On Sunday, the last day of his 81st year, Noam Chomsky gave a speech on Gaza in Watertown, Mass., at the behest of Newton Dialogues on Peace and War. They raised alot of money for the Gaza Freedom March. I heard a rumor that the original venue for the speech, Eliot Church in Newton, had dropped the speech under pressure, saying that the speech was “controversial” and had not gone through the appropriate processes for church events. I emailed Newton Dialogues. Dave Ascher responded. If you read between the lines of his response below, it is clear that the Eliot Church came under pressure because of the political nature of the Chomsky speech.
As you read this, remember one thing: This suppression of free speech took place in the heart of abolitionist territory. 150 years ago, Boston-area churches helped lead the movement that forced politicians to come out against slavery. Those churches asserted that All [Americans] are created equal. That same principle is being defiled by scared Bostonians today. Why? Because of the Israel lobby, because of the construction of Jewish identity around Israel, because of fears of persecution that have caused an empowered group to overlook the persecution of others. Dave Ascher:
I have been asked to reply to your inquiry about the Chomsky/Gaza fundraiser that our group, Newton Dialogues on Peace and War, had planned to have in Newton this past Sunday. As an active member of the group, I have been one of the central figures involved in organizing the event and have been privy to virtually all the emails and phone conversations that went on involving the change of venue.
I can confirm that the venue was indeed changed and on fairly short notice. At the new venue we had a turnout of about 200 people, which was considerably more than the capacity of the new space and the event raised significantly more money for the Gaza Freedom March than we’d anticipated.
The change of venue was due in large part to a failure on our part, as the sponsors of the event, to communicate and coordinate our plans well enough with the original venue. This might not have been a reason for cancellation in itself, but there was also a set of circumstances (pastor on vacation, short notice, Thanksgiving holiday) that conspired to make things difficult to straighten out.
We have heard that the church received phone calls after our notices were sent out. We do not really know the substance of those calls nor whether they came from nervous parishioners who recalled the hysteria in Newton when Chomsky came to speak to a club at one of the high schools or from people who wanted to alert the relatively-inexperienced assistant pastor of the possibility of this event being different from the used book sale to raise money for the homeless or from people in the community who have attempted to disrupt other events in Newton over the past several years that included speakers who are critical of the Government of Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians and its neighbors (like Lebanon).
After a lot of last minute phone calls and emails a venue was located at a church in neighboring Watertown, about 1-1/2 miles from the original venue. We were told that there were demonstrators from “The David Project” outside the church on Sunday morning, protesting the event, but nobody showed up in the evening to disrupt or demonstrate and all went smoothly.
We plan to re-schedule Chomsky to speak at the original venue, in the City of Newton, about Israel’s actions and policies toward the Palestinians as soon as we can arrange it after the New Year.