Groups that demonize Israel put themselves outside the tent

Hillel leaders should enforce National Hillel guidelines forbidding Israel-demonizing events and groups.

February 21, 2012 22:56
Free Palestine T-Shirt, Syria opposition flag

Free Palestine T-Shirt, Syria opposition flag_390. (photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)


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UC Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union’s decision to deny membership to J StreetU created controversy. Opponents of the decision claim that J Street is pro- Israel, no Jewish group should be excluded, and that any exclusion is undemocratic and alienates students.

Yet those who oppose J Street’s inclusion have good cause for concern. Consider some of the groups and speakers that J Street has brought to US campuses:

• “Breaking the Silence” (BTS-Shovrim Shtika) is a fringe Israeli group touring US campuses accusing the IDF of “war crimes.” This New Israel Fund (NIF) supported group claims that Israel commits “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic cleansing” and “violates human rights.” BTS is quoted 27 times in the infamous Goldstone Report, which Goldstone himself has disavowed. BTS still promulgates it.

This is the same BTS that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which leads the delegitimization campaign against Israel on campuses, lists on its website as an advocacy group for its anti-Israel campaign. BTS programs have been used during “Israel Apartheid Week” on US campuses.

• J StreetU arranged talks by John Ging, former director of UNRWA in Gaza. He is known for promoting political warfare against Israel and supporting the pro-Hamas flotillas.

• J StreetU promotes the NIF-funded Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement (SJSM). The Jewish Agency describes the SJSM as “opposing the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland and promoting an anti-Zionist agenda.” The group collaborates with the anti-Israel Global Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement, and defames Israel as a “fascist state.” They talk about victories over “cowardly Zionists” who are perpetrating an “apartheid state” and “ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem,” and urge liquidation of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund.

• J StreetU also presents B’Tselem, funded by a BDS group and NIF. B’Tselem spearheaded the international campaign against Israel’s right to build the security fence to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel. B’Tselem “provided assistance to the investigative staff of the Goldstone mission from the beginning to the end of its research.” It is cited 56 times by Goldstone. It praised his report as “the result of a serious, professional investigation, reflecting a deep and genuine commitment to ensure that justice is done.”

B’Tselem has been lobbying foreign governments to adopt the Goldstone report. The chair of B’Tselem’s board, Oren Yiftachel, called for “effective sanctions” against Israel during the war against Hamas in Gaza, and supported the Palestinian “right of return,” which means the destruction of the Jewish state. Their CEO, Jessica Montell, has stated: “I think the word apartheid is useful for mobilizing people because of its emotional power.” The SJP, which delegitimizes Israel, lists B’tselem on its website as an advocacy group. B’Tselem programs have been used during “Israel Apartheid Week” on the US campuses.

What’s common to J StreetU events is not balanced, thoughtful discussion of Israel but the defamation of Israel, the spreading of falsehoods and one-sided attacks. According to Alan Dershowitz, “J Street has harmed Israel more than any American organization.” Its pro-Israel claims constitute “fraud in advertising.” “It has made a generation of Jews ashamed to be pro-Israel, and has made it politically correct among young people to single out Israel to a double standard and for fault.”

J Street is already entrenched at Berkeley’s Hillel and the JSU. The Hillel group, Kesher Enoshi (KE), is its proxy there. This year KE, along with J StreetU, brought the founder of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement in to speak at Hillel. He demonized Israel, proclaiming, “Jerusalem is a symbol of evil.” Berkeley’s Hillel director argued that this was “within the framework of national Hillel’s Israel policy.” However, National Hillel guidelines explicitly state that “Hillel will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel.” Hillel also funded its members’ trip to J Street’s national conference in Washington.

The toxic consequences of KE’s Israel-bashing events – organized in the past three years under the guise of “progressive Israel activism,” – demonstrate why groups that demonize, or collaborate with groups that do so, should be excluded.

In the year preceding the Spring 2010 anti- Israel divestment bill at UC Berkeley, Hillel’s KE organized Israel defamatory events in collaboration with SJP and other anti-Israel groups. At these events the IDF was portrayed as committing “war crimes,” and Israel as a country committing “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic cleansing” and “violating human rights.” These demonizing events laid the groundwork for the SJP-initiated divestment bill.

Kesher Enoshi and SJP organized a Breaking the Silence event, promoted by Hillel as: “testimonies by Israeli soldiers about human rights abuses committed by the Israeli Military.”

They organized the “Shministim,” a group of Israeli draft dodgers who defame the IDF and Israel. Their US tour was organized by the delegitimizing/BDS supporting Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP along with SJP is on the ADL list of the top 10 anti-Israel groups in America). Along with SJP, the Muslim Student Association, JVP, Middle East Children’s Alliance and other Israel delegitimizing groups, Hillel’s KE sponsored an event that compared the IDF to the Nazis.

The fact that Jewish students on campus get invitations to Israel-bashing events from their local Hillel (which controls the list of the Jewish students on campus and the students who participated in the Taglit- Birthright trips) is highly significant. Hillel and its groups’ involvement lend legitimacy and credibility to the Israel-bashing events and to their destructive message.

At the Berkeley student senate meetings, formerly pro-Israel Jewish students – who were co-opted by exposure to Kesher Enoshi’s demonizing events – were conspicuously active in advocating the adoption of the divestment resolution. Many of the co-opted students are joining the larger delegitimizing/ BDS movement. For example: Avital Aboudy, who signed pro-Hamas ISM petitions calling for divestment from Israel, and Eyal Mazor, who is involved with the delegitimizing/ BDS JVP and Code Pink. Eyal’s younger brother, Alon, became a leader of Kesher Enoshi, and is actively trying to get J StreetU into the JSU. Many Jewish students now avoid Hillel because of its demonizing events.

This disturbing situation is not exclusive to Berkeley Hillel. Many other Hillel chapters, on major university campuses across North America, are engaging in Israel-demonizing events organized by J Street in tandem with the NIF. A growing number of Jewish (and non-Jewish) students, are being affected. Those young Jews are the future of the Jewish community, its future leaders, and will determine its attitudes towards Israel.

The immense potential of over 400,000 Jewish students on US campuses is not only untapped to advocate for Israel against the “industry of lies” advocated by the delegitimization network on campus, but that the students themselves are influenced by it, and consequently many of them have become alienated from Israel.

Would people who advocate the inclusion of demonizing groups, under the guise of promoting a “big tent,” welcome a Kahanist group or Jews for Jesus? In “Is J Street in the tent, or out?” Dr. Daniel Gordis observes: “It’s one thing to put ‘pro-Israel’ in your tag line, and another to be ‘pro-Israel.’ ...Even a big tent, though, has its limits.”

Hillel leaders should enforce National Hillel guidelines forbidding Israel-demonizing events and groups. Demonizing groups and events place themselves outside the tent.

The writer, as a graduate student at UC Berkeley founded the Jewish Student Union and co-founded the Israel Action Committee (IAC) there. He also served as chairman of the Israeli Students Organization in North America and was on the executive board of the North American Jewish Students Network, the umbrella organization of Jewish Students in North America.

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