Political speech at synagogue requires balance

Friday, July 13, 2012
By: Shari Hillman, RJC Communications Director

**Update** Rabbi Lance Sussman told JTA that that Keneseth Israel is committed to having an event with a prominent Republican speaker in the near future. He has been in touch with the RJC to move that program forward. We look forward to working with him to provide some balance in a future program.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is scheduled to speak Monday night at Keneseth Israel, a large Reform synagogue in a suburb of Philadelphia. The announcement on the synagogue's web site says that DWS and local Democratic elected officials will speak, "in support of President Obama and his relationship to the Jewish community and the State of Israel." Oh, and, "Representatives of Governor Romney are being asked to speak at a later date (tba)."

Now look at the official invitation to the event:


It shows that the event is sponsored by "Jewish Americans for Obama" and "Organizing for America-Pennsylvania" – in other words, the Obama reelection campaign. The event is clearly a campaign rally.

To be fair, Keneseth Israel has expressed openness to working with the Republican Jewish Coalition to bring in a Republican speaker in the future. And the synagogue's announcement does say that Romney representatives "are being asked to speak" – but not, "have been asked to speak." That would imply that the synagogue has good intentions, but hasn't yet laid the groundwork to provide the balance that a Jewish non-profit organization should.

It would benefit Keneseth Israel and other synagogues to take concrete steps to ensure balanced programming in advance of any announcements.

Everyone knows that the Jewish vote is up for grabs in this election and that Republicans have the opportunity to make real inroads in the Jewish community this year. When a Jewish synagogue or non-profit hosts a one-sided event like Keneseth Israel's, without showing real effort to provide a comparable opportunity to the other party, it's wrong. It opens the synagogue or organization up to severe and justified criticism for engaging in campaign-related activities that could cost them their non-profit status. We'd rather those groups opened their doors to Republican speakers, so that the community can hear from both sides of the aisle. We're not looking to silence anyone; we're looking for balance and the opportunity to be heard.