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Friday, November 2, 2012

MJCCA Festival of the Book cancels talk by Peter Beinart, author critical of Israeli policies (Update)

Peter Beinart
The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta's Festival of the Book, a two-week literary festival that attracts authors from around the country, has canceled a scheduled appearance by Peter Beinart, the journalist whose book Crisis of Zionism sparked national debate.

According to the Facebook page of J Street Atlanta, a nonprofit organization of "pro-Israel, pro-peace activists" co-sponsoring Beinart's talk:

Earlier this week, we were notified that our event has been cancelled and removed from the MJCCA book festival roster due to member objections to Mr. Beinart’s views on Israel.

With help from the MJCCA, we have secured an alternate venue and the event will still be held on November 14, 2012 at 8:15PM at the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown.

Here's more info and how to get tickets.

Beinart's book, which was released in 2012 and received praise from former President Bill Clinton, argued that Israel's policies toward Palestine were endangering the country's democracy — something that Beinart says the American Jewish establishment has refused to confront — and running the risk of "alienating many young liberal Jews from Zionism itself." The controversial view didn't make the former New Republic editor's life very easy.

We've reached out to the MJCCA and Beinart and will update if we hear word.

Worth noting: The MJCCA talk by Tony Danza, one of America's greatest enemies, is still a go.

After the jump, an update with comments from the MJCCA's president.

UPDATE, 1:54 p.m. Steven Cadranel, the president of the MJCCA, tells CL in a phone interview that the "very dedicated" book festival committee has been working on this line-up for "the better part of the year" and engaged Beinart "some time ago." More recently, Cadranel says, the organization started "receiving feedback from members and patrons [who said] that they were a little disturbed by Peter’s message. And we had to make a decision: Where would be the most appropriate for Peter and his message and for the conversation to take place? And out of respect and appreciation for our members, we thought it’d be better for that to take place at the Margaret Mitchell House. We worked with them to make that switch."

He declined to offer specifics about what concerned members, as he personally had not spoken to all the people who were were opposed to Beinart's visit.

"The overwhelming response was that Peter’s views toward Israel and his relationship with the Palestinians has been controversial," he says. "Others who have hosted Peter in the past, including J Street, have heard that controversy. That’s the sensitivity our members have when we make the Jewish community center the venue for that conversation."

But aren't book festivals the place to engage topics and issues that might make one uncomfortable? Cadranel said:

"Yes, within a delicate balance. That was the thought when we initially booked Peter. I think the controversy today is more elevated than it was when we booked him. For us to not also be sensitive to our membership and respectful of our membership as we try to balance that equation would be irresponsible of us. We try to take the more responsible path, which is to allow that conversation to be heard but at what might be a more appropriate venue."

And since the JCC relies on its members and the support of the community, Cadranel says, it needs to consider their concerns. He said he appreciates how the author has responded to the membership's concerns and that he hopes to meet Beinart — and possibly attend his reading at the Margaret Mitchell House.

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