Simone Zimmerman, Bernie Sander’s national Jewish outreach coordinator, created quite a stir after her year-old profane rant against PM Netanyahu recently became public. This led to her suspension from the campaign two days later.
Her family and friends are baffled how Zimmerman, who grew up in a Zionist home, attended a Jewish day school (about 10 percent of her class serve in the IDF), spent summers in Israel with her youth movement, and seemed destined to become a stalwart of the pro-Israel community, became so virulently anti-Israel.
Zimmerman arrived at UC Berkeley in fall 2009 as a pro-Israel enthusiast, active with AIPAC, who felt her “duty going out into the world is to defend Israel.” However, during her first year Zimmerman changed dramatically.
She became a J Street campus leader, and eventually national president of J Street U.
After graduating, she helped found, and became a leader of, IfNotNow, a J Street offshoot that focuses on disrupting Jewish organizations and aiming to “transform the Jewish community.”
At Berkeley, Zimmerman frequented Hillel, which presents itself as “home away from home.” There, she encountered Kesher Enoshi, a Hillel group presenting programs demonizing Israel and the IDF. Kesher Enoshi had been collaborating with Students for Justice in Palestine, a leading BDS campus group – on the Anti-Defamation League’s top 10 list of anti-Israel groups in America. The Hillel director, Rabbi Naftalin-Kelman, supported and promoted Kesher Enoshi.
Reviewing a sampling of the toxic IDF/Israel- bashing programs presented by Hillel and Kesher Enoshi illuminates the transformation Zimmerman, and numerous other students, underwent.
On September 16, 2009, Kesher Enoshi, in conjunction with Students for Justice in Palestine, organized a presentation by Shministim, Israeli draft-dodgers who defame the IDF and Israel. The Shministim US tour was organized by the BDS group Jewish Voice for Peace, also on the ADL top 10 list of anti-Israel groups in America. The Shmimistim urged divesting from Israel.
On October 7, 2009, Kesher Enoshi, along with Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Student Association, Jewish Voice for Peace and other Israel BDS groups, sponsored a concert by a Palestinian hip-hop artist.
Some of the lyrics asserted that Israelis are terrorists and equated Israel with Nazi Germany.
On November 16, 2009, Hillel’s Kesher Enoshi hosted the New Israel Fund-funded Breaking the Silence, a fringe group that demonizes the IDF across the world, accusing it of human rights abuses. Hillel’s publicity, sent to all the Jewish students, said: “Through discussion we will expound about the idea of silence about human rights abuses and connect the war in Iraq to events in Israel and Palestine.”
The event was also publicized and promoted by Students for Justice in Palestine. Tom Pessah, Students for Justice in Palestine’s leader, who headed the divestment campaign at Berkeley, and Rabbi Naftalin-Kelman, the Hillel director, sat together at the event where students were divided into small groups, each with a facilitator from Students for Justice in Palestine or Hillel Kesher Enoshi leading the “discussion.”
The fact that Jewish students on campus are invited to Israel-bashing events by their Hillel (which controls the list of the Jewish students on campus including the Taglit- Birthright alumni) is highly significant. Hillel and its groups provide legitimacy and credibility to the Israel-bashing events.
Hillel’s Kesher Enoshi’s slanderous events, organized with BDS groups, laid the groundwork for the Berkeley Divestment Bill of 2010. The formerly pro-Israel Jewish students played a key role in it. Hillel’s Kesher Enoshi students actively advocated for the adoption of the anti-Israel divestment resolution before the Berkeley Student Senate. This influenced several independent senators to support the anti-Israel measure.
The divestment bill, passed 16 to 4, was subsequently vetoed by the Student Senate president. Although the veto was sustained by a single vote, the divestiture coalition succeeded in defining the terms of the debate while simultaneously advancing its narrative.
This snowballed into a BDS movement on campuses across North America delegitimizing Israel.
Even after the 2010 Divestment Bill at UC Berkeley, Hillel continued collaborating with BDS groups. On February 11, 2011, Hillel hosted the leaders of the Muslim Student Association – founded by the Muslim Brotherhood – for Shabbat dinner. In its rally in Berkeley, MSA shouted: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free.”
On February 22, 2011, Hillel’s Kesher Enoshi and J Street U brought the founder of the New Israel Fund-funded Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement to speak at Hillel. The Jewish Agency describes the movement as “opposing the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland and promoting an anti-Zionist agenda.”
The speaker, Assaf Sharon, demonized Israel, describing Jerusalem as the symbol of evil.
Pro-Israel students who protested the Israel- demonizing event were told by the Hillel head that it was within Hillel guidelines. It was not. Hillel guidelines forbid Israel-demonizing events.
Impressionable and susceptible Jewish students, such as Zimmerman, have been systematically indoctrinated at Hillel with messages dehumanizing Israel’s soldiers, portraying them as war criminals, and describing Israel as an “occupying, apartheid state” committing “crimes against humanity.”
Many students from pro-Israel homes, even those with Israeli parents, were coopted and alienated from Israel at Hillel. Many, like Eyal Mazor, became BDS leaders. After graduating, Mazor joined two BDS groups: Code Pink, which disrupted Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, and Jewish Voice for Peace, with Mazor as a key organizer, which disrupted Netanyahu’s speech before the General Assembly of Jewish Federations in New Orleans.
Pro-Israel students, concerned parents and community members protested to International Hillel leaders and the Berkeley Hillel director regarding the dire situation. They never received a reply.
Rather than condone such madness and clean house, the Hillel leadership and “leaders” such as Daniel Sokatch [now the president of the New Israel Fund, former CEO of the SF Jewish Federation (which funded the Rachel Corrie debacle, co-sponsored by BDS groups], covered up the situation at Hillel, and enabled it to continue.
After its exposure, Hillel’s Kesher Enoshi at Berkeley morphed into J Street U. Simone Zimmerman became its leader and later the J Street U national president. After graduating she helped found J Street’s IfNotNow.
The Berkeley Hillel director has been using his position and resources to promote and advance J Street’s agenda. Despite the Jewish Student Union at UC Berkeley’s democratic decision not to include J Street U, due to its Israel-demonizing events, the Hillel leader blatantly disregarded the students’ will and vote, and brought J Street into Hillel.
He has been funding it and its activities and subsidized sending Hillel students to attend the National J Street Conference in Washington.
Simone Zimmerman and many other students have been brainwashed and coopted.
They are victims subjected to a systematic and very effective indoctrination at the Campus Jewish Center presenting itself as “Home away from home.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The dire situation is metastasizing across America. And the consequences are grave.
The writer, as a graduate student at UC Berkeley, founded the Jewish Student Union and co-founded the Israel Action Committee 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.He is working on a film documenting the subversion of the younger generation by J Street.