“Brooklyn Commons” is a trendy cafe in Brooklyn’s gentrifying Boerum Hill neighborhood. It has served as a regular hub for political and social “progressive” New Yorkers, and regularly features presentations and speakers of far-left political persuasions.
Last Wednesday night, though, an unlikely group of protesters — regulars at the spot — gathered on the sidewalk outside the locale to protest the night’s featured speaker, a man by the name of Christopher Bollyn.
Mr. Bollyn condemns the Israeli “occupation,” which wouldn’t draw any complaint from most of the frequenters of Brooklyn Commons; many of them proudly hold the same view.
Bollyn, though, is also on other crusades, including promoting the ideas that President Kennedy was assassinated as part of a coup d’etat engineered by Jews, and that the September 11, 2001 attacks were not the work of Islamist terrorists but rather “a monstrous Jewish-Zionist crime.”
None of that, though, was too radical for the proprietors of the Brooklyn Commons, which prides itself on hosting a broad assortment of views.
In fact, the original promotional posting of Bollyn’s talk titled it: “9/11 and the War on Terror are dual deceptions imposed on our nation by the Israeli/Zionist and Neo-Conservative cabal that controls our government and media.” No surprise that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes Bollyn as “a raging anti-Semite.”
But the speaker’s views did prove too much for even some “progressive” citizens, usually all too eager to embrace condemnation of “Zionism,” meaning Israel.
Three Jewish organizations that loudly oppose the “Israeli occupation” — “Jews for Racial and Economic Justice,” “Jewish Voice for Peace” and “IfNotNow” — each issued statements calling on Brooklyn Commons to cancel Bollyn’s appearance. To no avail.
The cafe’s owner, Melissa Ennen, who founded the space in 2010, stuck by the decision to host Bollyn, saying the Brooklyn Commons was never meant to be a “cozy space.” She was taken aback, though, when, she reported, she was “bombarded by emails” objecting to Bollyn’s talk. “People are demanding that I cancel the event,” she lamented. “Some are threatening dire consequences for The Commons. What has brought us to this?”
The short answer, of course is: fostering dangerous insanity.
Only around 25 people came to listen to Bollyn detail his conspiracy theories for some two hours. Some carried Palestinian flags and flyers that read, “9-11: Do You Believe? Or Do You Question?” They had come to hear Bollyn’s answers, with which they were likely already familiar.
Outside on the sidewalk, some of the protesters held signs defensively identifying themselves as “Anti-Zionists.” One, David Eisenberg, was quick to tell a reporter that, even though he rejects Bollyn’s claims about terror attacks, he doesn’t support the Israeli government. Opposing Israeli policy, he asserted, “doesn’t make you anti-Semitic.” He did admit, though, that “The line in the left is clearly being blurred.”
Despite their touting of their “anti-Zionist” credentials, the protesters would later be described by Bollyn as a “Zionist mob.”
After Bollyn’s appearance, one of the groups that regularly feature presentations at the Brooklyn Commons, The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, pulled all of its programming from the venue. Its executive director, Ajay Singh Chaudhry, issued a statement that asserted, “Anti-Semitism (alongside racism, misogyny, class power, and so on) is a pervasive phenomenon. In this year’s political cycle, we have seen it clearly with the rise of the so-called ‘alt-right’ but also, less frequently, in the left too…”
That was a responsible and laudable decision, and should be an example to any other sober groups that have utilized Brooklyn Commons. But there is a larger issue here, something that Chazal sought to teach when Rabi Eliezer observed “Not for nothing does the zarzir [a species of bird of unknown kashrus status] accompany the orev [a bird the Torah explicitly states is not kosher].” There is a reason someone like Bollyn felt that a “progressive” space would be a good fit for his fantasies.
The “progressive” movement — in the eyes of many, though not all, of its members — is not what some young secular “idealist” Jews may imagine. It is less concerned with the legitimate rights of Palestinians than it is with illegitimating Israel as a country, and has even more evil designs. One can only hope that the Jewish groups that sought to prevent the Bollyn talk, may now be closer to absorbing that lesson.
Yes, one can oppose a particular policy or policies of Israel and not be in league with maniacal anti-Semites. But the unfortunate fact is that the bulk of the “anti-Zionists” out there are sharks disguised as angelfish. When swimming with them, it’s only a matter of time before there’s blood in the water.