Peeling back layers of free speech


To the editor:

(re: “Teacher’s criticism of Israel leads to dismissal,” Jan. 16)

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School fiasco has been marked by enormous dishonesty.

To start, the (white) head of school smeared an Arab speaker as an anti-Semite for talking about a common, if painful, subject in Jewish families: That some Holocaust survivors emerged from their trauma full of empathy for others suffering violence, and some emerged stripped of their empathy.

As The New York Times reported, school administrators later understood that remarks were being taken out of context, but kept that information from the school community.

Next, a Jewish teacher was fired for objecting to that smearing, on the same day that the school hosted a rabbi who denounced as anti-Semites those — including Jews, Holocaust survivors and their descendants — who object to the repression of Palestinians. Perhaps because that is a shameful look for a “progressive” school, Fieldston has allowed the story to circulate that the teacher was fired for confronting the speaker who had just slandered progressive Jews by giving him the finger (video circulated around the school, but not made public, makes that claim ridiculous. And the firing decision had clearly been made beforehand).

On top of Fieldston’s dishonesty, The Riverdale Press recently ran a letter from someone who claimed no connection — just a neighbor — insisting that it is indeed appropriate to label as “anti-Semites” Jewish people who endorse the boycott of Israel, or don’t support the Israeli state (re: “Teacher expresses anti-Semitism,” Jan. 23).

A quick search shows that Mr. “No Connection” is actually a senior fundraiser at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. This “non-political” organization in 2018 raised $60 million to support one of the most powerful armies in the world as it protects Jewish-only settlements deemed illegal under international law, enforces illegal restrictions on Palestinians living within the West Bank — including denying access to medical care, closing schools, demolishing homes and brutally repressing non-violent Palestinian resistance — among other things.

The FIDF’s purpose is also to foster Americans’ warm fuzzy feelings toward the Israeli army. Cloaking this lobbying effort as neighborly chat is widely disingenuous.

The issues raised in Fieldston’s fiasco touch on war, racism and global order. So it’s not a mystery why people outside of Fieldston have been so concerned. But a question worth answering is: Why so much lying by the people smearing human rights advocates?

Emmaia Gelman

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Emmaia Gelman,