I agree with Jeremy Kalmanofsky, the rabbi of Manhattan’s Congregation Ansche Chesed (of which I am a member), in rejecting a proposed program at AC debating: “Is Israel – or can it be – a democracy? Is there – or can there be – equality in Israel? Can a Jewish state be democratic?”
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) then agreed to host this event. But I am quoted in a NY Jewish Week article by Doug Chandler in a less nuanced way than I would have liked.
Unfortunately, Doug did not add anything from an email I sent him after our brief phone conversation. My concerns remain, but I didn’t mean to come off as absolutist in tone (nor as critical of Rabbi Kleinbaum) as the published quote may indicate. The following is most of what I emailed to Doug, with a couple of bracketed emendations, which more fully represents my view:
Ansche Chesed, CBST and any Jewish institution has an absolute right to decide what programs to host. Hence, Rabbi Kalminofsky was right to veto and Rabbi Kleinbaum is right to host this event. And [as Kalminofsky indicated to the reporter (but was not included in the piece)] if a group of AC members had proposed such a program, he would have to accede to their wishes.
I distrust some of the people in the sponsoring group because of their vociferous support for BDS [even as I trust others, such as Letty Cottin Pogrebin and JJ Goldberg]. The theme of the program is problematic, because it focuses upon Israel as if it’s unique for privileging a particular ethnic or religious majority, when virtually all other countries in the Middle East privilege Islam and most also favor ethnic majorities. A more open forum on the proper role of religion & state or the notion of ethnocracy vs. democracy would be appropriate, and in a format that’s more of a discussion than a debate.