The misnamed “Jewish Voice for Peace” (JVP) has launched a national campaign along with other anti-Israel groups to claim that “pro-Palestinian” speech is stifled around the country. In fact, The accusation of speech stifling is a passive-aggressive move to preclude legitimate criticism.

As we demonstrated, what JVP and other such groups really want is Freedom from Criticism.

Two events in Ithaca and Rochester, New York, are being used by JVP to claim a “wave of censorship and bullying is sweeping upstate New York.”

As we demonstrate below, JVP has seriously misstated what happened, and those events show the contrary to what JVP is claiming.

JVP’s Anti-Israel Event to Third Graders in Ithaca

One of, it not the first, actions JVP took in furtherance of the “stifling” campaign is unfolding in upstate New York.

In ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ defends anti-Israel Third Grade event, we explained that the local Ithaca JVP branch, run by anti-Zionist (and now Code Pink) activist Ariel Gold, is defending bringing the highly controversial Bassem Tamimi to a third grade class as part of a one-sided presentation demonizing Israel.

When that presentation became known, and after internal investigation, the Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District issued issued a strongly worded statement condemning what had happened. The statement reads, in part:

The Ithaca City School District’s position is that such statements are not developmentally appropriate for third graders, nor aligned with the New York State standards. The statements were politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District… We sincerely regret that this has occurred.

In response, Ithaca JVP with help from national JVP, has launched a campaign claiming that “pro-Palestinian” speech was stifled in Ithaca.

They appear to be oblivious to the fact that what upset people was that this event took place in THIRD GRADE, and according to the Superintendent, the school was not aware that Tamimi would be one of the speakers. Tamimi also had two separate appearances outside the school system in the Ithaca area, and those went off without any problem.

A Petition is being circulated complaining that an unrelated event in the Rochester (NY) area also was a stifling of speech. We’ll get to that later.

But first, it is genuine chutzpah for JVP to complain about stifling speech when the local JVP leader, Gold, participated in the disruption of a speech on the Cornell campus by Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA-CREF.

This video apparently was taken by Gold and posted to her YouTube account. It shows the take over the stage, as the protesters read statements denouncing Israel. The loudest voice closest to the camera appears to be Gold’s. Among other things, she shouted “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” a clear call for the destruction of Israel:

The disruption, according to the notes to the video, was on behalf of JVP:

Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the We Divest Coalition confront TIAA-CREF President and CEO, Roger W. Ferguson Jr.’s during his talk at Cornell University.”

The NYC branch of JVP also disrupted a NY City Council meeting precisely at the time the Council was commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz. JVP apologized for disrupting the memorial service, but not for the disruption itself.

JVP nationally also is a leader of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on campuses, and often is the driving force. That movement, among other things, seeks to silence Israeli scholars and to deprive not only Israelis, but also those who want to interact with Israelis, of the ability to do so. JVP is one of the worst supressors of academic freedom.

Disruptions of pro-Israel events is commonplace on college campuses. Here is a partial list.

We could go on and on, but you get the point. JVP and other anti-Israel groups hardly have the credibility to complain about stifling of opposing viewpoints.

Pro-Israel Voices are Stifled in Rochester Progressive Churches

The JVP Petition also references an event that took place in Rochester, New York, in which a United Church of Christ Senior Minister from D.C., Graylan Hagler, was disinvited to speak at Colgate Rochester Divinity School.

A wave of censorship and bullying is sweeping upstate New York.

Last month, after Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Tamimi spoke at an elementary school, the right-wing blogosphere launched a campaign of intimidation against both teachers and school administrators. That same week, Rev Graylan Hagler, a United Church of Christ pastor and internationally known civil rights leader, who was invited to speak in Rochester, was met with death threats – yes, death threats.

Add your name to our open letter — censorship and intimidation hurt our entire community and undermine our democracy. We’ll be running ads in newspapers in Ithaca and Rochester to make our voices heard.

Hagler was invited to Colgate Rochester to speak about the “Ferguson to Palestine” connection. Unrelated to this, we have documented how the BDS movement has infiltrated and in someways hijacked the Black Lives Matter movement by trying to tie alleged police misconduct in Ferguson to alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians.

Because Hagler had not been vetted by Colgate Rochester, when a local interfath pro-Israel group, Roc4Israel, brought Hagler’s background to the community’s attention, Colgate was taken by surprise.

Here is an email Roc4Israel circulated.

Rochester’s wake-up call
View this email in your browser

Wake Up, Rochester

Next Thursday, September 24th, Colgate Divinity School will be hosting a very disturbing event entitled “Connecting the Dots: Ferguson to Palestine.” Click here for link to this event. You can find more information about the guest speaker below.

This event is part of the 4-year-old “Witness Palestine” Film Festival. The Greater Rochester Council/Community of Churches  — the umbrella group of the progressive Christian community — is definitively tied in to this event. They have signed on (along with numerous individual churches) as a “patron” of the Film series. Here’s that list.

What can you do to help stop this anti-Israelism in the progressive Churches? Send us your thoughts and stay tuned.

In the meantime, like us on Facebook, follow us ontwitter @Roc4Israel and use our website www.Roc4Israel.org as Rochester’s best source of real-time news on all things Israel. Also, send our website to ten friends who don’t know about Roc4Israel and ask them to sign up for our mailing list!!

So who is Colgate’s featured guest Rev. Graylan Hagler? (pictured above) It is very important that you go through the list of links below and learn about him.  It is hard to believe that our friends and neighbors would bring this man here on behalf of the Christian community! The Christian members of our Board are as outraged as the Jewish members.REVEREND GRAYLAN HAGLER

  • Hagler slams “pimply-faced white boys in Israeli uniforms” at the 6:00 mark of this video. – https://t.co/0ZvnTZKF25

I’m not a fan of these disinvitations, but it usually is a conservative or pro-Israel speaker who is disinvited, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The back story here, though, according to Roc4Israel, is that pro-Israel voices have been shut out from the dialogue among the progressive churches and Christian groups in the Rochester area, often in conjunction with Friends of Sabeel – North America, a group which seeks to undermine support for Israel among churches.

Hagler himself is a United Church of Christ minister. UCC passed an anti-Israel divestment motion at this year’s annual meeting, and JVP was an integral part of that UCC divestment effort, as we documented at the time.

Roc4Israel has struggled to get a seat at the table in the Rochester area. Patti Munter of Roc4Israel explained to me that the Sabeel-UCC-progressive church movment seeks to silence pro-Israel voices in the christian community:

All we have ever asked for is equal time. We would like a seat at the Interfaith tables in Rochester. Rochester is the second largest Jewish community in New York State. We have a right to counter anti-Semitism.

Why is it that the Interfaith community only welcomes Progressive Christians and Progressive Jews? That is a simple question. Why won’t they answer it?

We believe in free speech. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street and Sabeel have a right to express their point of view. But what they don’t have a right to do is to speak for all Jews and Christians or even many Jews or Christians. They are a tiny majority in Rochester.

It was in that context, according to Munter, that Roc4Israel raised the issue of the Hagler appearance.

Sy Zivan, a Roc4Israel board member, provided the following statement, which also appeared as a letter to the editor in a local paper:

Roc4Israel has no interest in silencing anyone’s voices with respect to Israel or any other subject. To the contrary, this organization has attempted to establish a series of debates where each side would represent its views in a peaceful manner and atmosphere. These debates or discussions, call them what you may, would be meant to educate and inform. Roc4Israel approached people who it thought represented the informed, progressive Christian community. To-date, there has been no willingness to join these discussions. The offer remains open. This is The Rochester Way.

Others in the community also complained, and Hagler says he received a death threat. I emailed Hagler twice for details of that threat, and which law enforcement agencies he contacted, but he did not respond. Roc4Israel issued a statement condemning any threats:

“We do not know the gentleman who sent the death threat. We find it reprehensible and denounce his threats completely.”

But any complaints and threats appear not to have been the reason why the Hagler appearance was cancelled. Colgate Rochester was prepared to address those concerns if the organizers paid for security, which they refused to do.

Rather, it was improper vetting of Hagler which was the driving reason, not his “pro-Palestinian” position. Much like in the Ithaca elementary school controversy, the event appears not to have been as billed to the hosting school.

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported:

In explaining the divinity school’s position, Colgate Rochester President Marvin McMickle issued a statement to students at the divinity school on Tuesday, saying that many of them were aware of the lecture by Hagler sponsored by Witnessing for Palestine.

But, McMickle went on to say,”after certain concerning facts came to light and after consultation with other members” of the divinity school’s administration, he notified Witnessing for Palestine that “we are no longer prepared to allow this lecture to take place” on campus.

Death threats made to Hagler also became an issue.

“When we heard about the threats, we stated the need for additional security and we would not provide it,” said Thomas McDade Clay, vice president for institutional advancement at Colgate Rochester. And he said the decision to cancel was made on Friday, after it appeared that Witnessing for Palestine would not provide funds for security.

McMickle’s statement notes that the divinity school “has been supportive of Palestinian people and publicly critical of the ways by which the State of Israel suppresses the legitimate rights of Palestine,”

But in the case of other speakers, the divinity school either knew the invited speakers or was familiar with their messages,

“Sadly, in this case neither we nor Christians Witnessing for Palestine did an adequate job of vetting and reviewing the particular speaker’s message and recent history,” said McMickle’s statement.

He also said the fact that Hagler’s lecture “coincides with Yom Kippur further convinced us of the appropriateness of our decision.”

I also contacted President McMickle, who declined to elaborate beyond the public statements he already had made to the media.

Hagler appeared at another venue in Rochester instead.

Nonetheless, in its “stifling” campaign, JVP focuses heavily on the death threat. But that was not the determinative factor — and no actual facts about what it constituted or any law enforcement involvement are known.

An Isolated Incident in a Sea of Pro-Palestinian Activism

As indicated above, JVP’s upstate NY “stifling” campaign is based on two falsehoods, which are used to claim a “wave of censorship and bullying is sweeping upstate New York.”

First, pro-Palestinian voices were not stifled in Ithaca. They have events weekly, and Bassem Tamimi spoke twice in the area. The Ithaca School District, however, has the right to control who and what topics are presented to elementary school students — the notion that JVP or Tamimi have a “right” to present an anti-Israel program to elementary school students is ludicrous.

Second, pro-Palestinian voices are not stifled in the Rochester area. To the contrary, those voices predominate in the progressive church movement, and the pro-Israel voices are excluded.

There is no wave of censorship. There is a wave of criticism of deceptive tactics in booking speakers under false pretenses and without informing the host school of the purpose of the appearance. But anti-Israel speech goes on, and often is used to stifle pro-Israel voices.

[Featured Image: Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine protest at speech of Roger Ferguson, TIAA-CREF, Cornell University 2013]