At noon yesterday, the owner of WordsWorth Books went head-to-head with a quartet of protesters from a Jewish women’s group in front of his store, trading accusations of being extremists on the Mideast debate.
The four demonstrators, members of the Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine, distributed neon yellow fliers denouncing owner Hillel Stavis for pulling financial support from WBUR, a public radio station in Boston that some activists claim harbors anti-Israel bias.
The flier said Stavis “sells words but suppresses words.”
Stavis fought back, standing next to his opponents on the sidewalk. As patrons entered his store, he distributed fliers of his own with a bold red headline: “These Anti-Israel Demonstrators Are Preparing The Next Holocaust.”
His flier called the Jewish Women for Justice “phony ‘peace activists’” who “knowingly support terror.”
Eleanor Roffman, spokesperson for the Jewish Women for Justice, denied the accusations and said the group’s purpose is to encourage peaceful justice and free speech. The local group’s members believe WBUR has remained objective in its Mideast coverage and allowed a variety of viewpoints on its programs.
“The irony of the situation is that WordsWorth is supposed to be a marketplace for ideas,” Roffman said.
She said that by cutting financial backing to the station, Stavis is threatening the media’s ability to provide a forum for debate on Israeli government policy.
Protesters said Stavis is following the sponsorship boycott campaign initiated by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which they call a “pressure group.”
But Stavis said that pulling his WBUR sponsorship was a personal choice that he should not have to defend.
“To whom we give money and how much we give is a personal right,” he said.
Identifying Stavis as part of a trend of businesses responding to the CAMERA campaign, protesters said CAMERA is helping to organize WBUR’s major financial backers to threaten programming and force self-censorship.
WBUR has lost about $2 million in sponsorship since the onset of the CAMERA campaign this fall.
“CAMERA is looking to suppress and stifle healthy debate,” said Susan E. Rivo, one of the protesters. “They support the farthest right and are out of whack with American Jews as a whole.”
CAMERA denies being an extremist group.
Although it is important to support forums for debate in the media, action must be taken against “strikingly unbalanced” coverage, said Andrea Levin, its executive director.
“[WBUR] has given substantially more air-time to Arab and pro-Arab views, almost twice as much in one study,” she said.
Stavis repeatedly asked the protesters their names and addresses.
“I’d like to picket outside your house,” he said to Roffman.
Undaunted, the demonstrators say they will be outside of WordsWorth at noon again tomorrow.
Protesters said they’re not trying to discourage consumers from shopping at WordsWorth and instead want to urge Stavis to reconsider his support of WBUR.
But Stavis said he felt they had another motive.
“If it looks like a boycott and talks like a boycott,” he said, “it’s a boycott.”