Guests from hell
Whoever heard of a Palestinian Solidarity Committee laying the welcome mat for Israel-supporters, opening its door to Zionists? "Open Hillel" is very, very, very, strange!
It would be guests from hell that demand the welcome mat, even as they convey a brittle dislike for the host and won’t put out the welcome mat when their turn comes. And they are banging on Hillel’s door.
Hillel, if you don’t know, is the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and the Jewish guests at the door are academic types that wince at everything Israel does or stands for. So for Hillel to adopt the motto, "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel” is tantamount to winding up the wincers.
“It alienates students critical of Israeli policies”, they protest. “It also brings ideology into an otherwise religious movement,” add the young Jewish adults for good measure.
They belong to Open Hillel, the latest group to latch onto the cause that confers prominence. Give Israeli policy a spanking and you open a hundred doors. Groupies drawn to the cause célèbre are thus bound to find Hillel rules irksome, especially when they block anti-Israel speakers at campus events. Hillel actually keeps a blacklist; it bars people and groups that:
1) Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized boundaries.
2) Delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel..
3) Support boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel.
It would be a combination of these factors that made Harvard’s Hillel chapter declare Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, persona non grata. After all, Burg’s sponsor was the local Palestinian Solidarity Committee, which blunders over all three red lines. Peter Beinart, for advocating a boycott of Israeli settlement products, is another to be declared persona non grata at Hillel events.
The lecturer, Judith Butler, for refuting the moral legitimacy of Zionism, also makes it on the blacklist.
Here is a rift crying for activists crying for a cause to call their own. Undergrad Jews at Swarthmore were on it in a flash. The Hillel chapter at the small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania cut the Gordian knot with the parent body and, issuing a liberal invitation, declared Open Hillel open for business. “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.”
As a ‘come one, come all’ declaration it reads better than the cavils which pepper the group’s protests. It also resounds beyond Hillel’s housekeeping rules, and is more than self-promoting pap – as indeed are all the statements under purview. We may thus not dismiss them until they have yielded up their few treasures.
College groupies are more than walking talking homilies about intolerance and consideration for different points of view. They might, if let free, illuminate the defining antics and strategy of more important players, even the global movement against Israel. Certainly Open Hillel should get more than a passing nod.
The arguments at large, in order from the particular to the universal, would be the following:
Is the parent Hillel being narrow-minded and stuffy?
Is the President and CEO, Eric Fingerhut, acting unfairly or unreasonably by laying down that “anti-Zionists will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances”?
Could he not allow ‘critics of Israeli policy’ through the door but still keep to the Hillel mission "to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world”?
Have ‘critics of Israeli policy’ a right to be let in Hillel’s door?
They say they would, but on past behaviour would critics open their door to defenders of Israel?
Are they really critics of Israel, or would Hillel be opening the door to something more: even a Trojan horse?
in that last question more than any other we should hunt, if not for the treasure, then for the key to unlock it. What exactly is a ‘critic of Israeli policy?’ Open Hillel groupies use the designation ad lib. Every other person in the world seems to be a critic of Israeli policy. There are even friendly critics, in the person of the US President or his peace-broking envoy.
Other critics are less friendly, for an example Europe’s policy supremo Catherine Ashton. The media and academia are chockfull of critics who seldom admit to being anything else. Boycott activists, for the most part, don’t pretend to be critics, and are proudly anti-Israel. Where does one draw the line? Critic of Israeli policy or activist against Israel: in what way are they alike and in what way different?
In their concern with Israel’s behaviour the two are alike. They are unlike in the behaviour that concerns them. Look at the demands each type makes. A critic of Israeli policy, by definition, will demand that Israel adopts different policy, or changes the way it implements policy. The activist against Israel demands that Israel gives in to Palestinian demands, even if that means – especially if that means – national suicide.
For example: no critic of Israeli policy would demand the right of return of Palestinian refugees, a transparent way to kill off the Jewish state. No critic would declare the ‘occupation’ to be the crux of the conflict, thus demanding that Jewish settlements be uprooted. It takes only a little reading to know that conflict raged long, long before Israel came to be an ‘occupier.’
And no critic of Israeli policy would demand the removal of the security barrier, when it is common knowledge that thousands of Israelis were murdered and maimed before the barrier was built. One or all together, these suicidal demands mark off the activist from the critic.
Back to Hillel, where Jewish undergrads want it to open the door to all and sundry, Israel boycotters and all. Activists, without even a ‘thank you’ will enter – plotters of Israel’s downfall, wagers of war by other means. For keeping the door closed is the President of Hillel being narrow-minded and stuffy?
Is he acting unfairly and unreasonably by sealing off Hillel from the enemy of six million Jews? And should he relent and let them in would it be consistent with Hillel’s mission, "to enrich the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people the world”?
Oh Jewish undergrads, how liberal are your sentiments, how open your hospitality; but how suicidal.
They also complained that Hillel’s motto to ‘stand with Israel’ “brings ideology into an otherwise religious movement.” And then they went and opened their own door to activists, people driven by ideology, people with an agenda. And what an agenda: the downfall of six million Jews, kith and kin of the undergrads.
Oh young Jewish adults, how considerate are your feelings for the enemy, how hospitable your thoughts; but how careless for the lives of your family.
The campus is not the most hospitable place for young Jewish adults and, over Israel Apartheid Week, it turns decidedly hostile. Hillel programs offer one place where an Israel-supporter can feel entirely comfortable. Of course not all college goers support Israel. Some like to hear Israel attacked. Well, are there not places and opportunities galore for that?
Why turn Hillel into more of the same? Every organization must have a purpose. The purpose of Hillel is to foster Jewish life on campus. Palestinian Solidarity Committees also have a purpose. They want to foster the Palestinian cause and attack Israel for hindering that cause, and nothing is wrong with that either.
But whoever heard of a Palestinian Solidarity Committee laying the welcome mat for Israel-supporters, opening its door to Zionists?
Oh Jewish undergrads, your door is open to all, but the guests who walk in will not return the favour – not unless you think like them.
Steve Apfel is director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book, 'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics' (2012) and a contributor to, "War by other means." (Israel Affairs, 2012). His articles and blogs are published in several foreign journals and his new work, 'Bilaam's Curse: The enemies of Zion' will be published by Hamilton Books this year
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