The presidents of the Shalom Hartman Institute, Donniel Hartman and Yehuda Kurtzer, recently published an op-ed that defames Israeli protestors against Arthur Dantchik in Philadelphia, characterizing the protest as illegitimate and even antisemitic.
Arthur Dantchik is the key patron of the Kohelet Policy Forum. Kohelet has meticulously orchestrated and engineered a judicial overhaul for over a decade. This harmful endeavor has sparked worldwide protests among Israelis and Jews alike.
So, what is the issue? The Hartman Institute is known for its highly liberal values, but Mr. Dantchik is one of its prominent donors. It is unclear if Mr. Dantchik is a liberal or is using Hartman to whitewash his contributions to the extreme and dangerous think tank, Kohelet. Mr. Dantchik has refused repeated attempts to establish a dialogue. If indeed Mr. Dantchik holds the same liberal values as the Hartman Institute, then Am Israel (the Jewish people) would forever be grateful if he would withdraw his support from Kohelet.
The Hartman presidents’ statement fuses our critique of the policies and political strategies sponsored by Mr. Dantchik with a personal attack. We wish to clarify that our intention is only to illuminate the risks that Kohelet’s political orientations may pose to the thriving nature of Israel’s democracy and that, by funding Kohelet, Mr. Dantchik is promoting totalitarianism.
Our critique is directed at these broader ramifications, not narrowly confined to the individual. We wonder why the spotlight has been selectively cast on this case above all others. It raises compelling questions about the financial connections between Mr. Dantchik and the institute. Is Hartman and Kurtzer’s reproach of the protests at Mr. Dantchik’s residence and business purely a random response, or is it a calculated reaction fueled by the knowledge that his financial contributions are indispensable to the institute?
Instead of championing the democratic right to peaceful protest, the Hartman Institute prioritized safeguarding their patron’s interests. This unusual stance inevitably prompts speculation as to whether the institute’s mission to promote pluralism, open debate, and civil discourse is being dismissed to secure its financial foothold, casting doubt on its motivations and integrity.
The collective history of the members of our group, Philadelphians against Kohelet Policy Forum, is rich with instances of peaceful protests outside the residences or offices of influential figures. There are numerous noteworthy examples of public dissent, ranging from the protests at Trump Tower in New York, after former president Trump’s groundbreaking indictment, to the rallies outside Senator McConnell’s residence in Kentucky, and even the countless climate change demonstrations near the properties of the influential Koch brothers. These are not anomalies, but powerful demonstrations of democratic freedom in action.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer embraces such democratic expressions. When asked about his comfort with protests outside Supreme Court justices’ homes, Schumer responded, “If protests are peaceful, yes. My house — there’s protests three, four times a week outside my house. The American way to peacefully protest is okay.”
Our actions in Philadelphia, grounded in this same democratic tradition, with a stamp of approval by law officers, were unfortunately dismissed by the Hartman presidents as a “dangerous stunt.” Such a label undermines the essence of these democratic expressions and belittles the significance of peaceful protest. A letter-writing campaign, #DearDantchik, one of the most peaceful forms of activism, was shockingly described as “doxxing” by the op-ed’s authors. This criticism oversimplifies the issues, reminiscent of reductionist tendencies often employed when powerful entities attempt to silence dissent.
Accusing us of antisemitism is an unfounded and misguided misinterpretation that not only diminishes the actual severity of antisemitism — which we unequivocally condemn — but also diverts attention from the real issues at hand. The ongoing judicial overhaul and other changes pushed by Kohelet, far from being benign, are ominously isolating Israel, and undeniably fueling a rise in global antisemitism. By supporting Kohelet, Mr. Dantchik unwittingly plays a vital role in these adverse outcomes.
While Hartman has taken it upon itself to teach us about Derekh Eretz (common decency), we must remember that these principles are grounded in respectful disagreement, honesty, and humility. It is essential to differentiate between demonization and valid critique. If the understanding of peaceful protest and open debate is to hold any weight, it must accommodate opposition and dissent, not suppress them under the guise of preserving decency. The Jewish people and Israel require Derekh Eretz, now more than ever, but it should come with an honest evaluation of how those values are genuinely upheld.
It is disheartening to witness the Shalom Hartman Institute, an organization that has significantly contributed to Jewish intellectual life and espouses robust debate and dialogue, take a defensive position against peaceful, democratic action.
The above statement was co-authored by Philadelphians against Kohelet Policy Forum.