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Penn Hillel Provided Platform to Venomous ‘Breaking The Silence’

The Hillel board was conned into believing that Breaking the Silence was needed to amplify the tintinnabulation of hatred already ringing across U.S. campuses from such groups as the BDS movement and the annual Israel Apartheid Week hate fiestas.

Breaking the Silence event at Penn Hillel, March 28, 2013

Announcement of Breaking the Silence event at Penn Hillel, March 28, 2013
Photo Credit: Facebook

In yet another example of academia succumbing to a flawed battering ram of freedom of speech, the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia was outsmarted by J Street U which guilted them into providing a home for an event the sole purpose of which is to indict and delegitimize the defense forces of the Jewish State.

On Thursday evening, March 28, Steinhardt Hall -  the Hillel building at the University of Pennsylvania – provided the platform for the pro-Palestinian J Street U to defile the integrity of the Israel Defense Forces through a well-funded delegitimization organization known as Breaking the Silence.

The “silence” that the group supposedly “breaks” is the unspoken criticism of Israel and Israel’s military.  Yes, that’s right – without Breaking the Silence, one would never hear a negative word about the IDF, because the New York Times, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the EU, the Guardian, the Iranian regime, the Arab League, the Huffington Post, CNN, El Mundo, El Diario or just about any other entity with a microphone or a media outlet never criticizes the IDF.

Well, that’s what the young whippersnappers at J Street U were able to convince the grownups on the board of the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia.

Breaking the Silence, which was created in 2004, exists to shout from the rooftops that the IDF is not a “defense” force but is instead an immoral military force that is dedicated to “annexation of territory, terrorizing and tightening the control over the civilian [Arab] population.”

NGO Monitor is a non-profit organization that provides information on, analysis of and promotes accountability for the reports and activities of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) which claim to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas, but which instead so frequently primarily promote the vilification of Israel.

According to NGO Monitor, the 2010 publication created by Breaking the Silence, “Occupation of the Territories – Israeli Soldier testimonies 2000-2010,” suffers from several fatal flaws: all testimony is anonymous, and almost none provide a date, location or context for the incidents being described.  In addition, of the 183 incidents mentioned in the report, only 16 were reported to superiors at the time, which makes it especially difficult to rely on the credibility or motivation for the late, non-reported, anonymous “episodic” revelations.

The effort of Breaking the Silence to smear the IDF as an immoral military force falls apart most decisively when a careful reading of the many violations it claims to catalogue reveal that all – to the extent they are real – are themselves violations of IDF policy, so while problematic, they are evidence solely of errors and missteps engaged in by individuals.

Even the indefatigably leftist Haaretz expressed disdain for the repeated claim by Breaking the Silence that it is a human rights organization:

“Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a ‘human rights organization.’ Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the ‘corruption which permeates the military system’ is not a neutral observer.

The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices.”

And yet, the board of the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia was conned into believing that Breaking the Silence, whose sponsors include not only J Street U, but also the New Israel Fund, the European Union, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, NDC (funds from Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark), and George Soros’ Open Society Institute was needed to amplify the tintinnabulation of hatred already ringing across U.S. campuses from such groups as the BDS movement and the annual Israel Apartheid Week hate fiestas which vilify every move taken by Israel and the IDF to protect Israeli citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and others – from Arab Palestinian terrorism.

Although the HGP several years ago crafted and approved a policy that explicitly stated it would not lend its space for events or organizations the primary goal of which was to delegitimize Israel, J Street U succeeded in persuading the board that their point of view – that is, explicitly and simply, that the IDF is a terrorist, expansionist militaristic entity – does not get enough play at the University of Pennsylvania. While the HGP board initially refused to allow the event in the building, the board members’ hesitation was eventually drowned out.

The J Street U students claimed that the Breaking the Silence speakers “shed light on the price of military occupation for both Israelis and Palestinians and argue that bringing it to an end is in Israel’s best long-term interests. The most important goal of Breaking the Silence is to foster dialogue and awareness about the facts on the ground.”  Ah, but that’s only true if the “facts” being presented are credible.  Even Haaretz distrusts their motivation and their facts.

J Street U’s front man at the Penn Hillel event was Oded Naaman, who hasn’t lived in Israel in years and who served in the Israel Defense Forces a decade ago.  Na’aman claims to be one of the co-founders of Breaking the Silence.

So how is it that a group of pushy students were able to hoodwink Penn Hillel board members into allowing a political opportunist to add to the festering cesspool of anti-Israel invective in the very building created as a safe haven for Jews, a place where they are expected “to engage in a process of Jewish self-authorship”?  Even though the Penn Hillel mission statement mentions neither Israel or the Jewish Homeland, one might be forgiven for expecting the Hillel to be a place where Jewish self-authorship included a respect for, and support of, Israel and its defense forces.

In an opinion piece that ran in the University of Pennsylvania newspaper on Wednesday, March 27, over the signature of no single individual, but simply the “J Street U Penn Executive Board,” the group revealed their strategy. On one hand, they claimed to have the support, at least eventually, of many “student leaders” – none of whom are named.  But then the J Street Utes make clear what it was that worked.  They issued that irresistible campus battle cry, the  “demand” for “free speech” in “our building.”

Freedom of speech is a constitutional guarantee that the government will not prevent speech.  That freedom battering ram – for that is how it is used – does not apply in the Hillel building – which does not get university or government funds, but instead is entirely donor funded.  Yes, donor funded, those same donors who J Street U condemns for daring to set standards in the building they paid for. This is from the Daily Pennsylvanian, printed on Wednesday, March 27:

 In all, we collected 27 signatures of Penn Hillel student leaders spanning a broad range of Jewish denominational affiliations, political views on Israel and types of involvement in the Jewish community. These signatures, including those from leaders of other pro-Israel organizations at Penn, finally pushed the HGP board to recognize that the Jewish student community is much too strong to succumb to a fear of ideas. We are ready to demand free speech in our building and to engage in challenging conversations about Israel. Indeed, open discourse and constructive criticism, rooted in love, are the only ways for us to achieve a brighter and safer future for the State of Israel. Like similar events being held by J Street U chapters on campuses across the country, our success in bringing Breaking the Silence to Hillel exemplifies the gradual mending of a still broken dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For anyone who wished to check out the Penn Hillel website during this week of Passover, the time of liberation from earlier oppressors of the Jewish people, they would be struck by an incongruity.  The site announces “Welcome to the Jewish Community at Penn!” And then the enticing words follow, “Penn Hillel is a warm and welcoming place to spend Passover.  We have options for people from all backgrounds and everyone is welcome!”  These words were accompanied by a scrolling events calendar, one of which was, on March 28: “Breaking the Silence: A conversation with an IDF veteran on the price of occupation.”  Welcome!

Penn Hillel's Passover Greetings and events include Breaking the Silence, "The Price of Occupation"

Penn Hillel’s Passover Greetings and events include Breaking the Silence, “The Price of Occupation”

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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19 Responses to “Penn Hillel Provided Platform to Venomous ‘Breaking The Silence’”

  1. Jon Haddon says:

    And I thought colleges were places for truth, courage, and honesty. Now its just another place of hatred toward Israel. So tragic.

  2. Jon, it is tragic, but it's a tragedy we can stop if we're willing to stand up on our hind legs rather than tolerating lies. The "freedom of speech" trick, which this article so clearly reveals, is one that Jews need to learn how not to fall for. The article shows that the Penn Hillel leadership just collapses when accused of "suppressing" speech. Refusing a platform to liars is NOT suppressing speech. There is no free speech right to lie and no obligation to tolerate lies. Once sources like Haaretz are capable of dismissing a group as biased and untruthful, Jewish organizations should be entirely comfortable saying that they will not give that group a platform or publicity. That's not suppressing speech — it's just preventing the dissemination of lies.

    We can do it. We just have to grow up a little bit.

  3. just the always to be counted upon old monsters of anti-semitic blood libels and ignorant hatred rearing their ugly faces. again.

  4. Ethan Perks says:

    I wonder if they were "outsmarted". NCU Chapel Hill Hillel ran a pro Palestinian event last year.

  5. Gulienne Rollins-Rishon says:

    I really hope this was meant to be an opinion article and not a news article, because as a piece of journalism, it was TERRIBLE. I couldn't get past all of the opinionated adjectives and adverbs, and the obvious painting and lighting going on, to actually read enough to make my own informed decisions. Rewrite?

  6. Setting aside the content, this is yet another in a long streak of venomous op-ed pieces by Ms. Lowenthal Marcus mis-labelled as a "News Article." At long last, can this publication not recognize the difference?

    " In yet another example of academia succumbing to a flawed battering ram.

    of freedom of speech, the Hillel of Greater Philadephia was outsmarted by.

    J Street U which guilted them into providing a home for an event the sole.

    purpose of which is to indict and delegitimize the defense forces of the Jewish.

    State."

    This first paragraph can hardly be defended as a statement of fact. It does, however, misspell the name of the city in which the incident occurred. I have no objection to the publication of opinion pieces. I do, however, object strongly to publishing opinion pieces that purport to report the news. I fear the the Jewish Press too closely resembles Fox News.

  7. Cliff Sloane says:

    I'll stickwith Haaretz

  8. Yes, braindead melicious traiditonal Anglo-Saxon American antisemites in NY would do that. That paper is made by and for exactly such individuals.

  9. They are basically nothing else than camouflaged Nazi-minded hate groups (Bts and JStreetUniversity) both.

  10. I WILL BE KEYNOTE SPEAKER AT CONGREGATION SONS OF ISRAEL IN MANALAPAN, MONDAY NIGHT APRIL 8 AT 7:30 and will not participate in the interfaith program. ALL ARE INVITED. I AM SPEAKING FREE OF CHARGE. The Imam said he would join with me declaring that here in America there is no room for Muslims callings Jews apes and for the destruction of the Jewish people as Morsi of Egypt did. This promise to me was never fulfilled. MY AGREEING FOR THE IMAM TO LEAVE BEFORE HATIKVAH WAS BASED ON HIS FULFILLING THIS PROMISE.

    I have resigned from the Metuchen-Edison Area Interfaith Clergy Association due to this. For you who are new, to the association, I served as President and Vice President in the past and chaired many programs. It hurts me greatly that I had to make this decision. I wish you all the best of success. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  11. Surprising use of the borderline archaic but charming term "whippersnappers."

  12. Cliff Sloane says:

    Mister Frankl, is this post typical of your style for dealing with people? If so, I will most emphatically stick with Ha'aretz.

  13. Lee Smith says:

    it really does not matter what these miscreants say most people think they are a bunch of queers. I wish they could be confronted.

  14. Lee Smith says:

    it really does not matter what these miscreants say most people think they are a bunch of queers. I wish they could be confronted.

  15. Cliff Sloane – I am afraid that Mr. Frankl's comment is not only typical of his brand of intellectual debate, but also fairly typical of what passes for an exchange of ideas on this website. To be sure, I read many other sources of information on the Middle East and Israel/Palestine. I mostly consult the Jewish Press when my blood pressure is tending toward the dangerously low end, and whenever I need a good laugh.

  16. Cliff Sloane says:

    The Jewish Press posts I have seem confirm the old observation that the two greatest social evils in human history are love of God and love of country. Between these two are millions of corpses. When they are combined, as with religious Zionism, the evil is both unreasoning and uncontrollable.

  17. Mr. Sloane, I would argue that it is not the love of God that is evil, but the inability of God's followers to accept the equal rights of those who believe in other or no gods. As to coupling a religion with a nation, or a nation with a religion, I completely agree. One look at the theocracies in today's world (Iran, Pakistan, Israel, etc.) confirms this. I would remind us all that when European Jews began to return to what they called Palestine, a large number of them (labor, leftist, communist, etc) wanted to enter true and last peace with the inhabitants they found. Unfortunately, they have been outvoted by history.

  18. Alice Derman says:

    Dear Ms. Marcus,

    You are correct to point out that neither the government nor any other entity can compel the Penn Hillel to include or exclude any presentation or program. But neither can you. The only decision that counts here is that of the governance of Penn Hillel, which apparently made the decision to provide a forum for “Breaking the Silence.” I do not see the harm in them allowing this program to be presented on their premises. If nothing else, listening to viewpoints that may be much different from one’s own can be a very educational experience. And, of course, education is the major reason why students go to college in the first place.
    I would guess that most members of Hillel disagreed with the views presented by “Breaking the Silence.” But some might have agreed. So what? To quote your words, I assume most Jews (including Penn Hillel members) embrace a “respect for, and support of, Israel and its defense forces.” But that does not necessary mean blind support of Israel. It’s good to question one’s assumptions. And suppose some Jews do not have a “respect for, and support of, Israel and its defense forces”. Aren’t they still entitled to belong to Hillel?

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