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Posts Tagged ‘Brandeis J Street U’

Pro-Israel: ‘Intellectual Peaceniks’ v. ‘Rejectionist Idiots’?

Friday, January 17th, 2014

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.”

Editor Deleted Post of J Street U Students’ Misconduct

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Last week The Jewish Press ran an op-ed,  “J Street Activists Defame Former Israeli Spokesperson.” It was written by a Brandeis junior, Daniel Mael.

That op-ed was an edited version of one which had briefly appeared as a blog post, but had been pulled by a Times of Israel editor. It was removed post-publication, even though the editor had read and approved the blog post before it was published. The reason it was removed, according to the editor, is that the subjects of the post complained that information in the article could hurt their chances for employment. Since when is that a justification for censorship?

Here’s the full background.

Mael wrote the op-ed in order to provide a fuller context, and to correct misrepresentations in an op-ed penned by two other Brandeis students about an event that took place on their campus this fall. Mael was present for the entire event. The op-ed to which Mael was responding was printed in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent (the two authors are from the Philadelphia region) and various J Street publications and sites.

J STREET U ARTICLE HEAVY ON VIEWPOINT VICTIMHOOD

As Mael explained, the J Street U students described negative feedback they received as being solely based on the “Brandeis pro-Israel tent” rejecting their critical view of Israel.  It set up the authors as the brave defenders of the minority viewpoint, struggling to have their voice heard amongst a crowd of adamantly, single-viewpoint supporters of Israel.

In fact, as Mael pointed out, one of the op-ed’s authors, who is the current president of Brandeis J Street U, was indeed heavily criticized by many other Brandeis students.  But the criticism was not of his political views, it was of his hostile and disruptive verbal attacks on the event’s speaker, former spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, Capt. Barak Raz.

Following the Raz talk, but before penning the op-ed, Eli Philip wrote on his Facebook page that Raz had lied to the Brandeis audience when he said there were “no checkpoints in the West Bank.”

As Raz himself pointed out in the comments that followed, Philip would have understood what Raz was saying had Philip been present during the first hour of Raz’s talk.  It was during that time that the former IDF spokesperson set up the context for his statement, and provided the technical definitions of terms he used – including checkpoint – throughout his talk.

Philip walked in an hour late to Raz’s talk – he had first attended that night’s J Street event, a speaker from Breaking the Silence.

Because he was so late, Philip missed the explanations Raz gave. Having missed those explanations, what Philip heard Raz say seemed entirely inconsistent with what Philip believed to be true.  That is why Philip challenged Raz, in a manner that even Philip acknowledged in his op-ed was intemperate.

Mael provides the context, and linked to the Facebook exchange in which Philip wrote that Raz lied to the Brandeis audience.  That entire portion of Philip’s Facebook wall has since been deleted.  But before writing the op-ed, Philip knew that Raz had provided official definitions of the terms he was going to employ in his talk before Philip entered the room. So even if Philip actually believed Raz lied when he posted that statement on his own Facebook wall, by the time he penned and submitted his op-ed, he knew he was omitting a relevant fact.

THE CENSORED BLOG POST

Now back to the Times of Israel disappearing act.

Frustrated by what he believed were distortions of reality in the Exponent op-ed, Mael wrote up his description of the event and of Philips’s behavior and its aftermath, and posted it as a blog on the Times of Israel. His op-ed went live following the pre-publication editorial review for bloggers. People began reading his version of events.

But in less than 24 hours, Mael’s Times of Israel blog post was deleted from the site, with no explanation.  It just disappeared.

Mael and other students who wanted to read his explanation of what happened at the Raz talk were perplexed by the blog disappearance. Several people wrote to the Times of Israel editor to ask what happened, including staff for pro-Israel organizations.

The reason the Times of Israel editor gave for pulling Mael’s op-ed was that the J Street U students who were the “subjects of its criticism made a convincing case that it could cause them economic hardship in terms of future employment.”

Wow.

It’s okay for the students to disrupt a speaker brought to campus, it’s fine to publicly call a former IDF spokesperson a liar on social media, and it’s just dandy to pen and have published an op-ed that paints yourself as someone victimized because of unpopular political opinions (which are actually the mainstream political opinions on American campuses, so where’s the glory in that?) while omitting critical inculpatory details.

But when someone who disagrees with your version of reality, who was an eyewitness to the event, calls you on showing up an hour into a speaker’s talk and being disruptive, rude and even slandering the speaker, you turn tail and whine about possible harm to future employment?

RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CONSEQUENCES OF ONE’S ACTIONS

There is a lesson for students to learn from this experience, lessons that are applicable to their lives as students and beyond.  First, students need to understand that the safe university bubble only extends as far as the university.  Once you venture out into the public – the first step here was calling Capt. Barak Raz a liar in a Facebook posting, the second was publishing an op-ed in a non-university publication – you might actually be held responsible for the consequences of your actions.

Perhaps the Times of Israel editor thought she was doing the Brandeis students a favor by pulling a post that named and shamed them. But everyone, even college students, need to stand up for their convictions. If the fallout threatens their livelihood and they fold when that happens, perhaps their convictions weren’t that strong in the first place.

Here’s a catchy shorthand version of the lesson: “if you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/editor-deleted-post-of-j-street-u-students-misconduct/2013/12/10/

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