Thursday, May 17, 2012 | return to: news & features, local


Panel on Jewish activism will go on, but not at BJE

by dan pine, j. staff

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An upcoming panel discussion on the topic of Jewish activism has experienced more than its fair share of action even before taking place.

“Reclaiming Jewish Activism: Rediscovering Voices of Our Ancestors” originally was going to be held next week at the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Jewish Community Library in San Francisco.

But BJE officials scrapped that plan two months ago after learning that panelist Rae Abileah is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and co-director of Code Pink, two organizations that support forms of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel.

The event will still take place Thursday, May 24, though it has been moved to Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco. Other panelists include Julie Gilgoff and Elaine Elinson.

Rae Abileah
Rae Abileah
Organized by the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring of Northern California and co-sponsored by Bend the Arc Bay Area, the discussion will focus on social justice and how the activists/panelists have each been inspired by one of their ancestors.

“Activists tend to push the envelope, rather than write history, [and] their accomplishments often remain unknown, forgotten or repressed in the dominant ‘narrative,’ ” said Diana Scott, a member of the Workmen’s Circle and an organizer of the event. “So we’ve created an opportunity for three activists to consider the social justice accomplishments of little-known ancestors who have influenced them.”

Gilgoff authored “Granddaughter’s Rite of Passage: Tales From the McCarthy Era,” which is based on her family history. She will talk about the Red Scare and her upbringing as a so-called red diaper baby (children of socialist and communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era).

She also pays tribute to her grandfather, Max Gilgoff, who died from a heart attack while being interrogated about his political activism.

Elinson co-authored “Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California,” which won a 2010 gold medal from the California Book Awards.

Julie Gilgoff
Julie Gilgoff
As an activist, Elinson’s joined picket lines in California vineyards and, as communications director of the ACLU of Northern California for the past two decades, worked for voting rights and other civil liberties. She is currently working on a novel about Selina Solomons, an early 20th century Jewish suffragist.

Abileah will be talking about her granduncle, Joseph, whom she credits in part for her own dedication to pacifism and activism. A Haifa-born musician who became a pacifist during Israel’s War of Independence and later devoted his life to Arab-Jewish reconciliation, he was the subject of a biography, “Israeli Pacifist: The Life of Joseph Abileah.”

Abileah, a Half Moon Bay native who once belonged to BBYO, gained notoriety last year when she heckled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a speech to a joint session of Congress. She supports boycotting Israeli products from the West Bank.

Abileah said the initial cancellation of the panel discussion was “shocking and painful” because she plans to talk mainly about her uncle and how he has inspired her.

Elaine Elinson
Elaine Elinson
“They said I was too controversial and they couldn’t have an event with me on it,” she said. “I don’t blame the [Jewish Community] Library. I think they were pressured by the [Bureau of Jewish Education]. I think we were censored by BJE.”

The panelists and Scott co-signed a March 28 open letter condemning the cancellation and accusing the JCL of doing so “based on narrow-minded, divisive guidelines from the federation.”

They were referring to the guidelines instituted two years ago, which delineate for grantees of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation the limits of speech regarding criticism of Israel.

Said Scott: “The climate has chilled sponsorship of events in the Jewish community. If [fear of incivility] really had been the issue, then we should have sat down and discussed how to address it.”

David Waksberg, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education, which oversees the library, denied that the guidelines entered into his decision, and he noted that the event never was officially added to the JCL schedule.

“We didn’t muzzle anything,” he said. “They’re having their program. I wish them well. It wasn’t appropriate for us.”

“Reclaiming Jewish Activism: Rediscovering Voices of Our Ancestors,” 7 p.m. Thursday, May 24 at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, 290 Dolores St., S.F.


Posted by chavera
05/17/2012  at  06:13 PM
Shame on us

Shame on us for silencing each other and ourselves.  Shame on us for not wanting to hear what is difficult to hear.  Shame on us for not being able to listen to what we may not agree with.  Shame on us for alienating young, idealistic, active members of our community.  What kind of community is it that we have? What are we afraid of, anyway?

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Posted by Jack Kessler
05/17/2012  at  09:44 PM
Narrow-minded? Divisive?

The supposedly “narrow-minded, divisive” policy Abileah of Code Pink objects to provides that groups that demonize Israel and organize boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel will not do so with Federation’s money.  Can you imagine the gall of these people, not only asking for Jewish money to use to abuse Israel, but self-righteously complaining about not getting it?  One can imagine that in the dictionary alongside the definition of “feels entitled” would be a picture of Abileah and Code Pink.  I went to a Code Pink meeting a few years back and they threw us out and threatened to call the police for so much as asking questions.  Yet these people have the gall to complain of being muzzled by not being given Federation’s money which they seem to think they are entitled to, just because they want it.

The only thing controversial here is why Sha’ar Zahav let them in.  I suggest Sha’ar Zahav members should speak to their board about this, and in no uncertain terms.

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Posted by Frank
05/17/2012  at  10:22 PM
Shame on you

I think it is shameful that JWeekly would give any free publicity to these anti-Israel/anti-Jewish extreme leftists, or publicize their “events”.  These organizations engage in outrageous anti-Israel propaganda, and many are funded by anti-Israel/anti-Jewish George Soros, and other anti-Israel funders.  They do not deserve a forum in a Jewish publication.  It is a cynical Orwellian absurdity when anti-Jewish activism is described by the extreme left as “Jewish activism”. 

From the ADL:  “Jewish Voice for Peace is the largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States.  Despite the neutral tone of its name, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) counts among its objectives an end to U.S. aid for Israel (because of Israel’s “repressive policies”) and the success of boycott and divestment campaigns against Israel.”  Code Pink is a vile anti-American and virulently anti-Israel organization which shills for arab terrorists.
These groups should be shunned and reviled by the Jewish community.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
05/17/2012  at  10:42 PM
Shame on Joseph Abileah...

It takes a truly low individual to decide he is a “pacifist” while his friends, neighbors and fellow citizens are fighting for their very existence.

And given that his granddaughter Rae is a member of JVP, an organization which calls for BDS vs Israel and the “single state solution” which would lead to Israel’s destruction, it’s clear that this apple didn’t fall very far from her grandfather’s tree…

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Posted by gyuri
05/18/2012  at  05:47 AM
Nauseating self hating Jews

What exactly is wrong with Rae Abilea and the balance of self hating left leaning Jewish persons? Regardless of their political leaning, the Islamists would liquidate them just for being what they are.

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Posted by Robin A Dubner
05/18/2012  at  04:33 PM
Anti-Zionists are Jews the same way Jews for Jesus are Jews

Of course the Bureau of Jewish Education was right to throw these two Israel-haters out.  Israel was given to the Jews by Hashem.  It is indecent to permit Jew-haters to present their destructive ideas at the BJE.  And the fact that they cloak their hatred of Israel under the rubric of liberalism displays the shocking links between modern day liberalism and the fascism of Stalin and Mussolini.  Remember: fascism was born on the left.

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Posted by gitelsura
05/19/2012  at  01:37 PM
Where's the Tent?

The first commenter,  Chavera, asks “what kind of community are we” and sees it as shameful that young people like Rae Abilieah are excluded from venues funded by the SF federation, because they identify more strongly with our faith’s tradition of social justice than with Israeli hasbara. 

Commenters who follow have expressed fear and hatred for this rising generation of Jewish activists,  and want to limit our political and moral discourse to that prescribed by the government of Israel, as enforced by institutions like the Federation. 

I don’t think these fearful commenters are representative of the Jewish community, nor of JWeekly readership.  I think Sha’ar Zahav, which has opened its doors to an inclusive conversation without endorsing any particular perspective, is a sign of the times.  The Jewish “tent” is not growing smaller.  It’s just relocating

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Posted by Lion of Judah
05/19/2012  at  04:07 PM
Much appreciated

Thanks for this fair-minded article.  I appreciate the new leadership of the J.  The inclusiveness is a breath of fresh air.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
05/19/2012  at  04:54 PM
Gitelsura, You & Your Fellow JVP'ers are Rightfully OUT OF THE TENT...

for good reason. You support BDS vs nearly half the Jews left on the planet and most of you advocate the “One State Solution” which anyone with any semblance of brains would know that it would mean the end of the Jewish State of Israel. Now fess up and don’t tell us this isn’t what you stand for.

As for Rae Abileah, she attempted to silence the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Israel. Why should any pro-democracy Jew give such a person of dubious character a forum to promulgate yet more hatred of her heritage? Surely, you are not so idiotic to believe that Abileah stands for free speech?

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Posted by Michael Harris
05/19/2012  at  08:45 PM
Conversations do take place-- but not presentations by JVP

Conversations about Israel are indeed taking place within our Jewish community institutions without, as erroneously charged by “gitelsura”, being limited to what is “prescribed by the government of Israel.”  For example, many Jewish institutions—including JCRC, several synagogues and Hillels, J Street and the BJE as well—joined together to sponsor an open conversation event for young adults last week called “Love, Hate and the Jewish State”.
Though I (as no longer a young adult) didn’t attend, I expect that JVP members did.

So what’s the difference?  The difference is that this event wasn’t set up to praise anti-Israel activists who are dedicated to undermining the existence of the Jewish state. It wasn’t set up to promote the anti-Israel agenda of JVP.  And it wasn’t giving JVP activists a platform.  “Young, idealistic and active members of our community” who go to Gaza to support the Hamas regime that is responsible for the deliberate murder of hundreds of Israeli women and children should not expect to be honored for such activism.

JVP desperately craves acceptance from the community as a legitimate organization.  But it still fails to understand that, as a group that stands in opposition to the existence of a Jewish state of Israel, it is no more welcome in our community institutions than is a Messianic Jewish (ie Christian) congregation. 

Even Peter Beinart wanted nothing to do with JVP.

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Posted by Theresa
05/19/2012  at  08:52 PM
Rae Abileah is a poor example

Rae Abileah has earned a reputation for repeatedly disrupting Jewish community events.  Her immaturity and her behavioral issues make her an inappropriate representative for Jewish activism.  The goal of our year of civil discourse was to hear and respect each other’s voices- something Rae Abileah’s high profile tantrums have prevented. Her behavior has distanced her from the community.  I wish it weren’t so -  I wish that Rae could share the community’s commitment to civil dialog, but until she does, she is not welcome.

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Posted by paul
05/22/2012  at  01:58 PM

Now, I disagree with Sha’ar Zahav because, Sha’ar Zahav invited tree Anti-Israel speakers to speak out against Israel. And, one of them is, Abileach who belong to the JVFP. Abileach and so-calledd JVFP, is Jewish Voice Pro-War and distraction of the State of Israel. Abileach, isn’t capable to recognize Israel right to exist. Shame on her. It’s a shame that J support Jewish Voice For Peace. I hope that Sha’ar Zahav, will recognize that to do this, was a huge mistake. I’M Pro-Israel.I will never go to Sha’ar Zahav any more. I’M glad that BJE didn’t allow them to held this event in side of their building. I hope that JCF will not support Sha’ar Zahav any more. Shame on Abileach and so-called Jewish Voice For Peace.

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Posted by paul
05/22/2012  at  05:40 PM

I agree with you Theresa that, Abileach is very immature and un educated person about what happen today in Israel, Abileach together with so-called JVFP and Bay Are Women In Black, support war, support Hamas and distraction of the State Of Israel. Let me ask Abileach and so-called JVFP a few questions: What do they know about Judaism? What do they know about Torah? Torah says, if some body attack Israel then, Israel has the full right to respond and defend itself. Do they know how to chant the Torah? Do they know any Yiddidsh/Hebrew or, both. How dear can Abileach and her so-callled Jewish Voice For Peace be against them self. Now, Jewish Voice For Peace attacked me on the street. How can they claim to be peaceful after all. JVFP,is all bunch of idiots,who are misguided about Israel. I’M so glad that they are on the top list of the ADL as one of the most hate self Jews against Israel. I’M glad that Jewish Community Federation doesn’t support them and, Hillel denied their membership. Abileach,Gilgoff,Elinson and Sha’ar Zahav, must be ashame of what they are doing. It’s a shame on our community that we have the bunch of so-called Jews who are hostile to Israel. Reform movement and GLBT in this Sha’ar Zahav aren’t capable to see the Israel right to exist. Abileach, is immature looser. She went to Israel as a teenager. She was a member of BBYO. And, she turned to be a looser against Judaism and Israel right to exist. Jewish Voice For Peace-Jewish Voice Pro War who support Hamas and Hezbolla. So-called Jews, doesn’t know any thing. We Jews, muststand up For Israel because, this is our land.

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Posted by Janice
05/24/2012  at  11:46 AM
Shame on the BJE for

Shame on the BJE for trying to silence Jewish voices that oppose Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. Shame on them for silencing voices that truthfully speak out against the building of settlements, each and every one illegal under international law.
Shame on all of you who condemn Rae Abileah, a young woman of great courage who dares to speak out against the injustices perpetrated by our people against another people, a people who had no blame for the European anti-Semitism that led a group of European Zionists to want a state on the land of others.
Shame on Israel for not ending the occupation long ago and for its myriad violations of international law.
Kudos to those brave Jews both in and out of Israel who do not aim for the destruction of Israel but aim for an end to the occupation.

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Posted by paul
05/24/2012  at  01:17 PM
If you disagree

Janice, you need to know that, Jews lived in Jerusalem for over 2,000 years. Do, you know that the Land Of Israel was under the British occupation? We Jews, fought for our land. Now, what do you know about Judaism? What do you know about the Torah? Do you know what the Torah says? Torah says, if you attack me then, I have a right to defend myself and,it doesn’t mean to kill. Torah says that, if somebody attack Israel, then, Israel has the right to defend itself, defend it’s people and land. Torah, allow Israelis to go to the war and destroy all their enemy. So, do you know, how to chant the Torah? Do you know any yiddish or Hebrew or both? How dear can you be against your self?

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Posted by Dave Marshak
05/24/2012  at  04:11 PM
Brave Jews

There is nothing brave about being a hero to the liberal herd who blame all bad things on Israel and think BDS will make things right.

Not letting people speak anywhere they choose to is not silencing them. They actively try to silence those they disgree with and shun dialog.

No good can come from people on both sides hurling demeaning insults at each other and congratulating themselves on their superiority.

Jews in Arab lands suffered in some of the same ways that Jews in Europe did and welcomed the establishment of Israel. For almost 2,000 years Jews had been scorned and mistreated all over the world as people without a state.

No country has ever stitched parts of different states together to form a state hostile to it.

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