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Disinvited from Jewish Book Festival, author Beinart gains support

By Rosalind Bentley
rbentley@ajc.com

Let him speak.

That has been the steady message directed at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta since it disinvited author Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic magazine, to its festival almost two weeks ago.

The story of center’s decision to rescind its invitation to Beinart, author of the provocative book “The Crisis of Zionism,” has generated considerable protest within some sectors of Atlanta’s Jewish community.

In an open letter to the Atlanta Jewish community written by Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, Wolpe likened the center’s decision to censorship.

“Though Peter Beinart sits towards one end of the spectrum of Jewish political opinion about Israel, he is well within the boundaries of reasonable dialogue,” Wolpe wrote. “Disagree with him, argue with him, criticize his facts or points – but do not ban him, do not invite and then disinvite him, and for heaven’s sake do not allow any set of Jewish members of the JCC to dictate to the rest who we should hear and not hear. We are better than that.”

Philip Kranz, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, said in an email to Beinart that he decided not to participate in the book festival in protest of the MJCCA’s decision. He said the four rabbis at Sinai had also signed a letter of protest and that they were urging congregants not to participate.

“It is unforgiveable,” Kranz wrote. “I apologize to you on behalf of those in our community who obviously do not believe in a fair exchange of ideas.”

The MJCCA worked to move Beinart’s scheduled talk to the Margaret Mitchell House’s Literary Center and removed their sponsorship from it. Center officials said earlier this month they disinvited Beinart after getting a flood of complaints by members opposed to his message and scheduled appearance. This is the center’s 21st book festival and marks the first time an author has been disinvited. Beinart will speak Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. at the Margaret Mitchell House. The event is sold out.

Since it was published earlier this year Beinart’s book has sparked a large debate, as much over him as the ideas he puts forth in “The Crisis of Zionism.” He argues that the Jewish state is threatened primarily by Israeli policies and hawkish political dogma that impede the creation of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; that American Jews, particularly American Jewish leadership, weaken Israel by not challenging those same policies; that democratic principles in Israel are compromised by occupation and expansion of settlements.

Though others have expressed similar ideas for decades, Beinart, a journalism professor at the City University of New York, has been particularly outspoken in promoting them. Critics have said he crafts his arguments in such a way that they draw attention to him as much as the issues he’s writing about.

“The premise of his book is built on a faulty hypothesis,” said Doron Lubinsky, a math professor at Georgia Tech. “He seems to think that one-sided action on the part of Israel will bring peace, but it takes two to make peace. The core issue is [Arab] rejection of a permanent Israel behind any boundaries.”

And yet, Lubinsky said he did not think it was productive to disinvite him to the MJCCA event.

At the time the invitation was rescinded, MJCCA leadership said that Beinart’s message didn’t represent a good fit for the center.

Reached Tuesday night, MJCCA officials said they stand by their decision. They could not say, however, what impact the decision had on overall attendance for this year’s festival, which concludes on Sunday.

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