Thursday, September 23rd | 17 Tishri 5782

May 13, 2016 12:52 pm

Was Brown U’s Hillel Attempting to Cover Up a ‘Nakba Day’ Event?

avatar by Alexandra Markus

Brown University. Photo: Will Hart via

Brown University. Photo: Will Hart via

My article that appeared yesterday at the pro-Israel blog Israellycool reported that Brown University’s Hillel was hosting a commemorative “Nakba” event. The term “Nakba” — Arabic for “catastrophe” — refers to the largely debunked Palestinian version of events surrounding the foundation of the state of Israel, and is largely associated with mourning the defeat of the Arab armies and subsequent establishment of the Jewish state. The Palestinian Authority has designated an official “Nakba Day” to bemoan Israel’s existence.

The public event at Brown — called “Jews Facing the Nakba” and featuring an NGO called Zochrot — was initially scheduled to take place at 7:30 pm on the eve of Israeli Independence Day. Zochrot is a far-left organization whose purpose is to spread the story of the “Nakba,” as well as promote the Palestinian “right of return” to all of Israel, which would demographically annihilate the Jewish state. There was no alternative pro-Israel celebration planned for that day.

My article prompted Brown University alumni to petition the Hillel chapter to cancel the event, at which a Nakba-day film was to be shown. According to several of these alumni with whom I spoke, Brown/RISD Hillel and Hillel International assured them that the event was cancelled the day before it was scheduled to take place.

It was later revealed that a private event, scheduled for 8:00 pm the same day, was created to replace the public one, citing in its Facebook page description that Hillel had withdrawn its sponsorship of the event due to external and internal pressure, but that a group of students would be screening the film independently in the Hillel building.

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I decided to head down there to see firsthand what was going on.

Two hours before the private event was scheduled to take place, a Facebook notice was posted claiming it had been cancelled due to security concerns, and that the Hillel building was to be closed early, at 7:00 pm.

Meanwhile, I discovered that an event did take place, but earlier, causing me to suspect that the initially announced private event had been a decoy. Apparently, select students deemed “trustworthy” by organizers were then notified that it was to begin two and a half hours earlier, at 5:30 pm.

Shortly before 7:00 pm, as I approached the Hillel meeting room, I heard loud clapping. When I entered the building, I was greeted by Brown/RISD Hillel executive director Marshall Einhorn and other Hillel staff.

Shortly thereafter, I saw some 50 students, including the president of Students for Justice in Palestine, Peter Mahlouf, descending the stairs leading to the lobby. Conversation was abuzz surrounding the Nakba film screening that had just taken place. Some students noted between themselves that they were “horrified” at some of the “atrocities” they had just learned that Israel has committed.

When I asked some of the students I encountered about the nature of the event, most seemed nervous or annoyed, and replied that they weren’t allowed to talk about it. Some said it was a screening, but refused to reveal more details.

One student finally admitted that it was about the Nakba, describing it exactly as the initial event had been advertised, but added that she wasn’t allowed to repeat it to anybody, since it was to be kept a secret for security purposes. A friend standing next to her nodded.

Brown Students for Israel (BSI) said they had backed out of the initial event because “it felt as though it had evolved from a productive dialogue into a political dogfight.” As the support was no longer unanimous among Hillel groups, according to the private event’s description, Hillel was no longer able to officially sponsor it. However, the organizers — Sophie Kassakove, Ben Williams and Eital Schattner-Elmaleh — were still able to host it in the building’s meeting room.

In my opinion, this would not have been possible without the cooperation of Hillel — especially since it had provided food, staffing and security. “We are not allowed to reveal any details about the event due to security concerns,” the staff and security personnel repeatedly said.

BSI explained to me what was problematic about the presentation:

The conversation that did take place […] was exactly as we feared. The history of the 1948 War was deeply distorted; only a single viewpoint was presented; the stories of the 850,000 Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews who were expelled from their homes during and around 1948 by Arab armies were ignored; and non-Jewish members of Students for Justice in Palestine who have in the past threatened Brown Students for Israel members with violence were invited into the Hillel building.

I believe this constitutes foul play, and that this was a cover-up. In recent months, Brown/RISD Hillel has been under fire for hosting anti-Israel events and organizations, such as Breaking the Silence. It seems to be that this is only the latest in an overall worrying trend.

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