The Open Hillel (OH) movement, which rejects National Hillel’s Israel guidelines, and J Street, which seeks to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel, are trying to assert control over Jewish discussions about Israel.
These two organizations insist on campuses and in the media that their position represents the objective truth – and the only morally acceptable position – on the Arab-Israeli conflict. As a result, those who differ with them are labeled morally deficient and inferior.
Capitalizing on western society’s natural aversion to war and violence, these groups have succeeded in marketing themselves to the masses. They quickly label opposing groups and individuals as “warmongering” and “rejectionist.” Traditional Zionist thought is labeled with that hateful term, “conservative,” while those who hold it are portrayed as the opponents of peace. The marketing has been very successful.
According to its website, J Street is “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” It also claims as its mission being “pro-human rights, pro-justice and pro-Palestinian,” and to seek having an “open and honest discussion about Israel.” OH’s mission statement proclaims itself as “a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels.” Given these groups’ stated devotion to diversity and openness, one would assume that everything would be up for debate, including what it means to support peace in the Middle East.
But rather than allow for different conceptions of what it means to be “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestinian” or “pro-human rights,” members of these two groups claim an inviolable monopoly over these terms. They refuse to allow debate on what it means to advocate for solutions in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The same people fighting for inclusion in the Hillel “pro-Israel tent,” are simultaneously delegitimizing and peremptorily rejecting those with alternative perspectives.
In an article by the President of J Street U’s National Student Board, “Hillel And Its Donors Repress Real Conversation About Israel” Jacob Plitman writes,“as some conservative donors demand a tighter conversation and enforce their political values, we risk losing that generation of young progressive Jews who won’t settle for tired hasbara and an Israel right-or-wrong approach.” J Street U Communications Co-Chair Benjy Cannon followed suit in Haaretz, where he opined that “Hillel’s tactic is no better than that of the ASA: It serves to exclude the very voices it should engage.”
The hypocrisy in their cry for “openness” is breath-taking, given J Street’s relentless insistence that only its beliefs are kosher.
J Street’s bullying is on display in an article by Plitman and Rachel Cohen in The Daily Beast. They write: “pro-Israel advocates cannot support the two-state solution in name only; we must all work to provide support for the Kerry initiative as a whole and for each of the difficult concessions necessary to reach an agreement. True backing means mobilizing support for peace talks based on pre-1967 borders with agreed-upon land swaps and robust security guarantees.”
Talking about conflict resolution in such absolute terms endangers the very democracy they demand. They believe and assert that “true backing” can only be achieved by endorsing J Street’s policy positions. According to Plitman and Cohen, if you do not back peace talks based on pre-1967 borders, you are not a true supporter of Israel. Rather than present their opinions as just that, opinions, they present their perspective as infallible, absolute truth.
Hussein Ibish is a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine and a frequent J Street U guest speaker. Eugene Kontorovich, a constitutional and international law scholar, is avowedly both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian.
In a recent article in Commentary, Kontorovich explained the fallacy of labeling Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Arabs as undemocratic. In response, Ibish tweeted that “even by the standards of the Comintern (@Commentary) pro-occupation cult, this is certifiably insane & barking mad.” In place of an intellectual response to Kontorovich’s article, Ibish dismissed and labeled Kontorovich, and everyone at Commentary, as insane and “cultish.”
On January 8th, Ibish tweeted:“Anyone, Arab, Jewish or otherwise, opposed to a two-state solution is a fanatic and part of the problem. This is clear.” Ibish – a J Street U favored speaker is unabashed: if you do not see the resolution of the conflict on his terms you are a fanatic and an obstacle to peace. Such narrow-mindedness sets up a single rigid dichotomy: “intellectual peaceniks” on one side and “bloodthirsty idiots” on the other.
On January 7th, Alan Elsner, Vice President of Communications for J Street, penned an article attacking Israeli Knesset member Naftali Bennett. Elsner characterized Bennett as only offering, “many spurious arguments, among them that the demographic clock is working in Israel’s favor and that whenever there are peace negotiations terrorism increases.“
“This is the nature of the opposition to peace. We can’t say we haven’t been warned,” Elsner concluded. Rather than attempting to explain why he thinks Bennett’s statements are wrong, Elsner jumps to an intellectually dishonest conclusion that fits perfectly into J Street’s marketing message: Bennett opposes J Street’s position, ergo, Bennett is an opponent of peace.
For Elsner, for J Street, for Open Hillel, to oppose the imposition of its favored peace plan on Israel by the United States (which is not a party), makes even a democratically elected member of the Israeli government an opponent of peace.
As it stands now, It is impossible to have a productive discussion about who is really pro-Israel with J Street and its ilk because when others disagree they are labeled as insane and barking mad (Ibish), opponents of peace (Elsner), or conservative and exclusive (Plitman).
With their monopoly on morality, the last thing that these groups can claim is to encourage dialogue and discussion. Their policies are not a subset of the “open conversation” but rather the precursor. Rather than having a solution as a result of discussion, the “agreed upon conclusion” is established before anyone begins talking. J Street U Brandeis’ mission statement epitomizes the greater demand that specific policy trumps actual, open conversation: “Our mission is twofold: (1) Primarily, we are working to achieve a two-state solution through creating an informed and invested student body that will influence Congress to push for American diplomatic leadership on this issue. (2) Simultaneously, we are working to engage the American Jewish community in an honest and open conversation about Israel.”
About the Author: Daniel Mael is a junior at Brandeis University. He is from Newton, MA, and the co-founder of Brandeis Students for Accuracy about Israeli and Palestinian Affairs.
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