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

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.

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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”
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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the JewishPress.com. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com

19 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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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