Harvard Crimson: Hillel Exhibit Draws National Criticism
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March 19, 2008


Hillel Exhibit Draws National Criticism

Harvard Crimson, Published On Monday, March 10, 2008  2:42 AM








 


The ongoing controversy fueled by the opening of an Israeli soldiers’ photo exhibit last week at Harvard Hillel has prompted attention from national Jewish organizations beyond Harvard’s Jewish community.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he has asked leaders of Hillel—the national umbrella organization for Harvard and more than 500 other colleges and universities—to issue a statement condemning the Harvard chapter for “promoting programs and material that don’t promote love and respect for Israel.”

But Hillel Senior Communications Associate Danielle Freni said she had no knowledge of Klein urging Hillel to issue such a statement.

“Breaking the Silence”—a traveling exhibit of over 100 photographs and videos testimonials curated by former Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers—drew a crowd of nearly 200 on its opening night on March 1. Critics have said the exhibit portrays only the extremes of military life—such as a picture of an IDF soldier smiling in front of several corpses—and offers little context.

“By hosting this exhibit, Harvard Hillel only promotes enmity and hatred towards Israel and gives legitimacy to these sentiments by stamping its approval on the biased, distorted collage of pictures,” said Klein.

But Franklin M. Fisher—an MIT economics professor and chair of Americans for Peace Now, which advocates for peace in the Middle East and sponsors “Breaking the Silence”—said he disagreed with Klein’s view. Fisher said the exhibit does not constitute criticism of Israel, adding that “not all criticism of Israel is hostile.”

The Union of Progressive Zionists—a national network of Jewish student activists—tries to provide a progressive voice to debates about Israel. “We can’t let people who have money dictate if we’re going to talk about this,” said the network’s director Tamara Shapiro. “If we can’t talk about what’s broken, we’re not going to be able to change things and move forward.”

Harvard Hillel President Sarah B. Joselow ’10—who is also a Crimson design editor—said that some Harvard Hillel donors have voiced concerns about the exhibit.

But Joselow added the donors are more understanding when they hear that the exhibit was originally slated to be held at CGIS-South but was moved to Hillel to provide a “Jewish context” for the controversial content.

Though Hillel is holding the exhibit in its building, the Harvard Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA)—an “associated group” of Harvard Hillel—is acting as the exhibit’s “sponsor” on campus, according to former PJA co-chair Seth R. Flaxman ’08.

“This is our affiliated group,” said Gabriel M. Scheinmann ’08, Harvard Hillel student development chair. “We’ll let them use the space, but we’re not going to endorse or sponsor it, and we’re making that clear,”

But Klein acknowledged that it would be “difficult for any student to distinguish between hosting and sponsoring the pictures posted on [Harvard] Hillel’s walls.”

Joselow said she expects Hillel to be supportive of the Harvard chapter’s attempts to encourage dialogue within the Jewish community.

“We cannot look the other way,” Fisher said of current dialogue on IDF activities. “We cannot be silent.”

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