ZOA Criticizes Hillel’s Hosting Anti-Israel Program Falsely Depicting Israel as Human Rights Abuser
March 11, 2008

Dershowitz and Sharansky:
Israel Has Best Human Rights Record


The Zionist Organization of America was appalled to learn that from March 1-16, 2008, the Hillel at Harvard University will be hosting an anti-Israel program called “Breaking the Silence,” a traveling exhibit of over 100 photographs and videos depicting isolated harsh acts of Israeli soldiers toward Palestinians.  Hillel has hosted these types of programs and speakers on other campuses, too.  The Harvard Hillel is one of many hundreds of chapters of the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, Hillel: The Foundation for Campus Jewish Life — Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center.  Hillel’s stated mission is to build Jewish life and support for Israel, and fight anti-Israel propaganda.  The Harvard Hillel’s misguided decision to host this anti-Israel program is contrary to Hillel’s mission because it legitimizes and supports the inaccurate and unfair portrayal of Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as cruel, ruthless and oppressive, blackening Israel’s image with misinformation.  The media and the rest of the world already do it.  Hillel should not be adding to it.  By recounting the experiences of a few members of the IDF, the Harvard Hillel-hosted program falsely suggests that these experiences reflect the culture of the IDF, rather than isolated aberrations of an army and a country dedicated to protecting human rights.
In his book, The Case for Democracy, internationally renowned human rights activist Natan Sharansky described “Israel’s willingness to endanger the lives of its own soldiers in order to save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian civilians.  Indeed, Israeli soldiers died to save innocent Palestinian lives.”  According to Sharansky, such actions on Israel’s part justify the observation of noted legal expert and Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz that “no country in history ever complied with a higher standard of human rights.”
The exhibit at the Harvard Hillel suggests that the opposite is true.  Using highly inflammatory photographs, the exhibit creates the erroneous perception that Israel is a brutal occupier that represses Palestinian Arabs.  The exhibit fails to provide any historical fact, balance or context. 

The omissions are glaring.  Breaking the Silence does not mention the fact that Israel would have no reason to take military action if its citizens were not under the constant threat of terrorism.  The program does not mention the fact that Palestinian terrorists have already murdered almost 2000 Israelis and maimed 15,000 more.  The program does not mention the fact that unlike the Palestinian terrorists who deliberately seek to kill Israeli civilians, IDF soldiers do not deliberately target noncombatants, and that more than other army in the world, the Israeli army’s policy is one of extraordinary restraint, committed to taking every possible measure to prevent harm to Palestinian Arab civilians.  For example, when the IDF responded to a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks against Jewish Israelis in the spring of 2002, soldiers decided to go house to house in Jenin to find the terrorists, rather than bomb the area as part of a full-scale attack, in order to avoid harming the Palestinian Arab civilian population as much as possible.  Israel’s army thus risked the lives of its own soldiers in order to protect Palestinian Arab lives.  In fact, many Israeli soldiers died because of Israel’s effort to safeguard these civilians.

The exhibit at the Harvard Hillel does not acknowledge such facts about Israel.  Nor does it mention the fact that Palestinian terrorists hide in civilian neighborhoods, providing the reason for IDF soldiers’ presence there.  The exhibit does not make any mention of the Palestinian Arab society’s culture of hatred against Jews and the State of Israel, which is promoted in their media, schools, camps, and religious sermons.  The exhibit also fails to inform the audience that like the armed forces of any country, Israel’s armed forces can make mistakes in trying to protect its people, but that in Israel, soldiers are called to account for those mistakes.  Those who visit the exhibit at the Harvard Hillel are thus presented with information about the conflict in the Middle East that is completely distorted and factually inaccurate.

Hillel Displays Hypocrisy in Latest Fundraising Letter

In its latest fundraising letter, signed by its Chairman, Edgar M. Bronfman, Hillel asks for financial contributions to fight exactly the kind of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel programming that is being hosted by the Hillel at Harvard.  Here are some quotes from a brand-new Hillel fundraising letter that demonstrate the hypocrisy that Hillel is engaging in — hosting anti-Israel programs that demonize Israel and may diminish Jewish students’ connection to their heritage and to Israel, yet stating that Hillel will be fighting the very types of programs they are hosting:

  • “Your gift now will help us . . . prepare articulate ambassadors for Israel who can best defend against propaganda and convey a positive image of the Jewish state” (emphasis added).   

  • “With anti-Israel propaganda and misinformation pervasive on college campuses, many students think it’s better to shy away from their heritage — or turn their back on Jewish life completely.  Your gift to Hillel can engage and inspire these young Jews.”

  • “. . . [W]e can help [Jewish students] stand up to those who spread vicious anti-Israel . . . propaganda.”

  • “Your gift now will help us . . . organize protests and forums on campuses and student delegations to meet with university leadership when anti-Semitic and anti-Israel actions are initiated.”

  • “Your contribution . . . will help Hillel engage Jewish students so they understand the meaning and value that come with being Jewish — and become advocates for Israeli and Jewish culture.” 

  • “. . . Jewish college students urgently need experiences that will bring them closer to their heritage — not misinformation and obstacles that encourage them to turn their backs on Jewish life!” 

  • “Your gift now will help us . . . conduct unbiased symposiums so students have the knowledge and skills they need to understand the complex issues surrounding the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” 

  • “It’s no surprise . . . eight out of every ten Jewish college students do not feel a strong emotional attachment to Israel or the global Jewish community.” 

Hillel’s fundraising letter does not mention the fact that it is hosting anti-Israel programs like Breaking the Silence, which promote the opposite of their stated goals in the fundraising letter.  Perhaps it is because Hillel knows that donors who want to build college students’ Jewish identity and love for Israel would not support Hillel if they knew that Hillel was hosting programs that tarnish the image of Israel with false and misleading information. 
According to The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s daily student newspaper, Harvard Hillel justified its decision to host Breaking the Silence because it “will facilitate discussion.”  The Harvard Hillel President said, “We thought it was important that it be contextualized in a Jewish setting.”  
Morton A. Klein, ZOA National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, discredited these contentions:  “We appreciate that Hillel does some fine work — providing kosher food to students, holding synagogue services, providing a meeting place for Jewish students, and hosts other worthwhile programs and lectures.  But to facilitate intelligent and well-reasoned discussion about Israel and the Middle East conflict, one must be given the facts.  This exhibit at the Harvard Hillel not only doesn’t present all the facts, but promotes an anti-Israel lie.  It focuses on isolated events and aberrations.  Those who see the exhibit will not be in any position to discuss the Middle East conflict knowledgeably and intelligently.  Instead, they will be left with one biased and false conclusion:  that Israelis and Israeli soldiers regularly and deliberately commit human rights violations against Palestinian Arabs, and that Israel is a brutal and callous oppressor.  Those who know the context and history of the conflict in the Middle East know that nothing could be further from the truth.

“There will be soldiers in the army of any country who will exceed the boundaries of conduct that normally guide their behavior, particularly when they face difficult circumstances.  Members of the armed forces in the U.S. have on occasion been accused of engaging in harsh treatment toward the enemy.  But no one would ever suggest that those isolated acts demonstrate an oppressive, human rights-violating American culture.  Such events involving the U.S. armed forces are aberrations, just as they are in Israel.  They do not reflect the culture of the armed services in either country, both of which are dedicated to protecting civilian life. 

“The following baseball analogy will illustrate how this exhibit distorts the truth.  Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees may be the greatest hitter in baseball today.  Yet if there was an exhibit about Rodriguez’s 2007 season that showed only his 10 worst days of the season, anyone viewing the exhibit would be left with the impression that Alex Rodriguez is a terrible baseball player.  We know that the truth is the exact opposite, and that this truth would be obvious if the exhibit showed all 162 games of the 2007 season.  The same is true with the exhibit at Harvard Hillel, which showcases isolated aberrations of the IDF’s overall conduct, and which are not remotely an accurate reflection of the general and usual conduct of Israel’s soldiers. 

“If the sponsors of the exhibit at the Harvard Hillel were truly concerned about putting an end to the harsh treatment that IDF soldiers sometimes engage in, then they should confront the root cause of the problem.  They should fight against the anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian Arab society, and its promotion of violence toward and hatred of Jews and Israel.  They should confront the refusal of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to arrest terrorists and their leaders, the PA’s refusal to outlaw terrorist groups, and its refusal to confiscate terrorists’ weapons, all of which is required under the signed Oslo agreements and the 2003 Roadmap peace plan.  If these fundamental problems didn’t continue to exist, and if Israel didn’t constantly face terrorism, suicide bombings, and rocket attacks, then there would be no need for IDF soldiers to take any military action to protect Israeli citizens.

“There are already far too many campus events that demonize and delegitimize Israel – and even call for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.  These events are typically sponsored and promoted by groups that hate Israel and/or Jews and are looking to incite that hatred in others.  We know that such events often lead to the intimidation of Jewish college students.  The fact that these events are now being hosted by Hillel is truly shocking and incomprehensible.

 “The Harvard Hillel is sponsoring an exhibit that encourages anti-Semitic hate and bigotry, and giving it credibility and legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve.  The exhibit will not build Jewish identity and love for Israel.  Jewish students may even feel threatened personally and distance themselves from their identity as Jews.  Some may even feel an unwarranted sense of shame about Israel and the brave soldiers who are committed to defending it, while doing all they can to protect Palestinian civilians under extremely difficult circumstances. 

“Donors to Hillel surely didn’t have this kind of programming in mind when they gave their support to the organization.  These supporters undoubtedly thought that by contributing to Hillel, they were nurturing Jewish life on college campuses and building love and support for Israel.  By hosting Breaking the Silence, the Harvard Hillel is doing exactly the opposite and inflaming anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment that is already a serious problem on many campuses.

 “The ZOA urges the Harvard Hillel to immediately cancel this exhibit.  The ZOA also urges the national office of Hillel in Washington, D.C. to issue a memorandum to all of its regional centers, campus foundations, and Hillel student organizations, making it clear that they should not be providing a forum for anti-Israel programs like Breaking the Silence.”

  • Center for Law & Justice
    We work to educate the American public and Congress about legal issues in order to advance the interests of Israel and the Jewish people.
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