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July 31, 2014 | 4th Av 5774

Your Right to Say It II

June 16, 2002
Marc Rosenstein
 

As I wrote recently, there have been rumblings on Shorashim regarding programs offered here to the general public by organizations with a particular ideological agenda. Several members complained to the executive committee about evenings that had been held in our seminar center. I wrote to the committee to express strong opposition to any kind of censorship, and requesting a general meeting to consider any change in our present non-policy. The committee met a few times, and came up with the following:

  1. The synagogue/social hall of the community, which is occasionally rented out for groups, classes, and for overflow use by our seminar center, is now officially off limits to any ideological group of any persuasion. Any program which has a whiff of controversy may not use the public space.

  2. However, the dining room and meeting room of Makom ba-Galil, our seminar center, since we are essentially a private tenant of the moshav, are in no way restricted; they are private space.

It seems to me that this is a perfectly respectable compromise; it avoids the moshav’s being associated with any views that might upset anyone, while offering the opportunity for all views to be heard. As far as I know, the moshav’s decision follows a pattern throughout the area: many communities have closed their social halls to political groups. Thus, our center, by virtue of being an independent institution, becomes the “safety valve,” the only place in the whole area that controversial views can be heard.

The committee made a deliberate decision, probably wisely, not to accede to my request to bring the matter to a general meeting. Feelings on some of the particular groups in question are running pretty high, and we have all sides represented here, so a general meeting would probably have degenerated into an unpleasant and unproductive confrontation.

One of the most emotional issues lurking beneath the surface of this debate is the question of the right of small communities like Shorashim to reject prospective members on any basis: race, religion, personality, etc. There have been several supreme court cases recently that called into question the time-honored practice of putting prospective residents of such communities through a gauntlet of tests, interviews, probationary periods - and a vote of the membership. Obviously, the main impact of any change in this practice will be on the question of whether Arabs will be able to live in Jewish settlements. Up to now, it was always taken for granted that the Zionist goal of reclaiming the land of Israel meant establishing Jewish communities all over the land. In the eyes of many, forbidding communities from restricting membership to Jews represents “the end of Zionism.” But wait, there’s more: suits have now been brought - and won - by Jewish families rejected on grounds of “unsuitability.”

There are groups in the area militating to push this process of open housing to its limits; on the other side are those who see such a view as treasonous to the zionist vision. And in the middle are a lot of people who are ambivalent. In fact the supreme court held that a community that had a clear religious or ideological stand does have the right to select members; one that is just a bedroom community with no unifying ideology does not have this right. This seems a pretty slippery distinction, but, ironically, it has led a number of my neighbors who were chary of the Jewish tradition in the past suddenly to discover their roots; now, instead of having to struggle to maintain Shorashim’s self-definition as a masorti (conservative) community, those of us in the masorti “faction” find our position suddenly much more accepted — but find ourselves uncomfortable with the acceptance.

 

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