Here’s a great quality video of my entire speaking appearance at University Friend’s Meeting in Seattle this past Monday night. I attended series of wonderful – and at times inspiring – events during my short stay in the Northwest and will be reporting on them in due course. In the meantime here’s a taste:
In my last post, I addressed Israel’s creeping annexation of Area C, a region that accounts for 60% of the West Bank and contains all the major Jewish “settlement blocs.” It’s a process that has systematically depopulated this area of its Palestinian residents through a militarily-managed bureaucracy of home demolitions, forced evictions, revocation of residency rights while increasing widespread Jewish settlement throughout the region. Since 1967, the Palestinian population in Area C has dropped from as many as 320,000 to 56,000. During the same time, the Jewish population there has grown from 1,200 to 310,000.
In my post I addressed the political implications of these policies – but it’s just as crucial to remember that every home demolished, every residency revoked and every family evicted represents a devastating reality for real lives on the ground. That’s why it’s so important to support the organizations working valiantly on their behalf.
One of my favorites is Rebuilding Alliance, a coalition of groups and individuals around the world that partners with Israeli and Palestinian NGOs to help devastated Palestinian communities in Area C rebuild in the face of often overwhelming obstacles.
Rebuilding Alliance is truly a model of its kind, using a holistic approach to peace-building, combining community-directed rebuilding with grassroots and diplomatic advocacy. One of RA’s most important projects has focused on the Area C village of Al Aqaba, located in the Jordan Valley. Al Aqaba was used for decades as a military training zone, during which twelve villagers were killed and dozens wounded during live-fire training exercises. In 2003, the village won a landmark victory when the Israeli High Court ruled that the army camp at the entrance of the village had to relocate. By that time, however, 70% of the village’s original one thousand residents had already left, seeking safety and better living conditions.
In the hopes that these former residents could return to their homes, the Al Aqaba Village Council appealed to international organizations to help them plan for their future. Among the projects they sought to implement were a medical clinic and a new three-story building that housed a sewing cooperative and a kindergarten for the children of Al Aqaba whose families who had relocated to nearby villages. With the help of grant money, Rebuilding Alliance began construction of a new kindergarten in 2004 (see pic above). As soon as the building was erected however, the military issued demolition orders for it and most of the village.
Through RA’s advocacy, the American Embassy helped stop the bulldozers with two homes demolished. Now they are helping Al Aqaba to legally and diplomatically challenge the demolition orders as they push ahead with plans to rebuild the village. Through its “Rebuilding to Remain” project, it plans to build 30 affordable, colorful, eco-friendly homes and construction has already begun. Breaking ground for this project was a huge victory for Al Aqaba.
Still, like so many villages in Area C, the residents in Al Aqaba live under constant threat of demolition. The pretext for demolishing Palestinian buildings has been the lack of Israel-issued building permits, which are only attainable once a master-plan has been approved, and are virtually unattainable for Palestinians.
I had the pleasure of speaking at Rebuilding Alliance’s “Mirroring Hope” dinner in San Mateo, CA when I was in the Bay Area last week (see above) and can attest to the incredible creativity of this courageous organization. I have learned a great deal from the example and work of Founder/Executive Director Donna Baranski-Walker and RA staff person Morgan Bach and it’s truly been a honor for me to support their work.
I urge you to do the same – click here make a donation. Click here to see Rebuilding Alliance’s Palestine Crisis Map, which offers English language news reports of human rights violations and rebuilding efforts in Area C and throughout Israel/Palestine – and to receive alerts on the status of specific villages.
Every time a new new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is unveiled, diplomats and analysts will invariably urge the various players to summon the political courage to seize this latest “window of opportunity.” And sure enough – as I was reading an article on the latest revamping of the Arab Peace Plan, one Israeli leftist pundit was quoted tweeting:”"Historic opportunity for Israel. Will our government have the guts to seize it?”
As for me, I’m asking a different question: “Since Israel has all but annexed 60% of the West Bank through home demolitions, forced evictions, revocation of residency rights and unchecked construction of Jewish settlements, how could anyone think this government is even remotely interested in a viable two-state solution?”
How much longer does this have to continue until we are ready to admit the patently obvious intentions of Israel’s governments? Given the facts on the ground, the discussion of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank is beyond absurd. Israel has been inexorably settling Area C and East Jerusalem while simultaneously depopulating those regions of Palestinian residents for decades. By this point, this process has become nigh well complete. Now Israel’s newest government coalition includes a major party whose official platform calls to annex Area C. One prominent Israeli settler leader calls the current government “a wet dream.” Are we really, truly going to continue to talk about a two-state peace process with a straight face?
According to a 2011 EU research report, in 1967, between 200,000 and 320,000 Palestinians lived in what is today called Area C. But since that time, home demolitions and Israel’s prevention of new building has caused that number drop to 56,000. In a similar period, the Jewish population in Area C has grown from 1,200 to 310,000.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass has convincingly argued that the creation of “Palestinian ghettos” in Areas A and B “were always the plan” even well before the 1993 Oslo peace process that created these zones. According to Hass, when new coalition party member Naftali Bennett calls for annexing Area C, he is only “following the logic of every single Israeli government: maximize the territory, minimize the Arabs:”
According to Bennett, about 60 percent of the West Bank – a.k.a. Area C – is annexable. What’s important about Area C is not whether 50,000 Palestinians live there, as democratic, benevolent Bennett claims, while suggesting to naturalize them and grant them Israeli citizenship, or whether the number is around 150,000 (as my colleague Chaim Levinson reminded us earlier this week).
Don’t worry. Even if there are 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C and all of them agree to become citizens, the Israeli bureaucracy will find ways to embitter their lives (the way it does the lives of the Bedouin in the Negev), revoke their citizenship (the way it does the residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem) and leave them without the little share of their land they still have (the way it did to the Palestinian citizens of Israel within the 1948 borders).
This is why Bennett can allow himself to be munificent. The true story behind area C is that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living there today; the villages have not expanded in accordance with their natural population growth; the number of residents has not grown; the herders can no longer graze their flocks freely; many of the inhabitants lack access to water, electricity, school and medical clinics; Israel has not been taken to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for destroying the cisterns; there are no paved roads in and between villages…
As I have said a million times and will say another million times: Area C is a tremendous success of Israeli policy and its implementers, the army and the Civil Administration. It is part of a farsighted, well-executed, perfectly thought-out policy that has succeeded precisely in that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living in the area. Bennett is probably decent/honest enough to acknowledge the debt he owes to the previous generations of Israeli politicians and military officials who warmed the country up for his annexation plan, ensuring its acceptance would be as effortless as a knife cutting butter in the sun.
The long and short of it? If the international community is really interested in a just peace, it should stop trying to breathe life into a corpse of a peace process and hold Israel accountable for its ethnic cleansing/annexation of Area C. And at the same time, it would behoove us all to start exploring creative new solutions that would extend full civil and human rights to all who live on the land.
In this regard, I highly recommend this recent piece by journalist/blogger Mitchell Plitnick. Mitchell has long represented an important progressive voice on Israel/Palestine: consistently smart, well-informed and always underscored by an abiding political realism. Like so many of us, he has long clung to the paradigm of a two-state solution – but over the past year he has been openly exploring the compelling reasons why he believes that the door to this solution has now become irrevocably closed. In this recent article, he dares to explore out loud what a new one-state solution might possibly look like:
…In the end, Israelis will realize that the status quo can’t hold and they will have to find a way to give Palestinians their freedom and their rights. That can be done without losing the most basic elements of a Jewish homeland. But it will require abandoning the ethnocratic concept of the Jewish state that has characterized Israel since before it was Israel.
The state can still be a Jewish home, with a constitution that guarantees that any Jew fleeing anti-Semitism anywhere in the world can find a haven in Israel. It can be a state where Hebrew is still a national language and one that has a culture that draws heavily from Jewish roots, European, Middle Eastern and Iberian. It just can’t do these things exclusively. They will also have to apply equally to Palestinians.
It’s not such a leap. Palestinians would also be able to come to this reformed state to flee persecution. Arabic would also be a national language, as it officially is now. The culture of the state would reflect the Palestinian heritage as well as the Jewish one. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, would still be there, but there might also be memorials to the Palestinian villages that were destroyed. Palestinian refugees who wish to would have an opportunity to return gradually, through some bureaucratic process that both peoples would agree upon. Yes, that means the Jews will not be a majority, but a constitution would protect not only Jewish and Arab rights equally, but would ensure that the character of the state reflected both cultures.
That is important, and it is also the place where the vision of a secular, democratic state falls short. The biggest problem with that vision is that it ignores the strong sense of nationalism that exists among both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. As someone who has no use or liking for nationalism, I wish that were not the case, but wishing does not make it so. The future state cannot be a melting pot, a mere civic society, in the manner the United States strives to be. It must be a national home. Whatever the political formation may be, it must be reflective of the nations that have been created by Zionism among Jews and Palestinian nationalism among the Arabs of Palestine.
Obviously, this is a future that is not on the horizon. And it is clear that many people, probably most, would not be able to conceive that such a future is even possible. But the alternative for Israeli Jews will be the eventual total loss of any homeland in Eretz Yisrael. A state with democratic structures like Israel which deprives millions of people of human and civil rights is an inherent contradiction. A state with one set of laws for some people and another set for another group of people all under one sovereign is an apartheid state, and it is a thing the world no longer tolerates. Only Israel’s unique place as the state of the Jews, in the wake of the Holocaust has allowed that state of affairs to last this long.
Mitchell is certainly correct when he says that this future is not on the horizon as of yet. Soon enough, however, the world will see the patently apartheid nature of a state the privileges its Jewish citizens while warehousing Palestinians inside a “security” regime of walls and checkpoints. As this oppression become more undeniable, we’ll surely be hearing and reading similar visions to Mitchell’s. At present these ideas exist largely in the domain of academia, journalism and the activist community; might we dare to imagine that events on the ground will eventually cause them to be considered by the political elites?
As far as I’m concerned, that time cannot come soon enough.
I’ve just returned from an inspiring sojourn at the Jewish Voice for Peace National Members’ Meeting in Berkeley, CA (you can read more about the event here.) While I was there, I took the opportunity to film a few of my colleagues on the JVP Rabbinical Council voicing their support for the Open Hillel campaign (a recent and very important student-run initiative about which I blogged not too long ago.)
Here ‘em testify! From top to bottom, Rabbis Brian Walt, Lynn Gottlieb, David Mivasair, Margaret Holub, David Bauer and Alissa Wise:
“A People Without a Land,” is a feature-length documentary that challenges the conventional wisdom about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (It) grew out of our frustration with the narrowness and lack of depth that characterizes so many discussions about the conflict. We wanted to make a film that would both broaden the conversation and articulate a vision for a real and lasting solution. Unlike many films about Israel/Palestine, we do not limit our field of vision to Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A People Without a Land examines the questions that lie at the heart of the conflict: Why has the peace process failed? What does it mean that Israel is a Jewish State? What should happen to the millions of Palestinian refugees? How about the Palestinian citizens of Israel, or the West Bank settlers? We believe that by directly addressing these questions, we can jump-start a conversation that will ultimately lead to a just solution.
This project promises to be pretty special: among those interviewed are Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, Eitan Bronstein, founder of Zochrot, Middle East scholar Ghada Karmi and Neta Golan, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. It will also feature the music of klezmer great Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird as well as a score by Alan Sufrin of Stereo Sinai.
Click here to listen to a podcast interview I did with Just World Books last February.
In this podcast, Rabbi Brant Rosen, author of ‘Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity,’ shared his reflections on his book and how it has impacted his understanding of “what to do” with his beliefs and convictions as well as provided his insights about the effects of Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza flotilla incident, and other Israeli actions on both the views of young American Jews and the Arab Spring. He also offers his opinion on what President Obama should do in his second term about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I’ve just finished Chicago hip-hop poet Kevin Coval’s soon-to-be-released book, “Schtick” (Haymarket Books) – a collection of poems that takes aim and fires at the sensitive edge of every nerve ending in the American Jewish psyche. It’s a new take-no-prisoners Jewish classic.
Coval has long been known here in Chicago as one of our great local treasures. He’s probably best-known as the founder of “Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival,” which was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary of the same name. He’s also the author of numerous poetry collections, serves as Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, and offers youth writing workshops throughout Chicago and beyond.
While Coval has explored Jewish identity through his writing before, “Schtick” is his most extensive published collection of Jewish-themed poems thus far. It includes previously released poems such as “what i will tell my jewish kids” and “why i stopped going to shul” together with more recently written pieces – en masse, they serve to dissect the post-modern American Jewish experience in as devastating a fashion as you are ever likely to read.
Although I’m a longtime Kevin Coval fan, I will confess that there were more than few times in which I flinched at this unabashed, occasionally venomous assault on the hottest of Jewish hot buttons. I will also say without hesitation that these poems deserve to be read and discussed by the widest possible audience.
At heart, Coval’s work places him in long and venerable tradition of Jewish dissident writers – a legacy he very consciously celebrates. Indeed, this dissident tradition is palpable throughout virtually every poem in this collection. In “what will i tell my jewish kids,” for instance, he writes:
we are a bridge people. red sea parters. translators
between the warring. we see connections. the i in i
the i in thou. Buber taught us that or was it Haile Selassie
or Freud? and what was it Marx demanded, we live as Moses
bent and davening toward justice. a radical equity where everything is
sacred or nothing is. Einstein to unify the chaos.
Emma Goldman to arrange the pieces.
Though there will inevitably be those who find Coval’s writing to be the work of a “self-hating Jew” (he confronts this very issue in a poem entitled, you guessed it, “self-hating jew”), I’d suggest the poems in “Schtick” are quintessentially Jewish. Coval walks proudly in the “self-hating” Jewish steps of Abbie Hoffman, Philip Roth, Howard Zinn and Groucho Marx – a path trod by generations leading all the way back to the young Abraham, the Jewish upstart who one day grabbed a stick and smashed his father’s icons to shards.
As the title of his book implies, Coval’s counts the edgiest of the edgy Jewish comedians among his favorite iconoclasts. His clearest hero and spiritual ancestor is the great Lenny Bruce (“Lenny the Prophet!/Elijah, opening doors”). Coval also pays loving homage to Don Rickles, Sid Casear, Roseanne and Joan Rivers, with particular appreciation for the way they habitually skewer the goyishe power elite – and get away with it. (In “Don Rickles Roasts Ronald Reagan” Coval portrays Rickles as a sacrilegious Jewish court jester, peppering the poem with excerpts from his routine at Reagan’s Second Inaugural Ball.)
Of course, Coval finds equal inspiration from rappers, poets, freedom fighters and truth tellers as diverse as Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Allen Ginsburg, Fred Hampton and (in a choice certain to stick in many a Jewish craw) Louis Farrakhan. His target of choice is the American majority culture of power, privilege and empire – and the Jews who make their bed in it. He rails against racists of various shapes and sizes, including anti-Semitic icons Mel Gibson and Henry Ford as well as the recently resigned Pope Benedict (“the pope is a nazi/and this is the truth.”)
In poem after poem, he delves deeply into the adventures and follies of Jewish assimilation into the white American establishment – an act that he paints as the ultimate betrayal of our minority Jewish heritage. In one notable series, he explores this complex, often absurd process through poetic profiles of show biz figures Irving “White Christmas” Berlin, Al Jolson (“the confused horrible hope of this new country”) and Jennifer Grey (a third generation Jewish performer whose nose job successfully derailed her film career.)
His poem, “how the jews became white” – a meditation on the tragic events that unfolded during the Springfield race riots of 1908 – unpacks the most extreme example of Jewish “assimilation” imaginable. Among the more infamous moments during the riots occurred when Abraham Raymer, a poor Jewish delivery man, was accused of participating in the murder and lynching of of William Donnegan, an elderly, relatively wealthy (and intermarried) African-American man in front of his wife and neighbors:
Donnegan is not isaac
Donnegan is the lamb
abraham sacrifices to the white
g-d of america
slit throat and strung up
front lawn of a house they’d burn
the yiddisher lyncher
the jury of peers
the freshly born
After reading this poem, I couldn’t help but think that while the lynching of Leo Frank has entered deeply into Jewish mythic consciousness, the name Abraham Raymer remains utterly unknown to most American Jews. And that, of course, is precisely Coval’s point.
Coval’s forte has always been poems that seamlessly mix the personal with the political – and in the chapter entitled “the family business,” he explores Jewish identity politics through his own personal family history. While I doubt his family members will kvell at some of his revelations, his remembrances of his 1980s Bar Mitzvah (by turns mortifying, hilarious and heartbreaking), family seders and Thanksgiving dinners resonates with a deep truth and the kind of love that refuses to profane his memories with shallow nostalgia.
While American Jews of a certain generation will likely nod in recognition with many of his family reminiscences, Coval’s family poems manage to be both brilliantly universal and nakedly specific at the same time. He shines a particularly unflinching light on the painful dissonance he experienced growing up in an economically struggling Jewish family living in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. Among other things, these profoundly personal reflections go a long way to explain his own deep identification with the Jews as a “bridge people.”
The chapter entitled “all the pharaoh’s must fall” contains his most directly political pieces, most of them centering on the subject of Israel/Palestine. And for all of his deeply edgy poems, I have no doubt that it is from here that “Schtick” will almost certainly receive the most venomous reception from the Jewish establishment.
While Coval has long addressed the issue of Israel in his work, he took on these themes on in earnest in 2009, when he publicly declared himself to be “a Jewish-American man in solidarity with the Palestinian people.” In a widely read article for the Huffington Post, Coval wrote:
I am in solidarity with Israeli and American and all people who work and risk their lives and livelihood for justice. I am not restricted to working within the confines of the Jewish-American community. Justice and the resistance to imperialism is a global, human concern for all people down to struggle. For Jews, yes, but not Jews alone. For Palestinians, yes, but not Palestinians alone. It will take us all to push and demand governments and corporate interests to create fair, equitable living conditions. It will take all people to hold history accountable for the atrocities that occur.
Coval has expressed these convictions in numerous poems he has written since then, many of which are included in this latest collection. The poignant “explaining myself” is written as a plea for understanding to his father. The title poem of the chapter, a stirring call to action written in response to the Arab Spring, deserves to become a seder table staple. And in his final poem, appropriately entitled, “post-schtick,” Coval uses an attempted lynching of Palestinian youths by Israeli teenagers as a frame for understanding the sorrows of Jewish empire: “you don’t ask the mouth/from which the rope hangs/to explain the reasons/it’s being lynched.”
In “on becoming a man,” Coval recalls that before his Bar Mitzvah service began, his rabbi made him promise that he would not return to be confirmed. By standing so firmly on the third rail of Israel/Palestine, Coval is virtually ensuring that he will remain outside the proclaimed borders of the American Jewish establishment. No matter. In the meantime he continues to carve out an authentically Jewish place in the borderlands – a place where Jews have always made their most productive homes.
But make no mistake, Kevin Coval is not simply interested in tossing spitballs from the back of Hebrew school class. On the contrary, he’s knocking loudly at the door. His Jewish vision is carefully and mindfully cultivated, his grasp of Jewish cultural memory undeniable, his respect for his spiritual Jewish ancestors deep and palpably real. And he is among the leaders of an eloquent generation that seeks to find a genuinely Jewish voice to sound a universal message of liberation:
wake in this new day
we will all die soon
let us live while we have the chance while we have this day
to build and plot and devise
to create and make the world
this time for us
this time for all
this time the pharaohs must fall
Here’s a new Passover seder supplement that I’ve just written for Jewish Voice for Peace. Click here if you’d like a pdf to print out and read at you seder table next week.
As Jews, how do we respond when we hear the tragic news regularly coming out of Israel/Palestine? How do we respond to reports of checkpoints and walls, of home demolitions and evictions, of blockades and military incursions?
It might well be said that there are four very different children deep inside each of us, each reacting in his or her own characteristic way.
The Fearful Child is marked by the trauma of the Shoah and believes that to be a Jew means to be forever vulnerable. While he may be willing to accept that we live in an age of relative Jewish privilege and power, in his heart he feels that all of these freedoms could easily be taken away in the blink of an eye. To the Fearful Child, Israel represents Jewish empowerment – the only place in the world that can ensure the collective safety of the Jewish people.
The Bitter Child channels her Jewish fears into demonization of the other. This child chooses to view anti-Semitism as the most eternal and pernicious of all forms of hatred and considers all those “outside the tribe” to be real or potential enemies. She believes that Palestinians fundamentally despise Jews and will never tolerate their presence in the land – and that brute force is the only language they will ever understand.
The Silent Child is overwhelmed with the myriad of claims, histories, narratives and analyses that emerge from Israel/Palestine. While he dreams of a day in which both peoples will live in peace, he is unable to sift through all that he hears and determine how he might help bring that day about. At his most despairing moments, he doesn’t believe a just peace between these two peoples will ever be possible. And so he directs his Jewish conscience toward other causes and concerns – paralyzed by the “complexities” of this particular conflict.
The Courageous Child is willing to admit the painful truth that this historically persecuted people has now become a persecutor. This child understands and empathizes with the emotions of the other children all too well – in truth, she still experiences them from time to time. In the end, however, the Courageous Child refuses to live a life defined by immobilized by fear, bitterness or complacency. She understands it is her sacred duty to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed, particularly when she herself is implicated in that oppression.
At one time or another we have heard within ourselves the voices of any or all of these children.
How will we respond to them?
In honor of Passover, I’d like to share an excerpt from article I’ve recently finished that attempts to articulate a Jewish Theology of Liberation. The longer piece will hopefully be published soon – in the meantime, I offer this snippet to you as “food for thought” for your seder table. All the best for a liberating Pesach!
The Exodus is, of course, the sacred liberation story par excellence, in which God hearkens to the cry of the persecuted, rebukes the oppressor Pharaoh and frees the enslaved. While this narrative is clearly presented within a particularist context (God hearkens to the cry of God’s oppressed people), it has historically resonated with universal power. As the social and political scientist Michael Walzer has observed, a myriad of liberation movements have been indelibly marked with Exodus consciousness throughout the course of Western civilization.
On the most basic level, then, a Jewish theology of liberation must necessarily view the Exodus as both a particular narrative of a certain people as well as a universal narrative that encompasses all humanity. The oppression of the Jewish people must be understood as inseparable from the oppression of all peoples – likewise the liberation of the Jewish people must be inextricably linked to the liberation of all peoples. While the historical events may differ in the details, they are all bound by a common sacred truth: the voice of the God of Liberation calls out in every language and in every generation to demand the liberation of the oppressed.
However, if we read the Exodus story honestly and unflinchingly, we must be ready to admit the presence of another, darker voice present in this narrative. The Exodus does not only describe the liberation of an oppressed people from bondage – it also contains the story of a journey toward and entrance into a “Promised Land” inhabited by other peoples – indigenous inhabitants whom the Israelites are commanded to dislodge and exterminate without pity.
As difficult as it may be to read morally repugnant passages such as these in one’s “sacred” text, it is even more unsettling when we consider that these imperatives are deeply embedded within our cherished liberation narrative. In a sense, the “Exodus” is only the first half of a much longer story – a saga that begins with the Israelites exit from Egypt (Exodus) and ends with their entrance in Canaan (Eisodus). As the narrative would have it, we cannot have the Exodus without God’s promise of the land – and this promise cannot be fulfilled without the Israelites obedience to a commandment that demands nothing less than ethnic cleansing and even extermination.
Last November, Harvard’s Progressive Jewish Alliance prepared to sponsor “Jewish Voices Against the Occupation.” One week before it was set to take place at Harvard Hillel, Hillel decided to pull the plug on the program. Why? Because Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee was a co-sponsor.
In defense of its position, Harvard Hillel cited the guidelines of Hillel International that state Hillel organizations “will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers” that support the “boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the state of Israel.” And since the Harvard PSC promotes boycott, divestment and sanctions, this was enough for Hillel to kibosh a program sponsored by a Jewish student group.
If this sounds vaguely like deja vu to you, that’s because back in March 2011, Brandeis University Hillel refused to allow student chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace to affiliate under its umbrella, citing the very same guidelines. Then senior Lev Hirschorn commented at the time:
We feel like we deserve a seat at the Jewish communal table, but there is a sense that dissent on the question of Israel is not really acceptable.
As open debate and discussion have been indelible aspects of Jewish culture from time immemorial these attempts at muzzling students’ voices are particularly egregious. Hillel International’s guidelines (which are not obligatory for local Hillels) essentially ensure that there will be no honest and open Jewish conversations about Israel on campuses across the country. They will most certainly exclude growing Jewish student groups such as JVP – and they will also prevent Hillels from inviting co-sponsorship or dialogue with Palestinians, since almost all Palestinian campus groups support BDS.
Trust me on this: this has everything to do with the Jewish establishment’s fear of letting young Jews think for themselves on the subject of Israel. Not convinced? Just read this recent piece in the Washington Jewish Week, in which Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt (chairperson of the Jewish Federations of North America Rabbinical Council) offered up this choice observation:
I think it is important to begin to help prepare our children for what they are going to encounter on college campuses in regard to pro-Palestinian groups, the anti-Israel groups on Israel and radical fringe groups like Jewish Voices for Peace.
These are not J Street. Our kids are relatively sheltered, and they go to college and are confronted with hostility and misinformation. I want them to be equipped with the knowledge and understanding of the historical justification for the existence of the state of Israel.
Well that certainly says it all. We need to protect our poor, vulnerable, non-critically thinking young people from Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups that advocate for the rights of Palestinians. Since we can’t trust college students to think for themselves, we must “equip” them with what we deem to be the acceptable historical Jewish opinions on Israel. This profoundly patronizing, pseudo mind-controlling approach to Jewish outreach explains why the Jewish establishment is fast making itself irrelevant to young people – and why it feels compelled to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars yearly to send college students on all expenses paid Birthright junkets and free trips to the National AIPAC Convention.
Please join me in advocating for a Jewish student community that respects a plurality of Jewish student voices on Israel/Palestine. Please sign this petition by Open Hillel, a coalition of students that seek to change the “standards of partnership” in Hillel International’s guidelines and encourages local campus Hillels to adopt policies that “allow for free discourse on all subjects within the Hillel community.”
From the Open Hillel website:
We believe deeply in the ideal, expressed in Hillel International’s mission statement, of a vibrant, pluralistic Jewish community on campus, in which all people, regardless of their religious observance, past Jewish experience, or personal beliefs, are welcome. In many ways, Hillel has been remarkably successful at fostering such a pluralistic and inclusive community, bringing together students from different backgrounds to learn from and support one another, as well as to openly debate and discuss their differing views. We believe that this pluralism should be extended to the subject of Israel, and that no Jewish group should be excluded from the community for its political views.
In addition, we believe that inter-community dialogue and free discourse, even on difficult subjects, is essential in the context of an educational institution and a democratic society. Open discussion and debate is a Jewish value, and we are proud of our culture’s long tradition of encouraging the expression of multiple, even contradictory, views and arguments. However, Hillel International’s current guidelines encourage Jewish students to avoid seriously engaging with Palestinian students or other students on campus with differing views on Israel-Palestine. This is detrimental to the goal of encouraging mutual understanding, cooperation, and peace. Thus, we believe it is essential that Hillel-affiliated groups be able to partner with other campus groups in order to share perspectives, cooperate in those areas where we agree, and respectfully debate in those areas where we disagree.
Sure doesn’t sound like the words of “sheltered,” “unequipped” young people to me…