Jewish groups at UC Berkeley campus rally against anti-Israeli events.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
On Monday, J Street U members carried out a “March on Hillel” in which roughly 500 students filed out of the J Street Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington and made the five-minute trek to Hillel International headquarters in an act of protest against Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut.
The students’ impetus for the demonstration was allegedly the resentment that J Street U felt as a result of Fingerhut’s decision to withdraw from his scheduled address at the conference. The student mob proceeded to leave sticky notes on the windows of Hillel, articulating that their feelings were hurt.
A careful examination of J Street U’s anti-Hillel writing brings its claims of virtuousness and victimhood into question. While J Street U continuously claims that it is an unfair victim of right-wing oppression, its collective assault on Fingerhut’s legitimacy far proceeds this latest brouhaha.
J Street U leaders, dozens of whom are closely aligned with the “Open Hillel” movement, including Danny Blinderman, who was fired from the American Jewish Committee for breach of trust for spying on Fingerhut, have long despised Hillel’s “National Hillel Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities.” These guidelines articulate that a speaker will not be welcomed in Hillel if he:
• Denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders;
• Delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel;
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• Supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; or
• Exhibits a pattern of disruptive behavior toward campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.
J Street U students have repeatedly criticized these restrictions and lambasted the donors who care that their money is spent on genuinely pro-Israel events.
Its director, Sarah Turbow, was a featured speaker at the so-called “Open Hillel” conference at Harvard last fall where participants discussed and implemented a plan to conduct opposition research against Hillel’s donors, with Jewish Voice for Peace’s help, in order to attack the donors. In fact, J Street U was called “the gateway drug to Open Hillel,” several of whose members are active in and employed by Jewish Voice for Peace, regarded as a leading anti-Zionist organization by NGO Monitor and many others.
In December 2013, then-J Street U Student Board Member Asher Mayerson attacked Fingerhut for co-authoring an article with AIPAC Leadership Development Director Jonathan Kessler. Mayerson claimed that the op-ed “reaffirm[ s] the status quo of a monopoly on the meaning of ‘pro-Israel’ – simultaneously ignoring Israel’s harsh political realities and unconditionally defending every Israeli policy,” and that “[a]nyone who cares about the American Jewish community should be concerned about Hillel International’s demonstration of such favoritism toward the traditional pro-Israel camp.”
Later that month, then-J Street U National Student Board President Jacob Plitman wrote an article assailing “conservative donors,” claiming they were suppressing real conversation.
In February 2014, Plitman wrote that Hillel needs to be “donor backed and student led,” though he conceded that J Street and Hillel “may disagree on a wide array of issues.”
With anti-Semitism on the rise on college campuses, BDS ramping up, killings of hundreds of thousands in Syria, and the list goes on, why does J Street U care so much whether Fingerhut speaks or not. Are there not more pressing issues? Current J Street U National President Benjy Cannon has also frequently challenged Fingerhut.
After Hillel International threatened to expel Swarthmore Hillel for declaring itself an “Open Hillel” (Swarthmore Hillel gave up the name last week), Cannon characterized Hillel’s stance toward anti-Israel speakers as “strict, self-defeating,” and claimed that the redlines “exclude the very voices it should engage.” Last September, at the “Open Hillel” conference, speakers included radical anti-Israel screeds from the likes of Rashid Khalidi and Judith Butler.
It is therefore unsurprising that outside of the Hillel International building, J Street U leaders singled out Sheldon and Dr. Miri Adelson, the largest funders of Birthright Israel, for criticism.
Though through their charitable work the Adelsons positively shape the lives of tens of thousands of young Jews, J Street U finds their influence inherently problematic. Why? Because the Adelsons are conservative, oppose Barack Obama and his misguided plans for Israel, Iran and the Middle East? Freedom of expression appears to be sacred to J Street U and its “Open Hillel” partners, but only if it is the speech supports their political beliefs. No one else need apply.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that Hillel International capitulated to the demands of J Street U and has agreed to an on the record meeting of J Street U student leaders, Eric Fingerhut and some Hillel donors. The decision is disheartening, because of the message that it sends to the millennial generation: throw a hissy fit and we will hear you and meet your demands.
As StandWithUs Campus Director Brett Cohen put it, “J Street U is home of three main populations: the ignorant, the petulant and the malicious.”
Here’s to hoping the Hillel International Board and Eric Fingerhut will confront J Street U’s intolerance and use the meeting to demand a more respectful path forward.
Daniel Mael, a senior at Brandeis University, is a fellow at the Salomon Center for Truth & Accountability.
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