The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Jews for Equal Justice Response

Jews for Equal Justice
℅ 533 W. Main Street, #112
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
Common Council Office
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
Room 417, City-County Building Madison WI 53703-0001

May 4, 2004

To the Common Council:

As members of Madison’s Jewish community, we wish to register our dissent and emphatic objection to the letter of April 20 regarding the Madison Rafah Sister City Project forwarded to your offices by Steve Morrison under the name of the Madison Jewish Community Council. The city’s Jewish community, diverse in its opinions and beliefs, is not monolithic, of one mind regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and neither Mr. Morrisson nor the MJCC speaks for us. Those of us in favor of the Madison-Rafah project have come to that position precisely because of our understandings of a deeply rooted Jewish tradition of justice, tolerance, respect for human rights and a desire for peace.

Some of us have been active for many years regarding the quest for a meaningful peace in Israel/Palestine. Schooled by that experience, we find Mr. Morrison’s claims of “anti-Semitism” and “Israel bashing” as nothing more than a heavy handed attempt to silence meaningful debate and intimidate dissent.

The charges made by Morrison in regard to the municipality of Rafah in general and the nature of the al Mezan Center in specific will certainly be refuted by others. What specifically troubled us most about the letter was something that others, not as directly involved, should be made aware of:

Mr. Morrison’s letter asserted that the he and the MJCC, “indeed committed to the belief that person-person ties” in the search for “peace and better understanding,” had accepted an invitation for a dialogue with representatives of the Rafah project. We see this sudden expressed willingness on the part of Mr. Morrison to dialogue as nothing more than a public relations ruse, an attempt to curry public favor for an otherwise closed-minded position.

Our recent collective experience within the Jewish and broader communities tells us that Mr. Morrison, while giving lip service to “dialogue” and “discussion,” has been anything but tolerant for opinions other than his own as the self-described “spokesman for the Jewish community”. He indeed has shown himself to be undemocratic, at least when it comes to those who disagree with him regarding Israel’s course and direction.

– On more than one occasion since September, 2000, Morrison has refused to allow any dissenting voice or criticism of Israeli policy to appear as an opinion column in the Monthly Reporter, the Jewish community paper.
– He has refused to run notices of Israel-related events submitted to the Reporter which did not “toe the line,” his line.
– He has actively sought to silence speakers and preemptively close down or censure forums presenting views contrary to his own. Most notable was the episode last November when he attempted to maneuver the administration at Madison Area Technical College into canceling an appearance by Palestinian journalist Ali Abunimah. (Claims of “anti-Semitism” were leveled at that time, as well.)
– Failing in his attempt to have that program cancelled, he then issued demands that would have placed constraints on the content and parameters of Abunimah’s speech. (His attempt at censorship only failed when his behind-the-scenes manipulations received public attention in the Madison Isthmus.)

We in Jews for Equal Justice are all too familiar with the tactics of some of our fellow Jews, those who refuse to countenance criticism and dissent regarding Israel’s course and direction. We urge you, Madison’s elected representatives, to look beyond the fear and frustration underlying the list of counterfactual claims put forward by Mr. Morrison.

The City of Madison in the past has broken important new ground on the often difficult terrain of people-to-people diplomacy. It has contributed to the extension of understanding and communication across conflicted zones by taking brave stands for human rights that transcend politics. As Jews yearning for a meaningful just peace, one that will insure the safety and integrity of all peoples in the troubled Middle East, we call upon the Mayor’s Office and the Common Council to take the lead and “do the right thing” through an endorsement of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.


For Jews for Equal Justice,

Rob Rhyner
Clarence Kailin
David Loewenstein
Beverly Gordon
Esty Dinur
Marc Rosenthal
Allen Ruff
Tsela Barr
Betsy Lawrence
Steve Vedro
Susan Nossal
Phyllis Rose