Hillel Hosts Some Programs and Speakers that Harm Pro-Israel Agenda
March 14, 2008

By Morton A. Klein
National President, Zionist Organization of America

Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization, does some fine work.  But sometimes it contributes to the anti-Israel problems on campus that Hillel is purportedly committed to addressing, by hosting programs that unfairly blacken Israel’s image, and giving podiums to college leaders who won’t address Israel-bashing on their campuses.

A brand-new Hillel fundraising letter solicits support by proclaiming that Hillel is fighting “anti-Israel propaganda and misinformation” – causing Jewish students to “turn their backs on Jewish life” – and “conveying a positive image of the Jewish state.”

But some Hillel programs do the opposite.  Harvard University’s Hillel is hosting an exhibit called “Breaking the Silence,” which other Hillels have hosted.  It consists of over 100 photos and videos depicting isolated harsh acts of Israeli soldiers toward Palestinians.  Highlighting the experiences of a few members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the exhibit creates the false impression that Israeli soldiers regularly abuse innocent Palestinians.  It is the kind of hateful and factually inaccurate program that Hillel claims to be fighting against.

If an exhibit about Babe Ruth’s baseball career showed only his 100 worst games, one would be led to believe – erroneously – that Ruth was an awful player.  The same is true with Harvard Hillel’s exhibit, showcasing a fraction of Israelis’ conduct not remotely reflecting their typical behavior.

Indeed, the exhibit promotes an anti-Israel lie.  Human rights activist Natan Sharansky praised “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.”  Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz proclaimed, “No country in history ever complied with a higher standard of human rights.”

There is nothing about the Harvard Hillel exhibit that would bring Jewish students closer to their heritage or cultivate their love and advocacy for Israel – goals that Hillel says it is dedicated to achieving.  The exhibit could cause students to disassociate from their heritage, and feel shame or disgust about Israel, which is unwarranted and disastrous for our Jewish future.

This is not the only example of Hillel acting contrary to its mission to fight anti-Semitic and anti-Israel actions on campus.  This month, Hillel is sponsoring a Summit on promoting campus civility.  Surprisingly, it has made Chancellor Michael Drake of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) a keynote speaker – despite the fact that UCI has long been a hotbed of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism, and Drake has failed to address the problem or even acknowledge that it exists.

Hillel is well aware of UCI’s hostile environment:  That UCI regularly hosts anti-Israel and anti-Semitic events, including “Holocaust in the Holy Land” and “Israel: The 4th Reich.”  That routinely-invited speakers falsely accuse Jews of controlling the media and the government; absurdly compare Jews and Israel to Nazis; and justify suicide bombings and terrorism against Jewish Israelis.  That Jewish students have felt so threatened by this incitement that some have stopped wearing anything that would identify them as Jewish or Israel supporters, some haven’t participated in Jewish or pro-Israel activities, and some have feared for their safety.  At least two students have left UCI because they could no longer endure the hostility.  Yet Drake proclaims that “we have a very tolerant community.”

Members of the local community have condemned the Chancellor’s response – and Hillel’s complicity.  Approximately one year ago, Hillel sponsored a task force to investigate and report on anti-Semitism allegations at UCI.  When Hillel dropped its sponsorship, stating that the task force was “not integral to its mission,” the task force completed its work anyway.

It concluded that anti-Semitic acts at UCI “are real and well documented,” that “Jewish students have been harassed,” and that Chancellor Drake “has failed to exercise his moral authority as an educator and leader by abrogating his leadership responsibilities.”  Jewish students were advised to “consider enrolling elsewhere until tangible changes are made.”

The task force criticized Hillel for not having “effectively represented the Jewish Community or Jewish students at UCI.”  Hillel has “not held the University and its leadership accountable for its failure to support an environment conducive to all students.”

Hillel must change its course to achieve its goals of fighting anti-Israel propaganda and nurturing Jewish life on campus.  It cannot give a podium legitimizing university leaders like Chancellor Drake who haven’t exercised the requisite moral leadership in response to anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing.  And it cannot give legitimacy to programs distorting the truth about Israel, like the one at Harvard.

Hillel must also do what it has generally been reluctant to do:  Confront and challenge Israel-bashing on campus with leaflets, posters, ads and demonstrations.  Hillel must lead and organize students to expose falsehoods about Israel.  Anti-Israel students frequently come out in force to protest pro-Israel campus speakers.  In contrast, Hillel leaders tell us that they don’t want to offend Jewish students who agree with anti-Israel rhetoric.  Hillel must risk “offending” these students, so that the campus community will know the truth of the Arab war against Israel.

Hillel leaders have also said that Hillel’s only criterion for the programs it will sponsor is that they accept Israel’s right to exist.  What an absurdly low and counterproductive standard, suggesting that virtually anything goes, no matter how false or misleading.  If that is the standard, then Hillel will never accomplish its goals to build Jewish identity and students’ support and advocacy for Israel.

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