Julian E. Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University and the son of a prominent Metuchen rabbi, said his invitation to speak at a Pennsylvania synagogue was revoked over the suspicion that he didn’t hold sufficiently supportive views of Israel.
In an essay published by Tablet, Zelizer explains that he offered to give a talk at the unnamed synagogue based on his areas of expertise, including current electoral politics, the Civil Rights movement, and Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society, the subject of his latest book. A professor of history and public affairs at Princeton, Zelizer has written books on the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.
Having agreed on dates and a fee, however, the congregation president informed Zelizer that some members of the shul committee who booked him were concerned that, having appeared on MSNBC and CNN, Zelizer might be a member of the liberal Israel advocacy group J Street. He was then asked to confirm that he wasn’t “a dues-paying member of J Street.”
Zelizer said he informed the shul president that he was not a member of J Street, and that the question wasn’t “relevant.” Nevertheless, he writes, “the shul committee decided that I would be ‘political and divisive’ so it would not go through with having me as their speaker.”
Zelizer, the son of Rabbi Gerald Zelizer, religious leader emeritus of Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen, attended Solomon Schechter Day School in Cranford as a youth. He writes that the litmus test proposed by the synagogue violated the teachings of one of his instructors there, who taught him that “the Jewish people believed in debate for debate’s sake rather than trying to make everyone conform to the same opinion.”
“This exchange deeply saddened me,” he writes, “reflecting the diminished state of the Jewish community. We no longer seek debate, nor do many shuls even allow it to happen. We are having trouble being tolerant of the other side.”