We reported earlier on the Breaking the Silence tour featuring the powerful voices of Israeli veterans talking about the price both they and Palestinians pay for the occupation. Last year, the Zionist Organization of America tried (unsuccessfully) to expel the Union of Progressive Zionists from the an Israel on Campus Coalition for sponsoring the Breaking the Silence tour.
This year, the tour is back but with more institutional Jewish co-sponsors than ever. The ZOA, known for their old-school take-no-prisoners tactics, tried another approach, since they found little support for their expulsion campaign last year. They issued a press statement titled “Dershowitz and Sharansky: Israel Has Best Human Rights Record,” demanding the immediate cancellation of the exhibit and all future showings in Hillels:
This exhibit at the Harvard Hillel not only doesn’t present all the facts, but promotes an anti-Israel lie. It focuses on isolated events and aberrations. Those who see the exhibit will not be in any position to discuss the Middle East conflict knowledgeably and intelligently. Instead, they will be left with one biased and false conclusion: that Israelis and Israeli soldiers regularly and deliberately commit human rights violations against Palestinian Arabs, and that Israel is a brutal and callous oppressor. Those who know the context and history of the conflict in the Middle East know that nothing could be further from the truth.
Pulling no punches, ZOA goes on:
“The Harvard Hillel is sponsoring an exhibit that encourages anti-Semitic hate and bigotry, and giving it credibility and legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve. The exhibit will not build Jewish identity and love for Israel. Jewish students may even feel threatened personally and distance themselves from their identity as Jews. Some may even feel an unwarranted sense of shame about Israel and the brave soldiers who are committed to defending it, while doing all they can to protect Palestinian civilians under extremely difficult circumstances.
The director of the Harvard Hillel, himself an IDF veteran, fought back in an open letter defending their decision to sponsor the exhibit. It’s interesting to note that the idea to mount the exhibit inside of Hillel and at certain times, instead of in a more prominent location on campus, was originated by the Harvard Students for Israel group which had grave concerns about the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s decision to bring the exhibit to campus. The Hillel steering committee decided that campus controversy could be better controlled or avoided if the exhibit were brought inside the Hillel, complete with lengthy statements critical of the exhibit by other IDF veterans.
Nonetheless, this is what we call progress. The letter is important because it sets out an alternative approach, not surprisingly being led by younger Jews, that allows for difference, discussion, and critical questioning: all things the ZOA and their ilk believe are a danger to Israel, and Jews.
An Open Letter to Mr. Morton Klein, National President, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) From: Dr. Bernie Steinberg, President and Director, Harvard Hillel
Dear Mr. Klein:
We have never met, yet I can infer from your public statements that we share much in common. Like you, we – Harvard Hillel and I, personally – are passionately committed to the security, well-being, and flourishing of Israel as a Jewish state. Indeed, the centrality of Israel is a pillar of our mission statement. And Harvard Hillel acts on that ideal consistently and with energy: In the past year alone, we have conducted more than 60 programs on Israel; this winter break, we sent 40 students to Israel, including our specially-designed Netivot Fellowship—known as a premier Israel program for its intellectual depth and breadth, and for its power to transform lives. Your own campus intern discovered his love for, and commitment to, Israel as a Netivot Fellow. Ask him. Personally, my wife and I lived in Israel for over thirteen years. Our children were born there. I served in the IDF. Family and close friends live there still. Like you, I have devoted my personal and professional life to building bridges between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora.