Despite Outcry, MK Calderon to Speak at Far-right Conference

MK Ruth Calderon announces she will keep speaking engagement at conference organized by Komemiut, counters voices calling on her to withdraw.

MK Ruth Calderon, of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, announced on Sunday night she will speak at a conference of the religious far-right Komemiut movement despite heavy public pressure against her participation.

"I believe in dialogue with Jews whose opinions are opposed to my own," she said.

Another MK, Eitan Cabel (Labor), did succumb to the media frenzy, much of which took place on social networks. He said that after he was made aware of the organizations "discriminatory and racist agenda" he decided to withdraw from speaking. "I respect my ideological opponents but I have no respect for anyone who spreads hatred."

Among the leaders of Komemiut are Rabbis Dov Lior, Zalman Melamed, and Elyakim Levanon, known for their support of Baruch Goldstein and Rabbi Meir Kahane, as well as for calling on Jews to avoid renting apartments to Arabs.

Their movement has called on Jews to stop employing Arabs altogether, and conducted an anti-gay demonstration during Jerusalem's gay pride parade.

During the weekend, placards against Calderon's participation in the event were circulated on Facebook. In one, her image was accompanied by the text "MK Dr. Ruth Calderon cancels participation in tour organized by Geneva Peace Initiative - but speaks to Kahane/Goldstein supporters. FYI, the outline of our new politics."

Calderon said that when she agreed to participate in the conference, she did not even know who is behind it. "Only now, thanks to a personal message that was sent to me on Facebook, did I come to realize that the Ramla conference, in which I agreed to speak, is being organized by the Komemiut movement. I am ashamed to say I didn't know that. And even more ashamed to say I didn't know of the group," she wrote on Sunday.

Her Facebook page soon became host to a heated debate. One man wrote there that "by this reasoning, attending a neo-Nazi conference, and expressing there a 'different opinion' is also legitimate? There is very little difference, really, between neo-Nazis and the Komemiut people. The former hate Jews because they are Jews, and the latter hate Arabs because they are Arabs. And regarding homosexuality, their views are virtually identical."

Another poster wrote: "Please, in heavens name, don't let the discourse of hatred that taking place here make you stay clear from a respectful public exchange. The Komemiut movement is the daughter movement of Tekuma, a party that has Uri Ariel as its representative in the government. Do you not hold dialogue with him? The beauty of this government in general, and of "Yesh Atid" in particular, is the ability that exists to conduct public dialogue despite differences. It will be a shame if you, of all people, will be swept away by the current of incitement that is being exhibited here."

A few hours leter, Calderon announced that she had decided to keep her commitment to the engagement. "O.K friends," she wrote, "I did my reading, I spoke, I studied, and I decided I will go to the conference and to do my best there to express my worldview, which is against racism, against anti-gay attitudes, against putting the Torah before democracy, and in favor of serious discussion. I believe also in speaking with the Palestinians. Also with those who have fought against us, a discourse that is meant to advance understanding and peace. And thus I also believe in conversing with Jews who hold opinions that are opposed to mine."

Alex Levac