Taking Care of the Truth #2: The non-encounter at the 92nd St. Y
On Friday night, the 30th of May, I was onstage in conversation with Eve Ensler at the 92nd St. Y in New York City. I had read her stark and perceptive memoir IN THE BODY OF THE WORLD about her bout with cancer two years ago within a couple of hours of meeting her backstage. I was filled with love and admiration. And it was backstage that we met, hugging each other like the long lost sisters we are, because the Y had requested we make a back door entrance to the auditorium, which was security rich, since the front of the Y was apparently occupied by pro-Zionist protesters who didn’t like my recent letter to Alicia Keys imploring her to reconsider her upcoming concert in Tel Aviv. I had never experienced such expert, thoughtful, kind and totally present security before. Men and women who seemed to know exactly what they were doing scanned the street as my partner and I emerged from our taxi, and guarded us through the hallways and numerous doors we entered, once we were inside the building. Because both of us were brought into the back of the Y in this way, neither of us (well, I can’t absolutely speak for Eve) saw, or spoke to, a single protester.
Which is to say the events described below by Aryeh Younger never happened. The photograph of me that accompanies his piece was taken years ago when I was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
I don’t feel a need to proclaim my lack of anti-Semitism. Some things in life are not about Semitism. (I’ve been fascinated to discover that the majority of Jews are not Semites! Who knew? Surely an area ripe for study.) I don’t tend to do “back and forth” with strangers on the street, and I certainly do not “bark.”
It is breathtaking to see how cooly this writer puts words in my mouth and creates a scene for me to act in.
I share this to help us stay awake.
See what you think.
Alice Walker to Protesters: ‘I’m Not An Anti-Semite’
by Aryeh Younger May 31, 2013 10:00 AM EDT
The last thing Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker heard before she set foot into the 92nd Street Y last night were the insults hurled at her by a couple dozen fervent pro-Israel activists. Some called her an “anti-Semite.” Instead of walking by the impassioned protesters, Walker barked back: “I’m not an anti-Semite.” As a few police stood idly by, another demonstrator accused Walker of being anti-American. “I’m a citizen of the world,” she responded, finally entering the building after a few minutes of the back-and-forth.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Jewish institutions like the 92nd Street Y are increasingly coming under harsh pressure—and, sometimes, being protested—for inviting forceful critics of Israel to speak. Walker, best known for her novel The Color Purple and a frequent guest of the 92nd Street Y, considers Israel’s occupation of Palestinians “apartheid,” and advocates for a near total boycott of the Jewish State. In an open letter this week, Walker invited the R&B singer Alicia Keys to join the cultural boycott of Israel and cancel an upcoming Tel Aviv concert. Last year, Walker declined to have her book translated into Hebrew by an Israeli publisher, citing her work with the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
Both the apartheid charge and supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel virtually guarantee denunciation by the right-wing pro-Israel community as anti-Semitic. In Commentary, Jonathan Tobin suggested that perhaps even the 92nd Street Y was anti-Semitic for hosting a BDS-backer. “While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them,” he wrote. “The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?’
In April, the 92nd Street Y reportedly cancelled an event with another Tribunal veteran and BDS backer, the Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters. The Y gave the impression Waters bailed, but he said they cancelled without explanation. He suspected “resistance in the local Jewish community” prompted the Y’s reversal.
The Waters announcement came amid outrage over a softer-spoken critic of Israel at a Jewish institution 80 blocks downtown: President Jimmy Carter, at Yeshiva University. JCC Watch, a far-right Jewish community watchdog based in New York, fueled the campaign against Carter, but promised protests failed to materialize and Carter received his award from a student-run journal without a hitch.
JCC Watch helped organize the protest against Walker, who the Y invited to discuss, with playwright Eve Ensler, her writing and activism. Several of the protesters told me that Walker shouldn’t have been invited to speak given her comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa, though a few of them didn’t know her position on Israel prior to the event. One man thought that Walker shouldn’t be allowed to speak at a Jewish institution because “she is a pagan.”
As she stepped into the 92nd Street Y, I asked Walker what her message to the protesters would be. She paused and said, “Honor the truth.”
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Aryeh Younger is the current editor-in-chief of The Beacon, an online publication for and by the younger Modern Orthodox Jewish community. He has studied at Israel’s Yeshivat Har Etzion and New York’s Yeshiva University. His writing appears regularly in the Jerusalem Post and other publications.
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