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March 18, 2016 9:44 am

J Street Fools Hillel Into Breaking the Rules, by Hosting Breaking the Silence

avatar by Alexandra Markus

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Breaking the Silence event at Columbia University Hillel. Photo: Facebook

Breaking the Silence event at Columbia University Hillel. Photo: Facebook

It appears that J Street U, the student branch of the J Street organization, is trying to subvert Hillel’s Standards of Partnership — which rule out campus Hillels from sponsoring or partnering with groups that aim to delegitimize or destroy the state of Israel — by pushing the envelope with whom they invite, now even trying their luck with the blatantly anti-Israel organization Breaking the Silence (BtS).

As an anonymous tipster explained to me:

Breaking the Silence is a fringe Israeli group touring US campuses, which seeks to defame the Israeli army (IDF), alleging that it has committed war crimes. This group claims that Israel commits “crimes against humanity” and “ethnic cleansing.”

The organization is so hostile to Israel that it is banned from coming anywhere near IDF Soldiers and Israeli schools. Given that Israel has a free press, the only reason the organization can legally be banned is if it spreads libel about Israel, which it does, and is funded by foreign interests to do so.

As the tipster reports, unfortunately, J Street U’s efforts are succeeding, with BtS being hosted at Hillel centers across the United States:

As you might be aware, J Street U has been engaged in a campaign to use its affiliation as a Hillel International partner organization to hold Breaking the Silence (BtS) events at Hillel Houses nationwide. This started a while ago. In 2013, J Street U hosted BtS at UPenn Hillel. In March 2014, J Street U hosted BtS at Washington University in St. Louis Hillel.  J Street U was able to secure Hillel’s approval to host two BTS events this month, at Brown University (on 3/17) and Columbia University (3/31). And in the case of Brown, it’s not merely that Hillel is providing the space. Hillel chose to actively sponsor the event.

However, these efforts have not been entirely without external resistance and criticism. As a Columbia student, I was privy to an invitation to an event that was to be hosted in February. There was a campaign spearheaded by the activist Facebook group Stop BDS On Campus to get the talk cancelled. Letters were written, phone calls were made to powerful people, and suddenly, the event disappeared! But recently it reappeared.

The original event was to be housed at the Kraft Hillel house. However, in response to community outrage, Columbia Hillel’s Executive Director Brian Cohen was pressured to ask J Street U to host the event someplace else. Brian Cohen has now convinced his board to bring BtS back to Columbia for a second time in two months – this time for an event in the Kraft Hillel center.

The reaction on the Stop BDS on Campus Facebook page was sharp: “I wonder who paid him to take such a drastic change of heart?” Clearly no Zionist Jew who loves Israel would make such a decision on his own, without money or some other incentive being involved, as BtS is very evidently hostile to Israel. In fact, the group isn’t even ethical, in my opinion, with European organizations paying ex-IDF soldiers to reveal negative things about the IDF, creating a huge conflict of interest, incentivizing lies. I know a lot of people who would make stuff up if they knew they were getting paid, and further, that their names don’t even have to be attached to the falsehoods.

I fully support the right and freedom of Israeli soldiers to report abuse within the IDF – and to bring these incidents to the legal authorities in Israel for investigation and prosecution. However, while BtS may have started as a group of well-meaning IDF officers with the goal of making the IDF the most moral army in the world, it has lost direction. Again, the “testimonials” that BtS publishes don’t even reveal the names of those who give them. Their recent reports have been dismissed as “baseless findings” by highly respected IDF officers.

At their presentations in the US they will sometimes speak as if they don’t have any political agenda, they merely want to show people the “reality” of the occupation, so people can make informed political decisions about what policies to support. That may sound good, but it’s actually a front for the range of lies, distortions, and half-truths they then present out of context to audiences that do not know better. They say nothing about the persistent violence with which the Palestinians threaten Israelis, about the decades of violence that produced the very “occupation” they deplore. The take-home point is inevitably: Israeli soldiers, Israeli society, are very evil for oppressing Palestinians for no good reason. Their goal, ultimately, is that of demonizing and delegitimizing Israel and its soldiers to American college students.

Indeed, just yesterday the news broke that BtS has been secretly attempting to get classified information about the Israeli army’s operational procedures and troop deployments, which clearly has nothing to do with BtS’s alleged “human rights” agenda. It is hard to see how that information could be good for anything other than undermining Israeli security efforts.

This kind of activity must be condemned and opposed by the pro-Israel community.

J Street is a political financial behemoth, bringing in tens of millions of dollars a year in donations. In 2014, JStreetPAC donated $ 2.4 million to its 95 candidates, more than any pro-Israel PAC, including AIPAC. It is therefore obvious that the incentive to support J Street policies exceeds the incentive to support AIPAC and others, which might reflect the drastic shift in political orientation of the Democratic party especially since J Street began in 2008 in a more anti-Israel direction. Yes, despite what it might say, the group is decidedly not pro-Israel. And it’s painfully clear that this wolf in sheep’s clothing has an agenda: to poison the minds of pro-Israel college students, and to use the term “pro-Israel” to lure them into eventually supporting policies that are anything but, and to act as a gateway drug to much more blatantly anti-Israel organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace.

It’s clear that J Street U is not satisfied simply by having BtS speak on the various campuses; J Street U’s intent is to bring this highly divisive and dangerous group into the building that houses the Jewish Students. It is essentially aiming, by stealth, turn Hillel houses into “Open Hillels” — that is, Jewish student spaces that welcome voices calling for the destruction of Israel.

My personal objection to J Street is that it basically consists of comfortable Americans sitting in their comfortable armchairs and cushy lives telling Israel what to do without understanding any of the context behind what they are talking about and the policies they are advocating for or against. At face value, their policies sound nice: Two state solution, end the occupation, freedom and justice for all… but peel back the facade and you come to understand the sheer combination of ignorance and chutzpah that characterizes their attitude that J Streeters across the ocean know better than Israelis about Israel. You also realize that if J Street’s policies were to be implemented, it would unequivocally mean the death of Israel as a Jewish State and safe haven. As such, J Street has no business calling itself pro-Israel, and does Israel an immense disservice in doing so for the sole purpose of inflating American egos that want to feel like they’ve made an impact.

The tipster continues:

There are mountains of evidence that BtS harms the state of Israel – and the work of pro-Israel educators, pro-Israel students, and the pro-Israel community as a whole. There is no justification for bringing such a group into Hillel houses – a place that Jewish students rely on as a safe, welcoming, and trustworthy space.

Then why would J Street bring such a group? What incentive does it have to sell itself out like that? The tipster’s biggest concern is that in allowing BtS into its space, in actively sponsoring the group as Brown University Hillel did, Hillel is violating its own standards of partnership:

Hillel will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.

J Street U has made its intentions clear: to destroy the “safe space” that Hillels once offered to Jewish students who are supportive of Israel.

Editor’s note: Hillel International has issued a statement saying that it does not deem the hosting of BtS events to be in violation of its guidelines and standards of partnership. 

This piece was originally published in Israellycool.

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