ZOA Dismayed: Major Jewish Groups Allow Anti-Israel Campus Programs To Remain Under Their Umbrella
January 24, 2007

AJCommittee, ADL, AIPAC, AISH HATORAH, JNF, Hillel, JCPA, Conference of Pres., Shusterman Foundation — All Voted Yes.

New York – At a time when Israel bashing and anti-Semitism on college campuses are reaching new heights, nine major Jewish groups that comprise the Steering Committee of the Israel On Campus Coalition (ICC) have unanimously voted not to address campus programming sponsored by ICC members that criticizes Israel without regard to fact and context, and that may actually incite hatred of Israel among college students. The Committee also unanimously voted that there was no “cause under the ICC’s membership criteria to remove [the Union of Progressive Zionists, an ICC group member] from the Coalition.” The Jewish groups on the Steering Committee who cast these votes are the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, Aish HaTorah, the Jewish National Fund, Hillel, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Shusterman Foundation. Many of these groups have, as part of their own mission, an agenda to fight incitement against Israel. Why then are they permitting this incitement against Israel to go unchallenged and even legitimized by allowing its sponsors to remain part of the pro-Israel umbrella called the ICC. And these harsh attacks by Jews against Israel have much greater credibility than harsh attacks against Israel by Arabs and are therefore more dangerous.

The ICC is a pro-Israel umbrella group whose mission is to “foster support for Israel on campus,” promote “Israel advocacy,” and “counter the worrisome rise of anti-Israel activities on college campuses.” In December 2006, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a member of the ICC, expressed concern that the Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ), another ICC member, has been sponsoring a program on campuses that harshly and falsely criticizes Israel for human rights abuses against the Palestinian Arabs. The UPZ-sponsored program — called “Breaking the Silence” — omits historical facts, provides no balance or context, and promotes outright falsehoods about Israel. The ZOA acknowledged the UPZ’s general right to promote this hateful program, but not as a member of the ICC, which was set up to build support for Israel and reduce anti-Israel intimidation and harassment on college campuses.

Examples identified by the American Jewish Congress from Breaking the Silence’s Web site demonstrate how the program demonizes and incites hatred of Israel. Israel is condemned for its alleged “violence and law-flouting.” The IDF is condemned for supposedly ordering its soldiers “to shoot to kill unarmed people without fear of reprimand.” Allegedly, Israeli soldiers “who stick to morality are the exceptional,” not the norm. And Jewish settlers purportedly “inflict the purest evil on their neighbors.”

Dr. Ilan Benjamin, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and an Israeli who served in the IDF, attended the program when it came to his campus. In a letter to the ICC, Professor Benjamin said that “the presentation was neither fair nor balanced, but was rather unabashedly anti-Israel.” According to Professor Benjamin, “there was almost no mention of why the Israeli Army is inside Arab towns. [The program’s speaker] dismissed the notion that security checkpoints prevent a large percentage of the suicide bombers, despite extensive data about this… . [S]tudents who attended the event did not get a crucial point of information necessary for a critical understanding of the conflict, namely, that Israel is in a state of war with a terrorist organization imbedded in civilian neighborhoods.”

Professor Benjamin recounted that “[d]uring the question period, some of us tried to raise issues which could bring a modicum of balance and accuracy to the discussion, but the speaker refused to answer these on the grounds that he did not come to discuss politics (?!).” To make matters worse, at the program’s conclusion, the speaker “encouraged the audience to think what they could do to ‘continue the resistance to “The Occupation” and bring the Israeli army to the international court of justice.'”

The program uses highly inflammatory photographs, including one of soldiers lounging near a young man who sits blindfolded and handcuffed. The program does not mention that Palestinian terrorists deliberately hide in civilian neighborhoods, providing a context for Israeli soldiers’ presence there. There is no reference to the fact that blindfolds and handcuffs are used so that suspected terrorists will not be able to identify the military bases to which they are brought, for the protection of the Israeli soldiers who are serving in the area. The program does not mention that Palestinian terrorists have already murdered almost 2000 Israelis and maimed 15,000 more. There is no reference to the fact that Israeli soldiers do not deliberately target noncombatants, and that more than any other army in the world, the Israeli army’s policy is one of restraint, committed to taking every possible measure to prevent harm to civilians. The program does not address the Palestinian Arab society’s culture of hatred against Jews and the State of Israel, which is promoted in its media, schools, camps and religious sermons.

Further evidence of the UPZ-sponsored program’s hostility toward Israel is that the program is frequently co-sponsored by such anti-Israel groups as Muslim Student Associations and Amnesty International. In addition, a number of anti-Israel websites have links to the “Breaking the Silence” website. Based on the program’s hostility and its omissions and inaccuracies, the ZOA urged the ICC to investigate whether this program supports the ICC’s mission. If it does not, then the ZOA contended that the program should no longer be sponsored or promoted by the UPZ if it wishes to remain part of the ICC. As a member of the ICC, the UPZ is being given credibility as supportive of Israel, when the program it sponsors shows the opposite.

Other ICC members echoed the ZOA’s concerns. In a letter to the ICC, the American Jewish Congress noted that the UPZ-sponsored program “contradicts [the ICC’s] mission statement and … does great harm to the cause of Israel.” Instead of speaking the truth, the program “brings one-sided condemnation of Israel, ignores the larger context of terrorism and … adds to the serious problem of anti-Israel prejudice on campuses.” The AJ Congress asked that the ICC “remove the AJ Congress as an affiliate of the ICC.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also raised concerns about the UPZ’s program. In a letter to the ICC, the Jewish National Fund expressed “deep concern and disappointment” about the UPZ’s campus program, stating that “UPZ used poor judgment” and “stained the reputation of all of our Jewish organizational partners.” StandWithUs voiced concerns, too, noting that the UPZ-sponsored program “distort[s] facts” with “anti-Israel rhetoric,” and “unqualified moral denunciations of Israel.” According to StandWithUs, it is “highly inappropriate for the ICC to be connected to a group that adds to the malicious accusations of alleged IDF abuses.”

Despite all these concerns about the factual distortions and omissions of the UPZ’s program, and about the anti-Israel climate such programming would encourage, the Steering Committee dodged the issues raised by the ZOA and echoed by fellow ICC members. According to a statement issued by the Steering Committee on January 22, 2007, the Committee unanimously voted not to “establish a mechanism to monitor campus programming of ICC member organizations,” and not to “revisit the ICC membership criteria and founding mission statement.” Also, UPZ could continue to sponsor this anti-Israel program and remain a part of the pro-Israel ICC. This refusal to act against this incitement was taken at a time when many university presidents, including those at Harvard, Berkeley, Michigan, and Rutgers, have publicly expressed deep concern about the increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on campus.

Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, expressed his surprise and disappointment in the Steering Committee’s decision: “Our own campus professionals have attended this UPZ-sponsored program, and there is nothing pro-Israel about it. In fact, our Campus Coordinators brought three former IDF soldiers to the event at Columbia University. All of these soldiers served in elite units, and one of them is now a student at Columbia Law School. Other IDF soldiers were also present at the event. All of these soldiers in the audience vehemently disagreed with the UPZ-sponsored speaker and tried to counter his presentation by sharing their own personal experiences. They were not given the opportunity to provide context and balance to his one-sided presentation, thus leaving the audience with the feeling that Israel is a ruthless and oppressive abuser of human rights, when nothing could be further from the truth.

“I myself have spoken with dozens of officers and soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, and know that the UPZ-sponsored program is promoting outright falsehoods. Like any democracy, Israel can make mistakes in seeking to protect its people from terrorists — particularly when many terrorists deliberately hide in civilian neighborhoods. But in Israel, when mistakes are made, soldiers are called to account for them. This essential fact, among many others, is missing from the UPZ-sponsored program. The program does nothing to support the ICC mission of building support for Israel on our campuses. Instead, it incites hatred of Israel, and inflames the already-existing anti-Israel sentiment that is a serious problem on many campuses. The ICC Steering Committee should have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the ICC’s mission is being fulfilled by its member groups. Part of the reason that the ICC was established in the first place was to fight against exactly this kind of anti-Israel propaganda promoted by Arab and other anti-Israel groups on campus. The Steering Committee took the easy way out and did nothing, which will not assist in promoting support for Israel on our campuses. In fact, the Steering Committee’s failure to establish any criteria for monitoring the campus programming of ICC member groups, and its failure to review its criteria for membership in the ICC, will permit groups like the UPZ to demonize Israel on campus and yet still disingenuously identify themselves as ICC members advocating on campus for Israel.

“We were told that as long as they support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state within secure and recognized borders, groups are welcome to be part of the ICC. This standard is hardly enough; it means that a group that meets this standard, but that also demonizes Israel through falsehoods, would be welcome as an ICC member.

“The American Jewish Committee, the ADL, AIPAC, Aish HaTorah, the Jewish National Fund, Hillel, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Shusterman Foundation are the members of the Steering Committee who unanimously voted to accept programming by ICC member groups that contradicts the ICC’s mission. They each owe the Jewish community an explanation for the basis of their votes. The United States Commission on Civil Rights, an independent bipartisan federal agency, recently recognized that anti-Semitism, including Israel-bashing, is a serious problem on our campuses. The Steering Committee’s vote will unfortunately do nothing to stem the problem.

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