, we showed up with signs, but we never drowned out their speakers’ voices. Especially on a college campus, where a philosophy of critical thinking permeates the landscape, we believed we would be able to sway opinions and become a more inclusive and stronger pro-Israel network if we stood for freedom of speech and not against it.
Fast-forward to today, the boycott movement has arrived in the Jewish community of Metro Detroit. The Israeli artist Achinoam Nini (Noa) was invited to perform at my synagogue, Adat Shalom. But some local Detroit Jews, many of whom are themselves Israeli, decided that Achinoam Nini should not be allowed to perform at Adat Shalom because of her left-wing views and participation in coexistence and dialogue programs with Palestinians. After reviewing their efforts and tactics (racist Facebook postings, spamming Adat Shalom’s website and rankings, threats to Noa personally and calls to disrupt the concert), it is clear what it is — they are using tactics of the anti-Israel movement.
In Jewish communities, there is a Vaad Hakashrut, a community group whose mission is the maintenance of a kosher quality supervision. The anti-Noa movement created a Censorship Vaad. This Censorship Vaad has chosen not to join Adat Shalom, nor did they approach Adat Shalom in the spirit of dialogue. Rather, the Censorship Vaad decided they have the right to tell the rest of the Jewish community who is allowed to play and perform, and who is not.
Adat Shalom was forced to cancel the event after conversations with local police and security experts. The Censorship Vaad created an atmosphere so toxic that Adat Shalom could not guarantee the safety of the performer or audience. No matter that Adat Shalom has had a long history of supporting Israel. No matter that Adat Shalom just wanted to offer a fun evening of Israeli music and culture open to everyone.
Achinoam Nini is an artist and private citizen. Noa lives in Israel, is a veteran of the IDF, will be the parent of an IDF soldier in a few years. Noa has represented Israel in the Eurovision contests, and has performed internationally for decades, spreading joy, Israeli music and Israeli culture to thousands. She is a private citizen; she represents Israeli culture, not the Israeli government.
Now that the Censorship Vaad took the liberty to decide who is allowed to perform and who is not, I wonder what will be the process in the future to get an artist or speaker approved by the Censorship Vaad?
Let’s say Israeli author David Grossman will be invited to speak in the West Bloomfield JCC at the Book Fair. Mr. Grossman is a vocal critic of the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria. Will the Vaad approve his event? Will the fact that he lost his son in the second Lebanon war give him the right to speak with a local audience? What if Ariel Sharon were still alive? He orchestrated the removal of settlements in the Gaza Strip (Gush Katif). Could he speak from a synagogue bimah?
Yes, we have the right to protest against different ideas, but the idea of a Censorship Vaad is nonsense. In America (like Israel), no one group has the right to decide for another American what he will read, listen to or say.
Tzvi Raviv lives in Farmington Hills.