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J Street's Anti-Israel Poets Fire Back

11:43 AM, Oct 21, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Kevin Coval and Josh Healey, the two poets cut from the J Street conference for what J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami described as "the use and abuse of Holocaust imagery and metaphors," put out a statement:

When he called
My jaw dropped, my eyes welled and I found my pen.
Welcome to the new blacklist.
I write the names of the censored, the silenced, the forgotten the J Street capo has handed my name to the new Jew Gestapo I read my words distorted by neocon distorters.
But will my people, my Jewish people, my Palestinian people hear me. On my terms. On my panel.
What have you done with Rabbi Nachman?

Just kidding. Unfortunately their response was not offered in verse. The actual statement follows after the jump, but it is worth reproducing the final graph above the fold here. They ask, "Progressive American Jews where you at? Holla at us! For real: jewsthatareleft@gmail.com. Let's reshape the conversation. Let's build a minyan, a coalition of progressive Jews and gentiles who want what is just and right for ALL people and all people in Israel and Palestine." By all means, any Jews who wish to make Israel a pariah in the international community not through divestment or economic boycotts but through mad def rhymes -- here's your chance to build a minyan.

The actual statement after the jump...

This weekend, J Street, a new Jewish "Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace" PAC and Washington-based organization is holding its first national conference. The two of us, along with another artist, were to perform and read poems at several sessions during the conference. Specifically, we were invited to lead a workshop on how culture and spoken word create democratic spaces that sift through difficult issues and ensure a multiplicity of voices are heard: and how that can be used to open up the Israel/Palestine debate. Instead, we have been censored and pushed out of that very debate.

This week, some right-wing blogs and pseudo-news organizations latched on to various lines of poems Josh wrote and churned the alarmist rumor mill saying that hateful anti-Israeli poets are keynote speakers at the J Street conference. This is not surprising. The radical right-wing, including the growing Jewish right-wing of this country and abroad, hates complex discourse, especially when it brings to light truths they seek to systematically deny. The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and their AIPAC-influenced brethren have been attacking J Street for weeks, scared that the conference will bring together the majority of American Jews who do favor a more rigorous peace process. When they found Josh's poems and took lines out of context, they had the perfect straw man: the Van Jones to J Street's Obama. Again, this is not surprising.

What is disappointing, and troubling, is J Street's response in caving to this sort of McCarthyism. The executive director of J Street called us to say "I know what I'm doing is wrong…but there are some battles we choose not to fight," before canceling our program, and disinviting us from the conference. This accommodates their red-baiting and is the wrong response. Rather than give in, which only emboldens the right and legitimizes their attacks, we need to stand up for our principles and engage on that front. Van Jones is another perfect example: after the Fox News venom became too much and he resigned last month, the radical Right hasn't stopped attacking Obama, or more accurately, the alternative, progressive voice they fear he represents. The Right stands by its politics, and practices solidarity with their allies. Too often the Left doesn't. And that's why we often lose - on health care, on global warming, and on Israel/Palestine.

For the second time in two months Kevin, who is Jewish, has been told not to come to a Jewish conference because of what he will say about Palestine and Israel. This past August, the evening before the International Hillel Conference, conference planners said if he were to read poems about Palestine, they'd rather not have him. Today, Josh, who is Jewish, has had his name thrown into a mudslide of blogs and hate emails. All this because we are practicing the Jewish maxim of the refusal to be silent in the face of oppression, anyone's oppression.

One of the key teachings of Judaism is the insistence on wrestling with and debating ideas. There are a thousand years of codified arguing, recorded in the Talmud and Midrash, over the meaning of the stories in the five books of Torah. Jews debate everything. There is the old adage, "when you have two Jews in the room, you have three opinions". Our families cannot come to agreement about what constitutes a deli as opposed to a diner. (A deli must have pickles on the table with poppy seed rolls, etc….)