A few weeks ago, I registered online for the 2004 Israel Solidarity Day featuring the Walk With Israel, sponsored by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF). This is an annual rally held by the major Chicago-area Zionist organizations to raise money for Israel. I did this because I wanted to get on the JUF mailing list, then forgot all about it.
I was very surprised when a few days before the 2 May event I received a personal letter by certified mail from Mr. Jay Tcath, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (could they have come up with a longer name?).
Tcath wrote, “Your name is of course familiar to us as a result of your frequent and visible public appearances and statements, which manifest a strong anti-Israel hostility,” and added, “we are thus notifying you that we are not accepting your application for registration. Should you nonetheless
decide to try and gain entry to our program, you will be precluded from doing
This is an extraordinary threat, because the “Walk With Israel” is held in a public park. While private groups can get permits to hold events on public property in Chicago, they cannot abolish the public’s constitutional right to free speech. But that is exactly what the JUF has tried to do in the past.
At the 2001 Walk With Israel, I and one other person staged a peaceful, silent presence on public property. We were subjected to threats of violence, abuse and harassment, including being spat upon, by marchers and by JUF security. We were also photographed and followed by event officials.
You can read Jay Tcath’s letter below, as well as my response to it:
26 April letter from Jay Tcath to Ali Abunimah
The Jewish Community Relations Council
of The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago
Ben Gurion Way
1 South Franklin Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60606-4694
April 26, 2004, By registered mail
Mr. Ali Abunimah
1507 E. 53rd Street, #500
Chicago, IL 6061 5
Dear Mr. Abunimah:
We are in receipt of your on-line registration application for the 2004 Israel Solidarity Day featuring the Walk With Israel, sponsored by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.
Your name is of course familiar to us as a result of your frequent and visible public appearances and statements, which manifest a strong anti-Israel hostility. We know too that in the past you have personally expressed such views by demonstrating on the very site of these Walks for Israel.
We also know that you provided a false residential telephone number in your application for registration (773-555-1212, which of course is really the information exchange).
Israel Solidarity Day is a private event with the purpose of demonstrating and rallying support for Israel. That is a purpose that you have repeatedly demonstrated a sharp antipathy towards, and we are thus notifying you that we are not accepting your application for registration. Should you nonetheless decide to try and gain entry to our program, you will be precluded from doing so.
Our community and our organization have worked long and hard for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and are still hopeful that that dream may yet be fulfilled. It is clear that you and we differ so much on both the tactics and the objectives of that search for peace that it is best for all parties that we take this step.
4 May letter from Ali Abunimah to Jay Tcath
Mr. Jay Tcath, Director
The Jewish Community Relations Council
Of The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago
1 South Franklin Street
Chicago, IL 60606-4694
4 May 2004, By certified mail
Dear Mr. Tcath,
I am writing in response to your letter of 26 April, which informed me that you had rejected my online registration for the 2004 Israel Solidarity Day featuring the Walk With Israel, sponsored by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. Your threat that I would be “precluded” from entering had I tried to attend the event is quite extraordinary given that your events are held on public, Chicago Park District property. In fact, I had no intention of attending the Walk With Israel. I had simply registered because I wanted to get on your mailing list. I regret that you and your lawyers spent your valuable time thinking of ways to keep me out.
I needed no further discouragement from attending your event than my experience at the Walk With Israel in 2001. At that time, I and one other person staged a peaceful, silent presence on public property. We were subjected to threats of violence, abuse and harassment, including being spat upon, by marchers and by JUF security. We were also photographed and followed by event officials.
Your letter accurately pointed out that we have major differences in approach. I would like to focus however on the common ground, since we both want peace. I would like to propose that we host a joint event next year entitled “Walk With Palestine and Israel.” The message of the event would be peace, and an end to all violence regardless of its victims or perpetrators. Specifically we would declare our total opposition to Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, and our opposition to Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians which have killed collectively more than 3,500 people in the past three years. We could call for the full implementation of the Road Map as written, without objections or alterations from either side.
We could raise money for Israeli and Palestinian victims of violence; for example, we could support the rehabilitation of Israelis injured in Palestinian suicide attacks, and provide funds for some of the tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, a large number of them children, maimed by the Israeli army. We could also invite the Jewish National Fund for Israel to advise us on tree planting initiatives in order to replant some of the tens of thousands of olive and citrus trees in the Occupied Territories uprooted by the Israeli army and by Israeli settlers.
If we could stand together under such a common theme, it would send a powerful message to all the people in the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan that peace and reconciliation is possible. I look forward to discussing this idea with you at the earliest opportunity.
Update: 11 June 2004 email from Jay Tcath to Ali Abunimah
From: Jay Tcath
Subject: Response to May 4 communications
Date: June 11, 2004 12:31:57 PM CDT
To: Ali Abunimah
This responds to your email and letter dated May 4 which, among other items, suggested we pursue co-sponsoring an event.
Please excuse my lack of enthusiasm for partnering with an individual who provides false information on our application, acknowledges he filled it out under false pretenses, and sends an email and registered letter to me labeled “personal” simultaneous to posting it on a website designed for high visibility: electronicintifada.net/v2/article2620.shtml
Indeed, now knowing your way of doing business, I probably should have addressed this communication to “readers of electronicintifada.com.”
In sum, I see no utility in pursuing your idea of a joint program or in continuing this exchange.
Jay Tcath, Director
12 June email from Ali Abunimah to Jay Tcath
From: Ali Abunimah
Subject: Re: Response to May 4 communications
Date: June 12, 2004 5:05:22 AM CDT
To: Jay Tcath
Dear Mr. Tcath,
I believe in openness, whereas you believe in banning people from public property. I believe in public debate, where as you flee from every opportunity to expose your ideas to public scrutiny, because you and I know that you have so little confidence in your cause. Your laundry list of excuses for not pursuing my idea really shows that your cupboard is quite bare.