From: Morton A. Klein, National President, Zionist Organization of America
Dear Bernie Steinberg:
Our Shared Commitment: I was pleased to see you state, in the opening sentences of your open letter to me and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), that you and I and our respective organizations all share a love for Israel, and a passionate commitment to the security, well-being, and flourishing of Israel as a Jewish state. As you correctly noted, we all also share the understanding that
Carrying Out That Commitment: The question that we must address is, how does one carry out the all-important commitment to
At a very minimum, the ZOA and I believe that we are obligated to tell the truth about
In his book, The Case for Democracy, Sharansky described
Defaming Israel Is Contrary To Your Stated Commitment: Sadly, the defamatory anti-Israel Breaking the Silent (BtS) exhibit recently displayed at Harvard Hillel incites hatred of Israel, violates the Jewish law of not bearing false witness, and plays into the hands of Israels enemies. BtS promotes the propaganda falsehood that
I should not have to tell you why Breaking the Silence is false and wrong. The exhibit does not make clear that unlike Palestinian terrorists, who deliberately try to kill Israeli civilians, IDF soldiers do not deliberately target noncombatants. The exhibit does not make clear that Palestinian terrorists hide in civilian neighborhoods, providing the reason for IDF solders presence there. The exhibit does not make clear that more than any other army in the world, the Israeli armys policy is one of extraordinary restraint, committed to taking every possible measure to prevent harm to Palestinian Arab civilians. The BtS exhibit does not remotely reflect the typical behavior of
If an exhibit about Babe Ruths baseball career showed only his 100 worst games, one would be led to believe erroneously that Babe Ruth was an awful player. The same is true with Harvard Hillels exhibit, showcasing a fraction of Israelis conduct not remotely reflecting their typical behavior. If an exhibit showed a handful of actions by soldiers of any countrys armed forces in the world one could make them look bad.
By lending the credibility of Harvard Hillel to this libelous exhibit, you have unfortunately aided and abetted the enemies of
This is not the first time that Harvard Hillel has brought in a Breaking the Silence program. A few years ago, your Hillel distributed posters about the BtS soldiers who were coming to Harvard to demonize their compatriots. The poster praised the BtS soldiers as courageous heroes. Harvard Hillel has also brought in other harsh and vicious critics of
Falsehoods Against ZOA in Your Open Letter: Unfortunately, instead of immediately removing the offensive BtS exhibit, your response to ZOAs concerns was to write a counter-productive open letter filled with misconceptions and falsehoods, including personal attacks on me and the ZOA. Significantly, although you wrote your letter the day after we had a 45-minute telephone conversation, your letter ignores, misstates or misconstrues much of what we conveyed to one another during our discussion.
The facts correcting the falsehoods in your letter are set forth below:
Minimizing The Impact On Harvard Students And Others: Your letter minimizes the impact on Jewish students of Hillels misguided decision to host Breaking the Silence, by merely stating that some students have been inconvenienced by the presence of the hateful exhibit in the Hillel building. Repulsed and horrified would be more accurate. I received phone calls from students, faculty and concerned Jews who told me that they were heartsick and couldnt bear to walk into Harvard Hillel because of the presence of the exhibit. One student told me how upset he was because he had to conduct his prayers at Hillel surrounded by these hateful images.
The impact of Harvard Hillels display has been magnified many times over, as Harvard Hillels hosting of the BtS exhibit also encouraged Hillels throughout the country to do the same.
Moreover, your argument that the BtS anti-Israel event at Harvard Hillel would have gone away quietly and without much notice if ZOA had not spoken up is simply fallacious. Remember I was called by journalists and others before I ever heard of this exhibit. According to news articles about Harvard Hillels decision, there were others besides the
Although you have tried to minimize the number of people who would see the exhibit at the Hillel, a news report said that a crowd of almost 200 people attended the exhibit on its opening night alone.
Inaccurate Representations in International Hillels Fundraising Letter: Your letter also falsely asserts that the ZOA confused International Hillel with Harvard Hillel. I assure you that we were not confused at all. The ZOA relied on the clear representations of Hillels International Board of Governors Chairman, Mr. Edgar M. Bronfman, in a recent Hillel fundraising letter. Mr. Bronfmans letter asks for financial contributions to help Hillel fight exactly the kind of anti-Israel programming that is being hosted at Harvard Hillel that demonizes
On a related note, your letter falsely accuses ZOA of attacking International Hillel page after page in our press release. In fact, only approximately one-half page of ZOAs press release addressed International Hillel. Several of these lines were required to quote Mr. Bronfmans fund-raising letter, which led Hillels contributors to believe that their contributions will support pro-Israel programs.
Spurious Attempts To Justify Hosting The Anti-Israel BtS Exhibit: Your letters attempts to justify Harvard Hillels decision to host Breaking the Silence are disingenuous. Your claim that Harvard Hillel isnt sponsoring or supporting the event, but is simply providing a venue for it, is an illusory distinction with no substantive difference. The presence of the exhibit at Harvard Hillel puts Harvard Hillels imprimatur on the exhibit, and gives this anti-Israel exhibit legitimacy and credibility. In fact, the propagandists promoting Breaking the Silence are already telling people that Harvards hosting of BtS shows that your Hillel believes it is making a serious point that must be considered. Because of you, other Hillels and Jewish groups who may have been on the fence are now more likely to exhibit BtS as well.
Your suggestion that the damage of the BtS exhibit was mitigated by the presence of an IDF soldier who provided an explanation of the exhibit, and by critiques of the exhibit posted at the exhibit entrance, also provides no justification for displaying such a harmful, false portrayal of Israel and the IDF. The old adage that one picture is worth a thousand words certainly applies here. A soldiers presence at the exhibit and some written critiques at the entry-way pale in comparison to 100 powerful, distorted photographs and video testimonials. One soldier and some written criticism on a doorway cannot undo the damaging message that the exhibit conveys. The powerful distorted images will remain, with visitors remembering this exhibit was on Hillels walls.
Your argument that Harvard students wanted the exhibit is also feeble. From the phone calls received by ZOA, it is quite apparent that many Harvard students were opposed to and extremely distressed by Harvard Hillels display. Moreover, suppose some Harvard students wanted Harvard Hillel to display a pro-Ku Klux Klan exhibit which defamed blacks, would you go along with it? Of course not. An exhibit which defames
You also argued that Hillel is hosting this anti-Israel exhibit because otherwise it would have been held in a more prominent location on campus. This exhibit may be anti-Israel, you grudgingly concede, but at least if Hillel hosts it, it will be in a less public location and viewed by less people with some context. This rationale is badly flawed. Based on this logic, Harvard Hillel or any Hillel can be blackmailed again and again by anti-Israel groups. Such groups can get Hillels to host false and misleading anti-Israel programs simply by threatening that if you dont do it, they will place it in a more prominent location.
What You and Harvard Hillel Should Have Done, And Hopefully Will Do Next Time:
You and Harvard Hillel had other options, and had no need to give in and host this program. Since you claim that you work with others to get results and have developed networks with the press, with other student groups (including Muslims), with prominent professors, with the deans, with the President; with the Harvard Chaplains, then why didnt you utilize all these contacts to prevent this hateful false exhibit from being shown? Notably the alternate threatened location for the BtS exhibit was a Harvard campus building over which the Harvard administration has control. You and Harvard Hillel could have easily protested and made the case that BtS is hate speech and a propaganda lie which should not be supported by providing any venue, anywhere on campus. This would have provided a wonderful example to Harvards students that Jews will not tolerate
You and Harvard Hillel could have spearheaded a protest and demonstration of the exhibit. Your Hillel could have undertaken a public education campaign (by distributing literature, writing articles and letters, taking out ads in the school newspapers, and holding formal discussions) to inform the campus community as to why the exhibit was nothing more than hateful anti-Israel propaganda. Your Hillel also could have hosted a truthful counter-exhibit, with photos and testimonials that would have given context to the conflict in the
And ZOA would have been happy to help with any efforts to support
More False Statements Against Me and ZOA:
The criticisms in your letter of me and ZOA were long on hyperbole and emotion and short on fact and logic.
For instance, your letters disparaging comment suggesting that ZOA exists in some ivory tower (the truth from a skyscraper in
As for your complaint that I made no attempt to have a conversation with you or any representative of Harvard Hillel ahead of time to ask the simple question: Whats going on? You would have had an opportunity to learn something about our thinking.: I didnt contact you before you decided to hang 100 anti-Israel pictures at Harvard Hillel for 16 days because I was unaware of your decision. I had no idea that Harvard Hillel intended to display an anti-Israel exhibit until the exhibit was already hanging on Hillels walls. In short, it was too late for a preemptive conversation. If, in the future, you would kindly advise me and ZOA prior to displaying offensive, defamatory exhibits at Harvard Hillel, I would be happy to speak with you prior to such damage being done.
Likewise, your contention that I didnt know the facts surrounding your decision is simply false. You and I discussed the rationale for Harvard Hillels decision well before you wrote your open letter attacking me and ZOA. During our conversation, I explained to you that I became aware of your rationale for hosting the BtS exhibit from journalists who called me and who had already decided to write about it, from students and a Harvard faculty member, and from a donor who called me to complain about your decision. These sources accurately explained to me your reasoning for your mistaken decision. When the
In addition, your letters statement that the
ZOAs Advocacy For
Since you profess not to know much about the ZOAs mission, I am proud to tell you that we have an illustrious history of garnering support for the creation of the Jewish state of
We have been at the forefront of fighting anti-Israel actions on campus. The
The reaction that we have received in response to our criticism of Harvard Hillel has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. People have expressed their shock and disbelief that a campus Hillel would ever consider hosting this anti-Israel event, and I know that many of them have contacted you personally to express their views. ZOA has received numerous calls to our
Harvard Hillel has done damage that cannot yet be calculated. We hope ZOAs efforts will make others think twice before hosting such programs. You should be building student support for Harvard Hillel by running programs that fulfill your mission not by spending time criticizing a respected national pro-Israel organization that has raised legitimate questions about the kinds of programs you are hosting. If our criticism has caused Harvard Hillel embarrassment and discomfort, the responsibility lies with you and your program, not the messenger. As President Harry Truman once said, they say I give em hell, but I simply tell the truth, and they think its hell.
ZOAs intention has not been to upset anyone. But it is the mission of the
The ZOA will continue to speak out where
I look forward to working together with you in the future to fight against