The Enemy Within the “Safe Spaces” of Jews on campus

Academia is awash in social justice warriors (SJW). There are SJW consumed with racism, gender and Islamophobia, but the issue that looms largest and most relentlessly on all campuses with a sizable Jewish population is anti-Zionism. A demonstration of one’s unnuanced hostility to Israel coupled with unconditional sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians has become something of a litmus test for a student’s good standing as a progressive, much as unconditional support for unfettered abortion is a litmus test for one’s good standing as a feminist.

And so, since a remarkable number of European, North American and even Israeli Jews  consider progressivism their paramount political calling, they have boarded the anti-Zionism train. Apart from Palestinians and other Arabs, Jews, both academics and students, are the most numerous and ferociously enthusiastic of the anti-Zionist corps.

For Jews on campus who are pro-Israel or who wish to remain politically neutral, aggressive anti-Israel campaigns can create anxiety and a kind of siege mentality. They often feel they are the only group on campus to whom the notion of a “safe space” does not apply (one may believe, as I do, that the whole concept of the “safe space” from dissenting views is wrong, but if every other minority is considered deserving of one, one can still argue for a level playing field).

They also believe, with good reason, that the anti-Israel militancy they are constantly exposed to, fleshed out in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement (BDS), which essentially calls for Israel’s disappearance as a Jewish state, is thinly-veiled – at times not veiled at all – anti-Semitism.

There is one place on sizable university campuses where a Jew in need of a safe space should be able to retreat: namely Hillel, the home away from home for Jewish students. In former times, Hillel houses, which are financially supported by community federations, were comfortable and welcoming foyers where a homesick Jewish student could enjoy a Shabbat meal or find cultural stimulation in the wisdom of a visiting scholar. The federations preferred that Hillel not get into contentious political issues at all, which pleased neither the Zionists nor the anti-Zionists, but made sense if a comfortable atmosphere for all Jews was the objective.


What these anti-Zionist groups are attempting to do with campus Hillel via Open Hillel – and succeeding, as the Brown RISD Hillel case demonstrates – is to colonize a defined social and cultural territory through bullying, lawlessness, duplicity and sheer aggression


That was then, this is – since 2013 when “Open Hillel” was founded – now. Progressive Jews were determined to ensure that not a single inch of campus remained off limits to their aggressive not-in-my-name exploitation of their nominal Jewish status to press the case against Israel as morally unfit to sit as a political equal amongst the family of nations. And so, under the misnamed banner of Open Hillel – since they are only “open” to speakers and events that cast Israel in a negative light – and with the help of sympathetic Hillel staff and advisors, slowly but surely colonizing normative Hillels. We often hear of the “stealth jihad” which seeks to create conditions conducive to the Islamization of social institutions. Open Hillel is the “stealth Juhad,” a movement that seeks to infiltrate Jewish institutions in order to create the perception in the non-Jewish world that hatred of Israel and a wish to see it weakened or obliterated as a Jewish state is a perfectly  normal condition amongst ordinary Jews.

To that end, in January a 55-member cadre of American and Canadian professors inaugurated Open Hillel’s Academic Council, where prominent Israel-haters found a welcome berth: Peter Beinart of the City University of New York, a strong supporter of BDS, the infamous Judith Butler, who views Hamas and Hezbollah as “social movements” rather than terrorist organizations, and Stanford’s Joel Beinin, a virulent anti-American and anti-Zionist, who blames all Arab-state pathology on the West and Israel.

They claim this initiative was necessary, as Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership “narrowly circumscribe discourse about Israel-Palestine” and therefore “serve to foster estrangement from the organized Jewish community.” They chide Hillel: “Just as our classrooms must be spaces that embrace diversity of experience and opinion, so must Hillel.” This statement is an indication of the bad faith that permeates Open Hillel, since, as everyone with eyes to see knows that diversity “of opinion” is the very last thing one can find on the typical campus today. In fact, there is no diversity of opinion at any Open Hillel event. The only permitted opinion is that Israel is a colonial oppressor and Palestinians are innocent victims.

In former times, Hillel’s guidelines were able to prevent Israel’s acknowledged enemies from colonizing their infrastructure: enemies like the rabidly anti-Zionist Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who sponsor Israeli Apartheid Week, the actively anti-Israel Muslim Student Association (MSA), and of course the pernicious Jewish groups – Jewish Voice for Peace and Breaking the Silence – which are the most wounding of all to Israel and Zionism. None of these organizations is interested in honest debate or even dialogue with pro-Israel academics who would hold them to factual and historical account on their “narratives.” Indeed, a leaked memorandum from the Binghamton University SJP chapter revealed that its members are under orders never to engage in dialogue with pro-Israel groups or “engag[e] in any form of official collaboration, cooperation, or event co-sponsorship with [pro-Israel] student organizations and groups, due to their unyielding support for the Apartheid State of Israel.”

Hillel’s Standards of Partnership state that Hillel will not partner with any organization or speakers that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state” or that “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard” or that “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel” or that “exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus.” These would be considered entirely reasonable conditions if applied to any other ethnic or national club, and they do in fact perfectly describe the groups with whom Open Hillel is keen to partner. Hillel would be crazy to countenance their infiltration and colonization of Hillel’s space.

And yet, in the face of an increasingly anti-Israel zeitgeist, it would seem that Hillel Internationals is unable to police its own policies. An excellent case study in the phenomenon took place recently at Brown RISD Hillel. Hillel RISD agreed to host an event on May 11 co-sponsored by Brown Students for Israel (BSI) and J-Street (a mainly Jewish group that is not anti-Zionist and also not pro-Israel, but still, broadly defined, mainstream), framed as “a dialogue on competing Jewish and Palestinian narratives around the 1948 War of Independence.” The event was titled “Jews Facing the Nakba (the word means “catastrophe” in Arabic, and Naqba Day is an official day of Commemoration for Palestinians corresponding to Israel Independence Day, a highly politicized event given over to ritual lamentations and vilification of Israel).

It became apparent to BSI that the event – the showing of three films all highlighting Palestinian suffering and condemnatory of Israel, produced by Zochrot, a notoriously anti-Zionist Israeli NGO promoting the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state  – was the thin end of a planned wedge to establish the presence of anti-Zionism within Hillel as a fait accompli and the prelude to more of the same.

Deciding that the event contravened Hillel International’s pluralistic mandate, BSI withdrew its sponsorship. That should have been the end of it, and apparently was, for the event was announced on Facebook as having been cancelled. Instead, they took it private and invited 820 people to the film at a later time than previously arranged, with the complicity of Hillel’s executive director and Hillel’s far-left rabbi. About 70 students attended. A precedent has been set. Will Nakba Day 2017 see a repeat performance through Hillel International’s inertia in enforcing its own policies? Will Israel-bashing be a “tradition” at Boston RISD Hillel by Nakba Day 2018?

It is more than a little ironic that Israel is accused of colonialism by anti-Zionists, even though there can be no colonialism without an empire that does the colonizing, and the Zionists were never more than a collective of individual Jews returning to their indigenous land. What these anti-Zionist groups are attempting to do with campus Hillel via Open Hillel – and succeeding, as the Brown RISD Hillel case demonstrates – is to colonize a defined social and cultural territory through bullying, lawlessness, duplicity and sheer aggression.

If anti-Zionists want to buy or rent property near campuses in order to showcase their hatred of Israel, let them bash away on their own dime and their own time. Freedom of speech has never meant the right to say whatever you want wherever you want. Let us hope that the Boston RISD infiltration adventure becomes the cautionary tale that results in actions on the part of Hillel International and the federations that make Hillel’s work possible to nip this stealth Juhad – not in the bud, for it is well beyond that – but before its poisonous seeds blight the entire Hillel garden so carefully tended in previous generations.

The Prince Arthur Herald
Photo credit: Serge Ferrand