Henry Street Settlement Responds to Linda Sarsour Controversy with Bialystoker Synagogue

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 at 5:17 am by

When the Henry Street Settlement invited Palestinean-American activist Linda Sarsour to participate in a panel discussion last night, the nearby Bialystoker Synagogue was not pleased. The schul – considered the largest Orthodox congregation on the Lower East Side, took issue with providing a platform to an active supporter of BDS against Israel, and sent a sharply-worded email to the Settlement.

The letter, penned by Rabbi Zvi Romm, asked that the organization announce that it does not endorse her views, and also issue a statement “celebrating the State of Israel, the only full democracy in the Middle East.”

The organization responded, stating that “Because of our internal policies and practices to comply with restrictions as a tax-exempt charitable organization, we abstain from any partisan political statements, which includes any public office (international, federal, state, or local). Therefore, we cannot release the statement you have requested. However, we are happy to graciously extend the use of our facilities and resources to you and your congregation in support of any activities you plan to celebrate the 69th anniversary of Israel.”

The Henry Street Settlement provided the following statement to us just before the “Lillian Wald Symposium” last night:

Since its founding, Henry Street has been an institution characterized by its openness to all voices and a place where ideas, some considered controversial, are exchanged. We fervently believe that if we only speak to ourselves, without listening to other viewpoints, learning will not occur and progress will not be made. In fact, the opportunity to learn from diverse perspectives is one of the intentions of the Lillian Wald Symposium.

The decision to include Linda Sarsour as one of the panelists at our upcoming Symposium, Immigrant New York, the New Majority:  Policy, Politics and Programs is being challenged by some individuals and groups.  They are calling for us to rescind our invitation to Ms. Sarsour.  That would be anathema to our history as a champion of freedom of speech.

An invitation to participate in a program or forum at Henry Street is not an organizational endorsement of the views held by any of our guests … selected based on their experience with respect to one or more facets of immigration and/or immigrant communities.

The Symposium’s topic – immigrant New York – will not include discussion of Israel, Zionism, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement,  and will be focused on the subject of immigration.

The Lillian Wald Symposium, our second annual, is intended to create a forum for meaningful discussion on a topic that is relevant to our constituents and stakeholders.  We will also be providing immigration services resource material directly to the community at the event.

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