Follow up letter to the Livingston, NJ, Board of Education from JVP-NNJ


A follow up letter to the Livingston, NJ, Board of Education and School s Superintendent from JVP-NNJ regarding the program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

March 4, 2024

To: Pam Chirls, President
Jenissa Arnette, Vice-President
Seth Cohen, Member
Parul Khemka, Member
Fang Gong, Member
Jake Ferrans, Student Representative
Dr. Matthew J. Block, Superintendent of Schools

Dear Members of the Livingston School Board and Superintendent Block,

We followed with great interest the Livingston Board of Education meeting of February 27. We read the posted guidelines that said remote attendees could speak by raising their virtual hands. We had our hands raised for 4 hours, but no virtual speakers were recognized. Therefore, we would like to offer you some thoughts in this letter.

Many speakers expressed astonishment that anyone could oppose a program that merely presented the facts. There has been a long understanding in our country, however, that having just one side in a dispute “present the facts” is not a proper means of establishing the truth. Either “the facts” need to be presented by a neutral party or both sides need to be given the opportunity to present the facts. In a trial, for example, we don’t just have the prosecution presenting “the facts.” In a civil case, we don’t rely on the facts as presented solely by the plaintiff. On the contrary, we let the jury hear the facts presented by both sides as a basis for reaching a fair judgement.

Likewise, many speakers declared that the program would be providing a “primary source.” No historian, however, is considered to have responsibly done their research by consulting only the primary sources on one side of a question. Doing so would be considered academic malpractice.

Many people praised the Livingston public schools for encouraging critical thinking among its students. But what kind of critical thinking is promoted by telling students that they should hear only one side of a controversial issue? Perhaps if there were a source with a demonstrated reputation for balance, a single source might suffice. But the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ (“the Federation”) is patently not such a source. On its website it proudly proclaims that it “stands in total and complete solidarity with Israel.” They are of course fully entitled to hold a one-sided view. They are not, however, also entitled to claim that they are offering a balanced view.

Yes, the Federation sometimes offers speakers of Palestinian background. But this doesn’t mean they are offering a balanced view. Imagine if we put on a factual program featuring a Jew from JVP and a Palestinian from American Muslims for Palestine. Would that thereby be a balanced program because it included a Jew and a Palestinian? Of course not, and we would never pretend otherwise. But how then can Superintendent Block report on his trip to Israel and declare it balanced because he spoke to a few people of varying backgrounds? They may have had varying backgrounds, but they were handpicked either by the Israeli government or by an organization that stands in total and complete solidarity with it. How can Superintendent Block tell us that he saw both sides because his Israeli guides brought him to the Gaza border? Did he see the people who were starving to death, as reported by international aid agencies? If not, then his trip was not balanced. If he did see them, why did he not share their agony with us?

No one would go on a trip organized by the Russian government and declare that they had received a balanced presentation about the ongoing war because authorities in Moscow had allowed them to speak to carefully selected ethnic Ukrainians. But Superintendent Block, an advocate of critical thinking, thinks he has learned the truth on his propaganda trip and wanted to provide the people of Livingston with an opportunity for a similarly one-sided propagandistic experience.

Alas, that propaganda program has now taken place. But it is not too late if the Board of Education wishes to take up the offer we made in our letter to you of February 26. We stand ready to help you either in putting on a program featuring speakers from organizations with well-established reputations for standing up for the rights of all people or in inviting speakers from the point of view you excluded from your Wednesday event.

Amnesty International, for example, has a long record of condemning human rights abuses on all sides. It was unequivocal in its denunciation of Hamas for its atrocities on October 7 (charging they “flagrantly violated international law and displayed a chilling disregard for human life”), but it has also been strongly critical of Israeli war crimes in the days since. How much more valuable would insights have been from such an organization compared to the Federation?

Yes, we know that some of those who spoke on Tuesday night consider any facts other than their own to be false and pro-terrorist. But having heard a speaker declare that the death toll of Palestinians in Gaza since October 7 is not 30,000, but 6,000 – a claim for which there is zero evidence – we believe that there is a real need for balanced information in Livingston.

Thank you,

Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern New Jersey


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