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"Jewish McCarthyites" Blamed For Cancellation of Smithsonian Lecture Series

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 1998

"Jewish McCarthyites" have been charged with attempting to silence those who disagree with their position with regard to Israel and with causing the cancellation of a lecture series to commemorate Israel’s 50th anniversary at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  

The Smithsonian, in cooperation with the New Israel Fund, had planned to co-sponsor a series of talks marking Israel’s 50th birthday. The New Israel Fund is a group that supports religious pluralism in Israel, civil liberties and coexistence between Jews and Arabs. The lecture series was entitled "Israel At Fifty: Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Realities."  

A preliminary draft of the program included as speakers Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, several professors from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an Orthodox Israeli rabbi, an Arab member of the Knesset and two well-known figures in the conservative Likud Party. Among the topics to be discussed were the peace process, religion in Israeli life, and the place of Arabs in Israel.  

Discussing the attacks upon the program, New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis (Jan. 10, 1998) writes: ". . . the planned series was denounced by an organization called Americans for a Safe Israel. It has no mass membership but is evidently well financed. It takes advertisements warning against concessions by Israel for peace with the Palestinians . . . The planned program, it said, ‘would be analogous to celebrating a U.S. centennial by inviting (Louis) Farrakhan, David Duke, Branch Davidians and other extremist critics of American society to be spokesmen."  

Others criticizing the Smithsonian series included The New York Post and several congressmen, including Rep. Michael Forbes (R-NY) who said that the program would "heap unfair and one-sided abuse on America’s most trusted ally."  

Anthony Lewis writes: "The American Jewish community has for many decades been a force against intolerance . . . How surprising it is, then, to find today what can only be called Jewish McCarthyism, the use of hateful smears by a small band of American Jews who want to intimidate into silence those in the community whose political views they dislike . . . The major Jewish organizations need to reflect on what happened in this affair. If the planned lectures needed broadening, that could easily have been done. Indeed, the Anti-Defamation League was ready to do it, co-sponsoring the event with the New Israel Fund. But the voices of hate prevailed, suppressing the clash of ideas that is the life of America — and of Israel."  

One of those scheduled to speak at the Smithsonian, Prof. Ehud Sprinzak of the Hebrew University, declared: "The most amazing aspect of the recent effort to form a Jewish thought police is its incredible provincialism, a narrow-minded conviction that if writers like myself are intimidated and silenced, the American people would only receive the ‘official’ version of the Israeli story. The problem for the new McCarthyites is that the debate they attempt to stifle is waged in Israel in full force . . . The true problem of the vocal conservatives involved is that they live in a global village in which the effort to police the thoughts of people simply cannot work. What makes them so pathetic, their money and congressional support notwithstanding, is that they are the only ones who do not recognize this reality." (The Washington Times, Jan. 20, 1998)  

Norman Rosenbaum, executive director of The New Israel Fund, stated: "We are deeply disappointed that the Smithsonian has been forced by a fringe group of Jewish McCarthyites . . . to back out of its lecture series." (The Forward, Jan. 9, 1998)  

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