UPDATE: (11 a.m. Sunday ): Montclair Public Library, in a statement from the library director, confirmed that the open conversation would take place Sunday, and stated the “Board concluded that there was no basis to cancel the event, which is not a library program, so it should be permitted to proceed as scheduled.”
UPDATE: (10 a.m. Saturday): Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams writes:
I understand that the Board of the Montclair Public Library will be convening a special meeting this evening 11/11 at 7pm, to reconsider a request by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) to hold a meeting in its space. As a public space in our community, the Library is bound by its commitment to offer all patrons a safe and welcoming environment and to that end must sometimes assess the nature of programming in its space. I thank the staff and board of the Library for taking the time to consider whether our community library is the appropriate space for a gathering hosted by Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP nationally has made public their view that Israel, a country of nearly 10 million people and the homeland for the Jewish people, does not have a right to exist and that Israel itself is the “root cause” of the horrific terrorist attack against innocent civilians on October 7th. As a general matter, I believe that even speech with which I disagree deserves an airing, and that our community benefits when all voices are heard. However, I do not support the use of public space for purposes of incitement or advancement of damaging hate speech. I support the right of our public Library’s staff and board to determine the best path for the community. I note that my comments are offered as an informed and concerned resident of Montclair, as this matter is not the purview of the Township Council.
Montclair’s Civil Rights Commission is calling for the cancellation of an event, described as “a conversation on the Israel/Palestine situation,” scheduled to take place Sunday in a meeting space at Montclair Public Library, after receiving complaints from residents about the organization holding the event.
Christa Rapoport, commissioner and chair of the Montclair Civil Rights Commission (CRC), said while the CRC is all about free speech, there is a limit when it comes to what takes place in a publicly funded institution.
“The Civil Rights Commission of Montclair is deeply distressed by the loss of life in several conflicts globally. We want to emphasize our support for respectful behavior and conduct by all parties in Montclair that wish to express their views relatively to these global conflicts including (but not limited to) Sudan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Middle East. Within Montclair, there is no tolerance for hate speech, violence or terrorism (or support of these).”
“With regard to Jewish Voices for Peace, the organization made clear their support for Hamas on October 7,” said Rapoport, referring to the organization’s statement calling the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians a form of apartheid.
Rapoport said an “inflammatory event organized by a group that has supported Hamas is not appropriate in the library.”
Lauren Berman is one of the residents who doesn’t want the event to take place.
“I am extremely alarmed to learn that the Montclair Library is hosting a Jewish Voices for Peace event this weekend,” Berman wrote in an email to the Montclair council members and the town manager.
“You signed a resolution against antisemitism. This is an antisemitic group,” Berman added.
“The event flyer shows support from groups that have very clearly called for the elimination of the Jewish State, another clear concern around rising antisemitism. This event involves hate speech against a protected class in our town.”
Jodi Rudoren, a Montclair resident and editor of The Forward, a national Jewish media outlet, does not agree with the CRC.
“A group of people should not be cancelled or banned based on what they say,” said Rudoren regarding JVP. “They have said and done some things that are clearly inappropriate, offensive, and they may have crossed some lines, but they are not a terrorist organization. They are basically staging protests that have a message many find difficult to hear. That’s not a reason to ban them from civilized discourse.”
“Everyone has to feel comfortable being able to go to the library without regard to identity, but difficult-to-hear speech, offensive speech, and even hate speech is protected by the First Amendment,” said Rudoren. “I want to go to a library where people who radically disagree can respectfully listen to each other and engage. I hope we can get there.”
“Even if I despise every word they say, it is much better that they are allowed to say it,” she added. “It’s very hard to absorb all the death since October and the terrible atrocities that have happened since. But cancelling or screaming at people is not doing anything to save anyone’s life in Israel and Gaza.”
On Friday afternoon, JoAnn McCullough, president of the Library Board of Trustees, said she had heard from residents who shared concerns about the event. With the library director out of town and unreachable, McCullough checked with library staff and was told the proper procedures according to library policy had been followed in response to approving a request for use of a meeting space.
“We are a free public library, and according to our mission, we are open to all people and all voices,” said McCullough.
McCullough said library staff did not find any evidence that the organization would incite violence or act as a hate group, but added she did not know the exact process for approving requests for meeting space.
Montclair Local has not yet been able to reach the event organizer or members of the Montclair council for comment.