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!