Are Jewish Organizations Obligated to Host Jewish Anti-Israel Groups?
The university campus organization, Hillel, has been roundly criticized recently for its decision to host the group “Breaking the Silence” at Brown and Columbia universities. Hillel’s defense of its decision to host the group was essentially that (a) Hillel’s Jewish students seek to invite these groups, not Hillel itself, and (b) by agreeing to host them, Hillel can try to provide clarifying context for the programs.
A recent article in The Algemeiner discusses Hillel’s decision to host this group despite its apparent conflict with Hillel’s “Standards of Partnership,” which call for Hillel to reject interactions with “organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy of practice: Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel… or support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.”
To many of us, it is clear that Breaking the Silence is antagonistic to the state of Israel, regardless of its members’ protestation that they are just trying to make Israel “better.” While the group claims not to support BDS, it is currently under investigation for spying against the state by illegally obtaining military information, and its members routinely demonize the IDF by making unsubstantiated claims of brutality, torture and murder. The group also refuses to share with the state any evidence of these allegations, making it impossible for the state to investigate them.
Israel, as a matter of course, takes very seriously allegations of misdeeds by soldiers, and frequently arrests and tries soldiers accused of such actions. But, when Breaking the Silence makes its accusations, there is no way for Israel to investigate or counter them, since there is no official record or complaint about whatever crimes were allegedly committed. Breaking the Silence categorically refuses to provide any information on the grounds that its members’ privacy and safety might be compromised. But, just as certainly, its actions place them squarely in the camp of those who are determined to smear Israel and damage it.
Anonymous, unsubstantiated accusations are the equivalent of an electronic lynch mob.
In this case, Hillel apparently believes that it is acting as an “educational organization,” and as such, allowing Breaking the Silence to present its perspective is a good thing.
To some degree, this is, of course, true. We should always look at conflicts and events from multiple perspectives.
However, letting Breaking the Silence present its perspective without providing solid, clear counter-arguments and context at exactly the same time does not serve any educational agenda; it is simply providing Breaking the Silence with a platform. It’s not much different from a situation in which Hillel were to provide a platform for explicitly pro-BDS groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) or Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), both virulently anti-Israel and frequently veer into antisemitism. These organizations themselves are not interested in “hearing the other side,” as both are known for disrupting pro-Israel speakers and preventing them from speaking. They are both also diametrically opposed to “dialogue” in any form with supporters of Israel.
One should no more give Breaking the Silence a free platform at Hillel than one would SJP or JVP, or the Electronic Intifada, for that matter.
Considering that Hillel’s vision is “to inspire Jewish students to build an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel,” it is clearly counter-productive to bring groups like Breaking the Silence to Hillel or to support, in any way, this type of group.
I believe that Hillel has an obligation to first and foremost present the best of Israel. Build up the knowledge of Jewish students about what is good and beautiful about Israel. Make sure students have a connection to Israel before exposing them to less beautiful aspects of Israel.
By all means, present information about all aspects of Israel. Discuss the pros and cons of settlements, legal issues related to territories conquered in 1948 and 1967, discrimination against non-Ashkenazi immigrants and Arab citizens, but always with the aim to promote a love for Israel. Israel does work very hard to eliminate these issues, and that should always be clear.
Sometimes, we worry too much about the perceived “underdog” at the expense of our love for Israel. It is when we bend over backward to give a platform to those who are willing to lie that we surrender ourselves to the passivity for which Jews were characterized for centuries, and which led, in no small measure, to our march into the concentration camps. “Don’t rock the boat. Maybe there’s some truth in what they say. We should listen.” No, we should not listen. We should present the truth, always, and reject the lies. We should demand protection under the law, and we should expose exactly how our enemies lie about us.
Breaking the Silence has proven that it does not have the best interests of Israel at heart. It should not be given a platform by any Jewish organization; nor should Jewish organizations like Hillel give space to any anti-Israel organization.