Our right to discussion
Pamela Geller is a bully of global standing. And recently she turned her sights on our community.
Geller is an American writer, blogger, activist and president of the American Freedom Defence Initiative, which the respected Southern Poverty Law Centre calls an anti-Muslim hate group. Her provocations came to greatest public attention when she opposed construction of an Islamic community centre in New York City that was criticized for being somewhat adjacent to the World Trade Centre site.
Somehow, earlier this month, a local Shabbat dinner discussion that was to be facilitated by a New Israel Fund of Canada representative drew her attention.
On July 8, Geller posted on her blog an article titled “United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism supports boycott against Israel.” Like almost everything else on her website, the short piece is deceptive, manipulative, unfair and false. In it, she accuses Congregation Har El in West Vancouver, which was set to host the event targeted to the under-40 crowd, of supporting “the boycott against Israel” and writes that “the traitors of New Israel Fund give information to the United Nations to harm Israel’s soldiers.…”
The New Israel Fund describes itself as the “nation’s leading organization committed to democracy and equality among all Israelis.” It supports human rights organizations in Israel, among which people of almost any political persuasion could probably find something objectionable. But NIF unequivocally does not support the boycotting of Israel. Whatever one might think of its political orientation or those of the frontline groups it funds, it is a legitimate nonprofit agency functioning under the laws of Israel. If it weren’t, the Israeli government would have shut it down.
But the legitimacy of the New Israel Fund is, at best, secondary to the larger issues here. Never mind that Geller extrapolates one event at a single synagogue to represent the views of the entire global Conservative movement – that is silliness that doesn’t warrant refutation – the fact is that Geller was able to kibosh an event in our community. Given the power of bullying in general, and the power of this bully in particular, we cannot blame the organization involved for shying away from the event, though we regret that it happened.
Two other New Israel Fund of Canada events are scheduled to take place in Vancouver in the fall. On Sept. 9, a symposium featuring Ronit Heyd, executive director of Shatil, and Jonathan Kay, editor-in-chief of The Walrus magazine, will engage with the audience on the topic The Backstory: Behind What You Know About Israel. On Nov. 16-17, Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, will tackle the topic From the Back of the Bus to the Top of the Agenda.
Any external threats to these events proceeding should be met by our community with a united voice – regardless of our political views. It is our community’s right to discuss whatever issues we deem important – and to determine where the limits, if any, of that discussion lay.