How I Came to Fund the Groups That Wish to Muzzle Me

A High Holy Day's look at the incredible shrinking tent of Diaspora dialogue.

As many of us do between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I try to consider whether, as a family member or a friend, what I said in the past year had hurtful effects on others. As a university professor, a scholar, and a blogger, I think about how I can teach, write, talk and inspire more effectively. But this month, I realize that if the organized wing of Israel and Jewish Advocacy in Canada (via CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) have their preference, my words won't really matter at all.

According to their policy recommendations, someone like me would be banned from speaking at any university event sponsored by the student organization Hillel. Indeed, as I learned this week, this is also the policy of our local Hillel chapter itself, here in Canada.

The culprit? The contents of a blog I wrote for Haaretz last spring. In that piece, I came out in favor of a boycott of settlement products. The irony? Through my annual donation to my local Jewish Federation’s annual campaign, I help fund both CIJA and Hillel, the very organizations that would seek to muzzle me and the many others who oppose economic support of the settlements -- whether or not our talk is focused on that issue.

I am hardly a disaffected Jew. I am a vice-chair on the board of directors at our local JCC, where I also teach adult education courses. I serve on various committees at my synagogue, where I lead portions of the service on Rosh Hashanah. I am on the women’s campaign team at my local Jewish Federation, I write a regular column for our local Jewish community paper, and I sit on the board of directors of Ameinu, a liberal Zionist organization. But it seems that that is not enough to be viewed as inside the tent by the sole national Israel and Jewish advocacy organization in Canada.

I came to learn of CIJA’s policy recommendation this week. One of the progressive Zionist organizations I was working with approached our local Hillel to see if they would be interested in having their students meet with Peter Beinart, editor of the Open Zion blog at Newsweek/Daily Beast, during his upcoming three-city tour to Canada next month. Hillel declined, stating that “they do not sponsor speakers who support any form of boycott, divestment and sanction against Israel” (whether or not the boycott is restricted to the settlements or not).

I soon learned that, when approached for advice on whether to engage with Beinart, CIJA had issued a recommendation to local Hillel groups to that effect.

“As soon as one goes from debate and challenging, to economic coercion, we think it moves the conversation from one of debate to conflict,” Steve McDonald, CIJA’s associate director of communication, told me.

As is now well known, the kind of “Zionist BDS” Beinart first advocated in a March 18, 2012 New York Times op-ed was far from the blanket boycott that the BDS movement advocates. Rather than push for a one-state solution, as BDS implicitly does, Beinart, like the majority of Israelis themselves, is desperately seeking to avoid “sweeping the two-state solution into history’s dustbin.”

In that op-ed, Beinart added that a settlement boycott should be “paired with an equally vigorous embrace of democratic Israel. We should spend money we’re not spending on settler goods on those produced within the green line... call it Zionist BDS.”

In this highly disciplined tent, not only would Beinart be left out in the rain, so would the leadership of Peace Now. And so would celebrated Israeli writers like David Grossman and Amos Oz.

Israel’s Peace Now issued a call to boycott settlements over a year ago, in response to the Israeli Knesset’s 2011 boycott law. A year earlier, 150 Israeli academics and artists, among them Grossman and Oz, signed a petition supporting Israeli artists’ decision to avoid performing in a theatre located in the settlement of Ariel.

At its core, this isn’t about Beinart, Peace Now, Grossman, Oz nor me. Nor is it about whether or not to boycott the settlements. This is about the way organized Jewish communities are coming to define and discipline legitimate discourse on Israel.

It is ironic that, in some Canadian cities at least, the author of the 2010 wake-up call, inviting the American Jewish Establishment to stop forcing Jewish students to “check their liberalism at the door” when it comes to Israel, is being barred from speaking to the very type of students he fears aren't engaging and connecting with the Jewish and democratic state that he - and many others - care so much about.