Acting as “censor,” New York’s 14th Street Y abruptly cancels Jewish youth event on Israel boycott

New York’s 14th Street Y abruptly canceled a long-scheduled educational event on BDS to be held by Young, Jewish and Proud

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Update 29 May: Video of Young, Jewish and Proud members being barred from 14th Street Y

A video released today features members of Young, Jewish and Proud gathering outside the 14th Street Y and being told they would be physically prevented from entering the building to hold their long-scheduled meeting.

Original post

The 14th Street Y in New York City has abruptly canceled an educational event about boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) scheduled for 27 May and hosted by the group Young Jewish and Proud (YJP).

In a press release distributed by email on Saturday, YJP, the youth wing of Jewish Voices for Peace, called this an effort to “censor conversation on Israel” and asserted that the “last minute cancellation is emblematic of a larger trend of silencing discussion on Palestinian nonviolent movements within the Jewish community.”

The 14th Street Y’s director Stephen Arnoff confirmed to the Forward that the event had been canceled, claiming the organization was concerned about the possibility of too many people:

Arnoff said his staff grew concerned that press coverage would draw a large crowd after a reporter from the Forward called the Y to inquire about the event. The Y, he told her, lacked capacity on the holiday weekend to accommodate a big group.

YJP organizers said in their press release that 40 people had RSVP’d for a venue that could hold up to 75. YJP said they planned to go ahead with the event despite the cancelation, inviting those interested to meet outside the 14th Street Y at 3pm Sunday.

The 14th Street Y, according to its website, “is part of the Educational Alliance, a downtown Manhattan non-profit that serves 50,000 New Yorkers annually.” The website states that “The Educational Alliance is a Jewish agency that serves people from every ethnic, religious and socio-economic background.”

YJP press release

14th Street Y Cancels Jewish Educational Event, Censors Conversation on Israel

Violates contract with young Jewish organizers who will proceed with event as planned.

With less than two full days until a Jewish educational workshop on Palestinian nonviolent movements planned for May 27th at 3pm, the 14th Street Y, a Jewish community space, has pulled the plug. In a phone call made to Liza Behrendt of Young, Jewish, and Proud (YJP) on Friday night, Executive Director Steven Hazan Arnoff cancelled the event and refused to reschedule, although YJP had signed a contract and rented space months before. Event organizers have chosen to move forward with the event and plan to meet as scheduled, in front of the 14th Street Y.

Arnoff cited concerns of high attendance as the Y’s reason for cancellation, although the rented space holds 75 and only 40 have RSVP’d.

Go & Learn: BDS Education in Jewish Communities is a series of educational workshops planned by YJP, the youth branch of Jewish Voice for Peace, to encourage open conversation about the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) from Israel. Sunday’s event will also honor Shavuot, a Jewish holiday of study. YJP has organized these events in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

“What is the 14th Street Y afraid of?” asked Behrendt. “We want to sit together, eat blintzes, and share our thoughts on what it means to be Jewish and grapple with Palestinian nonviolent movements.” Organizers had encouraged BDS opponents to attend and take part in conversation.

The 14th Street Y’s last minute cancellation is emblematic of a larger trend of silencing discussion on Palestinian nonviolent movements within the Jewish community. In March, YJP organizers were excluded from Tribefest, a youth conference of the Jewish Federations of North America. Last year Brandeis University Hillel excluded a campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. Before that, a Boston-area synagogue cancelled a talk by J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. Jewish institutions nationwide have instituted guidelines that silence discussion of the BDS movement and intimidate Jewish leaders who wish to engage publicly with criticism of Israel.

“Although BDS is obviously a big issue in Jewish communities, we are often told it isn’t something we can talk about in Jewish spaces,” YJP organizer Carolyn Klaasen explains. “This runs counter to our great tradition of free inquiry and passionate debate.”

“A strong Jewish community needs the space to grapple with such difficult issues,” added YJP organizer Claire Sternberg.

Because of the lateness of the cancellation, organizers have chosen to move forward with the event and plan to meet as scheduled in front of the 14th Street Y.