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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Breaking the Silence’

‘Breaking the Silence?’ I Was Silenced.

Friday, April 4th, 2014

On March 31, I attended a disturbing lecture at Washington University in St. Louis. It was co-sponsored by St. Louis Hillel at Washington University and J Street U. The speaker, a former Israeli soldier with the group “Breaking the Silence” (BtS), misrepresented and demonized the Israel Defense Forces, Israel, and Israeli policy. BtS is known for bringing in speakers like this, so I could not understand why Hillel and J Street U had sponsored a talk whose only purpose appeared to be to misinform audiences and instill hostility towards Israel.

As an Israeli reservist who had been stationed in the West Bank, I sat in disbelief as the speaker described attitudes and policies that were entirely divorced from reality.

The former soldier, Oded Na’aman, claimed that Israeli soldiers are trained to oppress the Palestinians individually and as a people, that they maliciously mistreat Palestinians in the West Bank, and that they are taught to make Palestinians fear Israeli soldiers. He argued that there are no civil rights for Palestinians and that the Jewish people who now have a state use their power to oppress Palestinians.

I had no idea what he was talking about or what motivated him to lie.

He did not describe the Israel or IDF that I know so intimately.

As a reservist and a soldier, I had been stationed in the West Bank. My job was to protect the Palestinians’ human rights, coordinate humanitarian aid, and tend to the needs of civilians living in the West Bank. I always felt that Israel’s concern for the welfare of the Palestinians was impressive, and I was proud to be part of it.

My experience taught me that even during wartime, Israel made it a priority to meet the needs of Palestinians even though they had made themselves enemies of the State of Israel by launching the second intifada.

I recall that during my service in Hebron, I had to adhere to international humanitarian law and ensure that the soldiers in the Judea Brigade were educated about the Geneva Convention and the rules of engagement—or face punishment. We sometimes went beyond these strict rules to help Palestinians. Once, when I served in my unit’s headquarters, we arranged a complex operation so that my unit, with the help of another unit, could save the life of a Palestinian boy living in Gaza whose mother had died. We did some investigating, and discovered that his uncle lived in Ramallah. In a special operation in the middle of the night, we moved the child to his uncle so that he would not be left alone in the streets of the Gaza Strip.

It was torture for me to sit there quietly and listen to the distortions of this former soldier who had served during the most violent period of the second intifada (2000-2003), when suicide bombers and snipers were wantonly murdering Israeli men, women, and children. But he never described the terrorism that forced the IDF to take measures to protect our families.

If he has complaints about the IDF, he should be an activist in Israel. Soldiers don’t always do the right thing or live up to the IDF code. They should be disciplined. Israel’s policies can be debated. But Israel is constantly examining itself critically, and debates in Israel are energetic and promote the full variety of views. Why, then, would he come to the U.S. to complain about his own army?

I think I know why. It’s because there are groups who are parading him around to tell half-truths and lies to defame Israel. When he was asked that very question during the question-and-answer period, he said, “I came here to tell Americans what their tax money is funding.” He said that attacking Israel with F16s is not the right answer, but that Israel needs to be pressured. I wondered what kind of twisted thinking would make a person who lives in a vibrant democracy, where he can campaign for his political positions, instead ask outside forces to pressure his country? What motivated him? Is he a post-nationalist who doesn’t want Israel to exist at all?

Hillel Explains When ‘Open Hillel’ Will Result in Disaffiliation

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Over the last few months, Jewish student groups on two American campuses affiliated with the Hillel International Foundation publicly rejected Hillel’s guidelines for partnership.

The first to stick out its tongue at the mother ship was Swat Hillel, the Hillel group at Swarthmore College, in suburban Philadelphia.  On December 8, the group approved a resolution declaring itself to be an “Open Hillel.”

According to the resolution, the Swarthmore College group rejected Hillel International’s guidelines “which privilege only one perspective on Zionism, and make others unwelcome.”

This week a second Jewish campus organization, the Vassar Jewish Union at Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, New York, declared it also would not abide by Hillel’s Israel guidelines.

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, issued a firm and swift public response to each of those public declarations.

First, what are those guidelines the two groups cannot abide?

Hillel welcomes, partners with, and aids the efforts of organizations, groups, and speakers from diverse perspectives in support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:

  • Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders;
  • Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel;
  • Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;
  • Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.

In other words, you can think whatever you want, even about Israel, you just can’t use Hillel to provide a platform for haters of Israel.

College students tend to rebel against any kind of guidelines, even the most benign ones, and that’s pretty much what the Jewish students at Swarthmore and Vassar did.

FINGERHUT RESPONDS

Eric Fingerhut, the tall, amiable-looking relatively new head of Hillel International, immediately responded to the public pouts with cordial, yet firm, responses.

Within two days of Swarthmore’s vote to reject Hillel’s guidelines, Fingerhut wrote: “Let me be very clear – ‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.”

The Swarthmore resolution included this: “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.”

Vassar rejected the Hillel guidelines on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Fingerhut again responded cordially but firmly in a statement released on Thursday, Feb. 20.

Hillel’s vision is to help Jewish students build an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Israel is a critical part of the Jewish people’s shared history and identity, and we will always encourage students to engage with Israel in a meaningful way.  Hillel will not, however, give a platform to groups or individuals to attack the Jewish people, Jewish values or the Jewish state’s right to exist. This includes groups or individuals that support and advance the BDS movement, which represents a vicious attack on the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Our expectation is that all Hillel affiliates will continue to uphold these standards for partners and co-sponsors. We look forward to helping every Hillel meet the goals of Jewish student exploration, education and identity.

While Fingerhut’s statement is a firm declaration of its commitment to its own guidelines, it makes no mention of what will happen should an affiliated campus group refuse to abide by those guidelines.

WHEN CONSEQUENCES WILL BE TRIGGERED

The Jewish Press pressed that point, and extracted some level of clarity about what Hillel International intends to do, and when it intends to do it, to campus groups which flout the guidelines.

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.”

US College Sponsored Speakers: Israelis Kidnap, Torture Arab Children

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

“Trust, concern and respect” are the key words in Haverford College’s honor code.

This weekend at least some Haverford students who care about Israel weren’t feeling as if any of those terms applied to them.

There was an event at Haverford College on Sunday, Nov. 24, called “The Soldier and the Refusenik.” The two speakers who presented are traveling throughout the U.S. on a fundraising tour for their organization, Anarchists Against the Wall.  That organization attacks not only the “Occupation,” but Israel’s very existence.

And perhaps worst of all, the Haverford Center for Peace and Global Citizenship was not only a co-sponsor of the event, it also provided technical and financial assistance.

During Sunday’s program, students were told by Israel-critical Israelis such “facts” as:

- Israel uses the “West Bank” and Gaza as its own private lab where it experiments on Palestinian Arabs and then sells the weapons it perfects to the “worst dictators in the world, including the United States”;

- Israeli soldiers kidnap young Arab children from their homes in the middle of the night.  The Israelis then hold those children in military detention centers for one to three days, during which time the children aren’t given any water or allowed to see their parents or a lawyer. The Israelis then coerce the children into lying and saying that certain Arab leaders told the children to throw stones at Israeli soldiers.  The Israeli soldiers then release the children and arrest the Arab leaders;

- Israeli soldiers pretend to be Arabs and join the “peaceful, non-violent Palestinian Arab demonstrations.” The soldiers pretending to be Arabs then throw stones at the Israelis, which unleashes the “hundreds of IDF soldiers” with guns and tear gas canisters who were waiting for the legitimacy provided by the undercover IDF  to attack the non-violent Arab protesters;

- Under Israel’s military law, any threat to Israeli rule is terrorism.  In fact, any Arab who does not “wholeheartedly” accept the occupation is officially deemed a terrorist.

Many of those underhanded strategies of entrapment and undercover work are essential, the speakers explain, because “the IDF can’t have these Ghandi types undermining our Occupation.”  That’s right. The speakers described the Arab Palestinian leadership who are getting arrested as “Ghandi types.”

FIRST, THE FORMER SOLDIER

The presentation began with the former soldier, Eran Efrati.  Efrati has a buoyant, engaging personality.  He wove a very personal tale of his early childhood in a typical Israeli Zionist home, one in which his Auschwitz-survivor grandmother also lived. The Nazis’ arrest of his grandmother’s father in the middle of the night was an episode seared into her brain, and also Eran’s, especially because it seemed so arbitrary.

The word “arbitrary” was a leitmotif of Efrati’s talk.  He wove it into his own experiences in the IDF and those of other soldiers who, according to Efrati’s tale, arbitrarily arrest and terrorize Palestinian Arabs.

As he tells it, there was a pivotal moment in Efrati’s military career which scarred him. But rather than the story revealing a fundamental malevolence in the Israeli military, it sounded more like a description of a moment in which Efrati could have, but failed to, do the right thing. As a direct result of his own inaction, an apparently innocent Arab was arrested and held for days.

The short version of that story is Efrati, stationed in Hebron, tried to make friends with the local Palestinian Arab children by bringing them candies and the ubiquitous peanut butter snack, Bamba.  One child finally took a packet of Bamba from Efrati, and offered Efrati a piece.  That sent Efrati into paroxysms of joy – he was “fulfilling his destiny.” But that very same night Efrati was tapped for night mapping exercise.

A Mapping exercise is when the IDF go into Arab homes in the middle of the night, wake everyone up, and as the male head of household takes them through the house, an IDF troop makes detailed drawings of the inside of the house. The reason given for the mapping exercise is so that in case of a terrorist attack, the IDF knows all the means of ingress and egress from all the homes.

Of course on the night of Efrati’s rise to grace the last home he is told to go into is the one in which the young boy who shared the Bamba with him lives.  Somehow Efrati ends up in the bedroom of the boy who is standing there, stark naked. Efrati points his gun at the boy’s head and the boy wets himself. At that moment the boy’s father comes in the room and starts screaming and hitting the boy, yelling “don’t take him, he’ll be punished!” Just then, Efrati’s fellow soldiers enter the room and, thinking Efrati was in danger, they arrest the father.

Will New Hillel Head Honcho Continue Stretching the ‘Big Tent’?

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

The desk where the buck will stop at Hillel headquarters is about to get a new occupant.  There are those who worry that a recent, perhaps accelerating Hillel trend towards allowing everyone “in the tent” will come to mean that there are no standards at all.

Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, serves Jewish students in more than 500 universities worldwide, the vast majority of which are in the United States. The annual operating budget is just under $90 million.

But while Hillel is “the largest Jewish campus and community-based organization in the world serving the college-age population,” some wonder whether the orientation which is increasingly about “self-authorship” regarding Jewish practice, is likewise so open-ended about support for Israel that the words mean very little.

For instance, in the last year, the venomously anti-Israel group “Breaking the Silence”, an organization which exists solely to demonize the Israel Defense Forces, has been welcomed into Hillel, the Jewish communal home on campus.  And this didn’t only happen on the west coast University of California at Berkeley, as suggested in an article by JNS.com reprinted in EJewishPhilanthropy.org.

The University of Pennsylvania Hillel also hosted a speaker from Breaking the Silence this spring. According to those involved, the issue was put to a vote of the board of the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, and the majority chose to host the group.

Breaking the Silence isn’t just any anti-Israel organization.  Last month the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, Capt. Barak Raz, exasperated by the organization’s continuous pummeling of the IDF, while it nonetheless refused to engage with the IDF in order to make changes. In an interview with Tazpit News, Raz explained that the IDF has standing orders, regulations, and an ethical code that soldiers must abide by.

“These not only require soldiers to act according to the law, but also to report instances when things were otherwise,” he writes. “Instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes, these soldiers simply blame the army for what they did wrong,” he told Tazpit News Agency.

Furthermore, Raz continues, “the information used by Breaking the Silence by and large seems to derive from two sources – unverifiable hearsay or accounts from anonymous former soldiers who, sometimes, they themselves deserve to be behind bars in military prison for what they did!”

Natan Nestel is the former chairman of the Israeli Students Organization in North America.  Nestel has spent the past several years making a documentary about Hillels, and he is greatly disturbed by what he has found.

Nestel told JNS.org that groups that demonize Israel should be outside of the ‘big tent’ on campus.

“Nominally Jewish groups, including those who assist anti-Israel groups and speakers to come to campuses, should not be included [in the tent],” Nestel said. Nestel cited the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group J Street, which he said sponsored the appearance at Berkeley of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group that defames the Israeli army for “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic cleansing” and “violations of human rights.”

In the statement issued by the entity engaged to conduct the search for the next Hillel leader, a frank admission is made about the shift in orientation regarding how Hillel sees itself in relationship to being a Jewish institution on campus,

Over the decades, Hillel’s approach to education and engagement has evolved. Once seen as the “synagogue on campus,” Hillel today encourages students to take ownership of their Jewish experience and define “Jewish” in their own way. The destination of their Jewish journey is up to the student – Hillel provides the resources.

Is what the Hillels are doing just another attempt to define “pro-Israel” in their own way?  As Nestel points out,

J Street is already entrenched at Berkeley’s Hillel and the JSU (Jewish Student Union),” Nestel wrote. “The Hillel group, Kesher Enoshi (KE), is its proxy there. This year KE, along with J Street U, brought the founder of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement in to speak at Hillel. He demonized Israel, proclaiming, ‘Jerusalem is a symbol of evil.’ Berkeley’s Hillel director argued that this was ‘within the framework of national Hillel’s Israel policy.’

A professional search firm, Spencer Stuart Executive Search, was hired by Hillel in January.  An internal search committee was announced in February.

In April, the search firm announced that nearly 325 individuals had been identified as potential candidates, and that more than 200 people had been contacted by the committee.

Initial predictions were that the new Hillel leader would assume the position in June.  That timeline was recently revised, and it is now anticipated that the new Hillel CEO will be announced at the 2013 annual gathering known as the Hillel Institute, which will take place on July 29, at Washington University in St. Louis.

Penn Hillel Provided Platform to Venomous ‘Breaking The Silence’

Friday, March 29th, 2013

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/penn-hillel-provided-platform-to-venomous-breaking-the-silence/2013/03/29/

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