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March 19, 2016 9:00 am

Hillel Defends Decision to Host Israeli ‘Whistleblower’ Group ‘Breaking the Silence’ at Campus Events

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Hillel defends its decision to host Breaking the Silence at campus events. Photo: Wikipedia.

Hillel defends its decision to host Breaking the Silence at campus events. Photo: Wikipedia.

The world’s largest Jewish campus organization responded on Thursday to critics of its decision to host the Israeli military “whistleblowing” group Breaking the Silence (BtS) at events at Columbia and Brown universities.

While claiming that the program does not violate Hillel’s “Standards of Partnership” a statement from Hillel International said that the group “is well aware of the challenges to the credibility of Breaking the Silence,” and stressed that “We do not support the organization or its mission in any way.”

A spokesman for Hillel told The Algemeiner further that the group seeks “to provide appropriate context” to BtS presentations, and “to provide alternative perspectives, and to make sure students have access to those who challenge the claims made by BtS.”

Hillel’s “Standards of Partnership” statement declares that the group “will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel… or Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.”

In Israel, however, BtS has been the object of high-level criticism from a number of leaders who allege that the group is actually guilty of both charges.

In December, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky told the Knesset that BtS “is not a human rights organization but a BDS organization.” The group denies that it endorses BDS.

Sharansky elaborated in a more recent op-ed in Haaretz, as follows:

Breaking the Silence … is not a human-rights organization in any meaningful sense of the term … [It uses] unproven allegations [about misbehavior by Israeli troops] peddled as truths to credulous foreigners in order to override the decisions of a democratic government.

Breaking the Silence … sets out to bypass an existing democratic government and resolve a controversial political issue by means of international pressure [just like BDS]. It is of course legitimate to believe that Israel’s military presence in the West Bank should be ended immediately. But … this is a political question that should be decided by Israel’s citizens through their elected representatives, not by a small group of self-appointed prophets and their chorus of foreign supporters …

The watchdog organization NGO Monitor also issued a report last month alleging that:

…[T]he events BtS participate in are mainly organized and used by anti-Israeli activists on US campuses, European churches and other venues as ammunition for BDS campaigns, lawfare and other activity aimed at delegitimizing and isolating Israel.

With respect to the upcoming Columbia University event, the statement from Hillel obtained by The Algemeiner had this to say:

Hillel’s vision is to inspire every Jewish student to build an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.  We have complete confidence in the leadership of Columbia/Barnard Hillel Executive Director Brian Cohen, his staff and his board of directors in fulfilling this vision. We are particularly grateful for the work that Columbia/Barnard Hillel is doing to support Israel and oppose the BDS campaign on that campus.

In response to news of the events, NGO Monitor sent a letter on Friday morning to Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut calling for “a strong counter from Israelis with military experience [to] be presented at the same event to directly rebut and refute the NGO’s false allegations and narrative.”

In the letter, obtained by The Algemeiner, the Israel-based watchdog said, “We believe that, if Breaking the Silence is hosted by Hillel, despite the arguments and evidence presented by many who oppose such hosting, it is insufficient to offer generic ‘different perspectives’ at another time and place.”

BtS is an NGO that collects and publicizes testimonies of former Israeli soldiers, according to its website, to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories … [and to] portray a different, and much grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards [in the Territories] finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of Israel’s security.” Its goals are “to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers … are engaged in the control of a civilian population’s everyday life,” and to push “Israeli society to face the reality whose creation it has enabled.”

The controversy over its appearances at Hillel arises just as Israel’s top officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have launched an investigation into allegations that BtS has attempted to obtain classified information about Israel’s military operations.

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