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Synagogue Official Defends Refusal to Allow Rabbi to Speak on Its Premises Under Peace Now Sponsorsh

Congregation Beth Tzedec’s refusal to allow Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg to speak on its premises under the sponsorship of the Canadian Friends of the Peace Now movement in Israel, was defended by the congregation’s president, Aaron Black.

In a letter published in the Canadian Jewish News, Black listed the concerns that prompted the congregation’s board of governors to deny a platform to Hertzberg. He claimed that “It is is absurd to suggest there is suppression of free speech.”

Black was responding to charges leveled by Harry Steiner, a prominent member of the Canadian Jewish community, who resigned as a member of Beth Tzedec Synagogue over the incident. In an open letter, published in the Canadian Jewish News earlier this month, Steiner said “Intolerance of different views is chilling to any free society” and warned that “We Jews should be especially on guard against it.”

CONCERNED ABOUT A POSSIBLE CONFRONTATION

Black, in his letter, said that after considerable deliberation, the congregation’s board of governors was “concerned that an advocacy meeting on behalf of a purely Israeli political position could lead to a bitter confrontation among local Jewry.” Another concern, he said was “that the media would take advantage of the situation… we have had more than sufficient inaccurate and biased media exploitation of events related to Israel.”

Finally, Black wrote, “We were concerned lest Beth Tzedec as an institution could be interpreted by same as supporting the aims of the Peace Now movement.” Black explained that “Our meeting halls are not public halls. They are not made available to any and all causes willing to pay a fee. it is absurd to suggest that there is suppression of free speech, when a multitude of other facilities are available for the sponsors of Peace Now…”

The Peace Now movement, which includes many Israeli army reservists, has long been critical of the policies of the Likud-led government under the leadership of former Premier Menachem Begin, especially its unrestricted settlement drive on the West Bank and the invasion of Lebanon in June, 1982. It has been a sponsor of mass anti-war rallies in Israel.

Hertzberg, a prominent Conservative rabbi from Englewood, N.J., and former president of the American Jewish Congress, has also been a frequent critic of certain Israeli government policies. The Beth Tzedec congregation, the largest in Canada, is affiliated with the Conservative movement.

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