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April 6, 2016 6:31 am

Columbia Refuses to Break the Silence

avatar by Ronn Torossian

Columbia University's "Israeli Apartheid Week." Photo: Facebook.

Columbia University’s “Israeli Apartheid Week.” Photo: Facebook.

If a human rights organization is truly open-minded, why would it filter its audience to weed out potential opposition at an educational forum? Shouldn’t it promote a truly open dialogue?

Yet, when the so-called human rights group Breaking the Silence (BtS) was featured at an event on March 31 at Columbia University’s Hillel, the opposition was banned.

The BtS event was initially cancelled after critics pointed out that the program violated Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. Ultimately, Columbia Hillel’s executive director, Brian Cohen, rescheduled it under the pretense of giving the students “the opportunity to listen and, if they desire, challenge the speakers’ ideas,” about Israel as an oppressive regime. Later, a notice was circulated saying, “This event will be open for CU [Columbia University] ID holders only.”

Then the notice directed any questions on the policy, not to Hillel, but to the email address “[email protected].” Yes — the same J Street U that hates Israel, organized the event and is a shill for BtS.

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Hillel’s Standards of Partnership, featured prominently on its website, includes a pledge never to “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; Exhibit a pattern of disrupting behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

Hillel nevertheless partners with J Street, whose founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami, consults with and used to work for the New Israel Fund (NIF), an organization that violates every provision of the Standards of Partnership. J Street’s campus initiative, J Street U, has been bringing NIF grantees like BtS to Hillel campuses across the United States, and is somehow excused for anti-Israel advocacy under the guise of a so-called pro-peace platform.

The Columbia event on March 31 featured Avner Gvaryahu, former Director of Public Outreach for BtS. Among its bona fides, BtS has produced unsubstantiated testimonies of alleged war crimes committed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and has tried to “collect” classified information about the IDF’s military strategies.

Recently, two videos have emerged exposing BtS’ anti-Israel activities.

In the first video, members of BtS were filmed interviewing an undercover agent posing as a former combat soldier. Rather than questioning him about human rights, as their mission statement would have you believe is their core focus, the BtS members tried to obtain information about the operations of the IDF, including troop movements and missions. Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security force, agreed that the actions in the video “look and sound like espionage.”

The second video shows a BtS member admitting to having discussed helping BtS before being drafted into the IDF, and agreeing to spy on her own country’s military in order to provide information to the group.

In response to these videos, many Israeli politicians, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have condemned BtS, and the army has initiated a criminal investigation to determine whether BtS has illegally obtained and shared classified military plans.

The very intention behind BtS and J Street visiting Hillel is to demonize and delegitimize Israel, which violates Hillel’s standards and guidelines. And to complete the hypocrisy, the event being closed to outsiders shows that Breaking the Silence was worried that a pro-Israel advocate might come and dispute its claims. So much for open discussion.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and President of 5W Public Relations.

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