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December 26, 2014 11:32 am

Hillel President Eric Fingerhut Assails ‘Organized, Global Effort to Delegitimize Israel’ on Campus (INTERVIEW)

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Jewish students at New York University countering "Students for Justice in Palestine" by highlighting the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Muslim countries. Photo: Twitter.

2014 is likely to be remembered as an annus horribilis for pro-Israel activists on university campuses across the United States.

According to a report by the Anti-Defamation League, there were more than 75 anti-Israel events held on campuses during the fall alone. Altogether, the ADL said, campus protests against Israel surged by 114 percent compared with 2013. Much of the vitriol was directed at Israel’s war on Hamas terrorists in Gaza over the summer, with the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel alone actively being promoted to students as the best vehicle to  express their loathing of the Jewish state.

“This academic year we have seen an alarming uptick in anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitic behavior on campuses across the country, primarily fueled by student and faculty BDS activists,” Tammi Benjamin of the AMCHA Initiative, an advocacy group combating anti-Semitism on campus, told The Algemeiner. “What’s different now are the activists’ open calls for the elimination of the Jewish state, and their attempts to delegitimize and bully into silence anyone who stands up for Israel. As a result, Jewish students who identify with the Jewish state are facing an unprecedented wave of harassment and hostility.”

At the center of this fray is Eric Fingerhut, the jovial and softly-spoken President and CEO of the student Hillel organization, which has a presence at more than 550 campuses around the country. In a December 22nd letter to supporters of the organization, Fingerhut noted that “we faced the most organized campaign to demonize Israel and attack pro-Israel students we have ever seen,” before detailing Hillel’s response. That effort involved assembling information and talking points for student activists, conducting training sessions for campus professionals, and partnering with an array of pro-Israel organizations, such as the Israel on Campus Coalition and AIPAC, to counter the demonizing narrative about Israel being pushed by the BDS camp.

“There is an organized, funded global effort to delegitimize Israel, and one of its main focuses is the college campus,” Fingerhut told The Algemeiner this week. “They’ve gone to colleges because they’ve found a sympathetic ear from too many faculty members as well as political activists – I always say that you get ten bucks for every dollar you spend on campus when you attack Israel.”

The scale of the challenge has not left Fingerhut jaded, however. “It would be a mistake to judge 2014 in isolation,” Fingerhut said. “We have relationships with faculty and student leaders, and we are in a position to lead the fight.”

Part of the problem, according to Fingerhut, is that many Jewish students face a dilemma: they want to be involved in “progressive” causes, yet they are also reluctant to fall in with the crowd by abandoning their support for Israel. “Not every progressive movement is anti-Israel, but this is a trend that has been observed on various campuses. The idea that a Jewish student wanting to be involved in a progressive movement will be ostracized for pro-Israel views is something that we cannot allow to happen.”

Asked about which campuses are the most hostile to Jewish students, Fingerhut didn’t want to “name names,” but he did point to “smaller liberal arts colleges” as a distinct problem. “The disciplines most heavily represented there tend to be most receptive to the anti-Israel message,” he said. Even then, though, generalizations are hard to make; liberal arts institutions in New England are more amenable to BDS propaganda than are their equivalents in the south, Fingerhut observed.

The campus obsession with Israel involves, said Fingerhut, “an unhealthy dose of anti-Semitism.” A related factor is that the most urgent human rights causes in the world today – for example, the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East, or the entrapment of migrant workers in Arab Gulf countries into master-slave relationships with their employers – often do not have a “well-funded external force” to shape and guide them, as the Palestinian solidarity campaign does.

As 2015 beckons, Fingerhut does see some cause for optimism. Having spent much of 2014 mired in the controversy over the “Open Hillel” movement – formed by radical Jewish activists who disdain Hillel’s official policy of not hosting BDS activists and other anti-Semitic groups in debates about Israel – Fingerhut was heartened by a recent op-ed written by Holly Bicerano, a former Open Hillel activist, in which she decried the group’s founders as liars.

“Many Open Hillel leaders have no problem with advocating exclusion and alienation within Open Hillel, even as they preach the virtue of inclusiveness to the Jewish community,” Bicerano wrote. “While demanding that the pro-Israel community tolerate pro-BDS groups that they find offensive, many Open Hillel leaders are intolerant of pro-Israel voices that they dislike.”

“I am pleased to see the real agenda of those organizing Open Hillel being exposed,” said Fingerhut. “I feel badly for the other students who didn’t share their agenda, but merely supported open dialogue, being misled by the Open Hillel leadership.”

There are no guarantees that 2015 will be an improvement on this year, and there is every reason to fear that the situation will get worse. Nonetheless, Fingerhut recognizes both the nature of the campus war over Israel, and the crying need to equip students with the knowledge and the confidence to strike back. As Fingerhut argues, anti-Israel sentiment on campus is hardly new. Now, however, it directly impacts the welfare of Jewish students, many of whom have faced harassment and even violence from groups like “Students for Justice in Palestine.” Curbing those excesses, and compelling university authorities to take action against anti-Semitic agitation, is certain to be the most formidable test that Hillel faces going forward.

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  • Reid Friedson

    I am interested in fearlessly organizing for Israel and Hillel on college campuses and online. I am an expert organizer, public educator, lobbyist, and social media director. I was an ACLU public educator on Capitol Hill and an AIPAC terrorism analyst. Contact:

    Reid Friedson
    Professor & Consultant

  • TheAZCowBoy

    Sorry ZioNazi Pals…

    You have deligtimized Israel yourselves with your murderous war addicted ways.

    08/2008 and 07-08/2014 ‘Will live in infamy’ for the rest of my dayze on this plnet!

    Never again will you be referred to as the ‘Eternal Victims.’

  • Janet Sterman

    Finally someone leading ADL with some cojones! Keep it up!

  • The problem is the same in most countries. Britain, France, Holland, USA etc have allowed mass Islamic immigration. The result is that this has become the big spread of Jew hatred in most universities in the world.
    The Arab immigrants have become powerful in their numbers. The world is afraid of them. So, solution?
    Hate the Jews and Israel, and you will be safe.

  • victor Friedlander

    In the late 1960’s I was one of the more prominent members of the progressive student population in SUNY Binghamton. During that period there was no problem in exposing the reactionary policies of the so-called Palestinian liberation movement. Of course, at that time there was no problem comparing the relatively progressive policies of the State of Israel favorably relative to those of all but the most progressive parties of the Palestinian movement.

    Certainly no one in his right mind can call the current govt. in Israel progressive, on the other hand the Palestinian movements have if anything become today even more reactionary than they were in the 60’s,70’s, and 80’s. The Palestinian Authority in the occupied territories in the West Bank have made a distinguished contribution to revolutionary practice by avoiding all efforts to tamper with traditional Palestinian society. Indeed, in the West Bank it is hard to find any serious example of the formation of a progressive shadow government that can take over governance of the occupied territories upon establishment of a Palestinian state. Meanwhile the progressive governance of Gaza by Hamas appears to have accomplished the resurrection of ritual purity of relations between the sexes, the popularity of prayer services, and the sales of the Koran and other literature of that ilk in the “Strip”.

    It would be easier to support Israel if its present leadership was not trying so hard to establish a Jewish version of the Perfect State as imagined by Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, the efforts at state building by the leadership of the Palestinian movements are so patently regressive and so demonstrable feeble, that there should be no problem demonstrating the contradictions between support of the Palestinian program and progressive politics.

  • Rich Kirschenbaum

    Well gentlemen: Now the real face of the American Left is out there for all to see.
    I always wondered when they would turn on Israel just as they have other friends of America. Like the left of old, they hate America most of all.
    Were Alinsky and Terkel alive and not Jews they would be clamoring for Israel’s head along with their fellow commie scum.
    To my young co religionists, who yearn to be part of ‘progressives movements’: you’re getting in bed with know nothing Hamas huggers who have their cause and don’t care how many Israelis die. Their next project will likely be Holocaust denial.
    And while were at it, Nazi Germany was a manifestation of left wing worshipers of the super state, just like Communists. Same church, different pew.

  • judithg

    arab money and a psychopathic grifter in the WH have created a new paradigm of american life. fascist storm trooper mentality amongst college students is fast replacing the formerly sacrosant individual and subsuming it under the instructions of the mob. apparently, the mob moves entirely on instinct. and, of course, smell. which seems to be how they recognize each other.

  • Reuven

    Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department is vehemently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

  • steven L

    The Versailles court (France)using International law has rejected a Palestinian appeal (which they have never contested!!!) and concluded that Palestinians have no rights to any part of the Land of Israel.
    Procès historique : Israël est l’occupant légal de la « Cisjordanie », dit la cour d’appel de Versailles

    The only question left: why is the Western world DELIBERATELY ignoring the court decision, which was NEVER contested by the Palestinians!!!
    France “n’en deplaise” anyone is not known for being pro-Israel.

  • charlie johnson

    Our institutions of higher learning are little more than welfare deadbeats feeding off the taxpayers and due to the inflated ego of the leaders of these factories of propaganda ,We are falling behind Communist China for engineers. We produce managers who are not much aware of the technology of things under their management but more concerned about their own bank accounts. For engineers the big corporate leaders ask the politicians to allow more foreigners to come work here.The USA has a 17 trillion debt because the education system has evolved into a place to conduct experiments in social engineering under the guise of justice for the ignorant and stupid.

  • Tom Tuey

    Use the law .to fight anti-Semitisim….research the laws
    pertaing to threats, stalking, racisim, hate crimes,…
    demand of your schools and the local law enforcement
    to STOP lawlessness in your not
    allow the school’s authorities to stop or hinder your
    actions to protect yourself…..use fliers, newsletters,
    the local Jewish community, Jewish benefactors to
    the school….BDS the school….call their supporters..
    the people who the school with supplies..are they
    Jews??…talkto tthem about accounts due.past due
    balances…does the school discriminate in their
    buying many suppliers are Jews
    vs non Jewish suppliers… your schools council
    and make Your opinions known gently….use sit ins
    and parades to encourage acceptance of Jews into
    the schools community…volunteer to speak at a
    Christian church gathering….remind them of Jesus
    that he was a Jew…..volunteer for service at hospitals
    and social service centers…GET KNOWN by the
    community as just People…not different…just another
    Human Being…..God bless and protect!.SShalon!

  • J.J. Surbeck

    What is astonishing is that Hillel should wake up to the dire necessity to educate students (and their own staff) only now (“…assembling information and talking points for student activists, conducting training sessions for campus professionals, and partnering with an array of pro-Israel organizations…”). Where have they been all these years? Didn’t the worsening of the situation hint at the fact that they were not doing a satisfactory job in this respect? The problem is that they wanted to do it alone, and in many cases did not want to do anything, nor let other groups do the work needed on campuses because they view them as “their” territory. It is nice to hear Fingerhut saying that Hillel is now “partnering” with other pro-Israel organizations, but I have seen very little evidence of it accomplished in good faith, if at all. Unless local Hillels accept to be part of local councils that strategize together to fight back the pro-Palestinian scourge, Fingerhut’s statement will remain lofty words meant more to placate donors than really change anything in Hillel’s traditional M.O. (obviously a failing one as far as Israel hasbara is concerned).

  • Virgil

    There are several items that need to be addressed:

    1) The notion that being anti-Israel is “Progressive” does not stand up to scrutiny. The “anti-Israel” crew are actually reactionaries seeking to take the world backwards, either to the 1930s or the Seventh-Century depending on whether they are Muslim or not.

    2) The fight against the “anti-Israel” campaign needs to publicize that that campaign is funded, and often directed, by reactionaries, like Arabs who are filthy rich from oil. Campus activists are often on the payroll, even if they are formally “students”.

    3) The “Palestinian narrative” needs to be strongly refuted. See, for example, Unless pro-Israel activists are prepared to point out that the “Palestinian narrative” is nonsense, they’re fighting with one arm tied behind their backs.

    4) The fight against the anti-Israel campaign needs to label JVP and its various allies for what they are, namely anti-Semites seeking to promote racism, not just in the Middle East, but here in America as well. Use the term “racist” every time you refer to any of the participants in the campaign, EVEN IF THEY’RE MEMBERS OF THE FACULTY.

    5) Point out, repeatedly, that the anti-Israel campaign is allied with forces like the Islamic State and Iran that are actively involved in committing genocide against Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities.

    6) File charges every time a law is broken, every time someone is assaulted, every time civil rights are violated. And then follow up by suing the bastards for millions.

    These tactics will ultimately drive the campaign onto the rocks.

  • RobiMac

    I think that Mr. Fingerhut needs to sit down and shut up.

    You know nothing, John Snow.

  • doubleblack4

    A few pieces of bacon strategically placed around campus should help solve the problem. Even just using bacon fat which wouldn’t have to be removed should do the job. Use tiny, tiny quantities.

  • Allan Koven

    Anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Israel hatred is spreading like a cancer all over the world. Unfortunately, the so-called Progressives lead the cause. Jewish liberals have taken to self-hatred and have formed alliances with JStreet, Israel Fund, B’Shelem and now open Hillel. The problem is that when the hatred of Jews flies in their faces they will be like the Jews of Europe in 1939 (It could never happen to us) and they will act surprised and dismayed that their fellow travelers could turn on them like they do on Israel. But where will they flee to. History left the Jews of Europe one choice and that is the country many around the world are trying to destroy. Go ahead rationalize why you are the way you are. It will not help when the axe falls upon you.

  • Ivan Gur-Arie

    I,too, have favored progressive movements from my early years. Howwever, if the choice is between Israel and progressivism, I choose Israel. As Hillel said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” I know there is the followup “If I am for myself then what am I?” This is so true, but when I seek to assist others and am rewarded with slaps and spits then I have to limit myself to the first saying. For the most part I see indifference or hostility from the others. I am desirous of common cause, but I am also no suicidal fool.

  • Trevor Brown

    Mr. Fingerhut is right on the mark. One of the “smaller liberal arts colleges” which he does not want to name is Vassar College where, in the Spring of 2014, the Departments of English, Political Science, Religion, Geography and Sociology together with the Programs in International Studies and Jewish Studies sponsored lectures by Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal, two rabid anti-Israel activists who enjoy delegitimization and demonization of the Jewish National Homeland. The Vassar “open Hillel” membership did not express any outrage at that event and continues to welcome anti-Israel and pro-BDS voices with open arms into their midst. There is a total lack of tolerance of any pro-Israel voice on the Vassar campus.

  • Bill

    Not long ago I went to a lecture at my cities University which can only be described as anti Israel. The audience consisted of many of the “liberal” professors of and middle eastern faces who did not speak but it was obvious that they were involved in organizing the gathering. Many of the speakers derided Israeli abuses. Having read for years about the Near East by many authors and from different sides of the conflict I noticed how easily the speaker saw what Israel had done they were in the wrong. They played very loose with established historical facts ie: Nassers role in the 67 war. It seem he really wanted peace. Itwas Israel that wanted war. The audience questioned nothing the middle eastern gentlemen sat at the back of the auditorium and smirked. I made the effort to question their positions but the speaker treated me as if I didn’t have a point or validity. I was not playing there game. The other thing there was no comments on “Palistinian” leader ship. Simply stated Israel bad Palistinians good and if you support Israel you just in the wrong it was mindless and frightening.

  • Wm. J. Levy

    There was a time that Jews were the majority of students at NYU and now they are in fear for their lives.

    Where did they Arabs come from and why are the Jews so weak?

    Never Again!!! Why not???

    • Rich Kirschenbaum

      Left Wing Liberalism is almost a genetic disease with our people, kind of like Tay Sachs. Perhaps this latest BDS cause cerebra of the left will expose it for what it really is: syphilis of the intellect.

  • Wayne

    What has Mr. Fingerhut done to protect the Hillel trademark from being usurped by antisemites? No group, most especially antisemites (Jewish or otherwise), should be able to use the term “Open Hillel” or any other use of the name without the express written consent of the Hillel organization. If he’s granting that permission or even just failing to litigate against it, he is unworthy of occupying the CEO position.