Does the J-Street lockout make sense to anyone?

There are a number of things that utterly bewilder me, as an Israeli, about Temple Beth Avoda’s cancellation of the J-Street president Jeremy Ben Ami talk this evening. I’ll jump to conclusions and assume the people responsible and myself come from different edges of the political spectrum; but sometimes you just wanna reach across the aisle, lean over, and say, guys, you just don’t make any sense anymore:

Is Israel a sort of a deity? Has it come to replace God? I mean, I’m flattered and so will be my tax clerk, but are you actually saying that criticism of Israel is blasphemous and shouldn’t take place in a house of worship?

Do you think people in your community don’t read newspapers, watch TV, or, most crucially, surf the web, where they can read and see Ben Ami as they please? Not to mention going around the corner to the alternative venue at the Memorial-Spaulding Elementary School, as many of them will tonight. Are you trying to lock Ben Ami out – or are you trying to lock your community in?

Speaking of your community, the rabbi of the synagogue supported the event. As someone closely attentive to the needs of his congregation, he obviously recognised a need to discuss Israel, its conduct and its future, and particularly how all this impacts on the community. He recognised the need for debate. I will happily admit my mistake if I’m wrong, but it seems you’re not likely to be as involved in the daily lives of that community as the rabbi; yet you decide to overrule him. How does that make sense, if the community is what you care about?

And presumably you do care about the community, since in the statement the rabbi was eventually compelled to make to the media, the leadership were cited as being concerned that the talks would “threaten the fabric of the congregation.’’ So you, as a powerful minority in the congregation went and pulled the plug on the majority’s attempt to seriously address some crucial anxieties and questions. Guess what? You just tore more holes in that fabric than an entire Ben Ami seminar would have done, because you’ve effectively forcing your fellow congregants to choose between addressing their needs and demonstrating loyalty to the line you arbitrarily decide upon. Don’t be surprised if they choose the former, folks.

On a more political note, you are probably seriously concerned about the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement – yet you are happily legitimising these very instruments by using your economic leverage as donors, to force the community to boycott J-Street . Not very smart.

And last but not least, have you learned nothing from the flotilla fiasco? If Ben Ami had held this talk unimpeded, nobody but a few dozen people in Newton would be any the wiser. Yet you used completely disproportionate force  – and you made this community event into national news. You’ve handed J-Street the most sympathetic coverage it had in the Jewish press in months, and you’ve made yourself – and the “Israel drunk or sober” crowd you represent – appear not only out of date, but absolutely terrified. By trying to ostracise and marginalise Ben Ami, you’ve finally confirmed he’s someone who should be reckoned with and listened to.

I hope that when J-Street deliver you that petition I just signed, they deliver it with a big thank-you card. Meanwhile, I urge my readers to sign on as well, whether you support J-Street or oppose it. And if you are around, head to the Memorial-Spaulding Elementary School, 7pm local time, to see how a community can argue together and disagree together – an ability which Jews nourished and cherished through the ages, but which a handful of board members have declared  no longer welcome at the Temple Beith Avoda synagogue.