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The ‘Big Tent’ to Nowhere: Asaf Romirowsky, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 22, 2014— More and more, we hear from faculty and students about the need to have an “open tent” or a “big tent,” of ideas and opinions specifically, when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Anti-Israel Jews and the Vassar Blues: Lucette Lagnado, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2014 — Recently I was contacted by a fellow Vassar alumna through Facebook. She wanted to know if I was aware that our genteel alma mater had become a hotbed of anti-Israel, pro-boycott sentiment.
NYU Holds Secret Anti-Israel Conference: Liel Leibovitz, Tablet, Mar. 4, 2014 — Last week, I argued here that there was no point in debating with people who fundamentally disagreed with you; if you believed in Israel’s right to exist, I wrote, and someone didn’t, you really have very little reason to sit down and chat.
My University Won’t Stand Up For Israel: Justin B. Hayet, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 23, 2014 — Just as finals began to get into full swing this past December, the American Studies Association (ASA) passed a resolution that degraded its existing integrity as well as the values embedded within American culture that the ASA seeks to protect.
An Academic Lynching Behind Closed Doors: Tammi Rossman-Benjamin & Leila Beckwith
JNS, Mar. 2, 2014
Boycott of Israel Delayed by University of Windsor Students: CBC, Mar. 14, 2014
The Funny, New Definition of ‘Diversity’ in America: Jonah Goldberg, New York Post, Feb. 24, 2014
This Academic Year’s War For and Against Israel on Campus: Edward S. Beck, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 12, 2014
Jerusalem Post, Feb. 22, 2014
More and more, we hear from faculty and students about the need to have an “open tent” or a “big tent,” of ideas and opinions specifically, when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. While the nature of public discourse demands expressing a multitudes of ideas and opinions, the kind of openness espoused by this big tent idea is in fact myopic and limiting in its own narrow scope. The notion is sold as a non-binding position, when in reality those that sell it are simply uncomfortable or unwilling to take a firm position.
The big tent thus gives the impression of openness, but actually only caters to left-of-center views. The genesis of this in the American Jewish community lies in our need to be open and pluralistic, which is generally a good thing but can become self-destructive.
While the Diaspora Jewish community is hardly monolithic when it comes to Israel, Israelis or Israeli policies, mainstream Jewish groups and organizations since 1948 have adopted the line of “supporting the democratically elected government of Israel – Left, Right or Center – and ensure the safety and security of its citizens.” Of course not blindly, but under the belief that a strong, united front benefits the Jewish community at large. This is the line organizations such as Federations, AIPAC, AJC, ADL and others have adopted to show bi-partisan support for the democratically elected government in Israel. Yet, we are seeing today how this policy has been interpreted as a so-called right-of-center agenda. That is, support for Israel is perceived as a right-wing agenda – this is a farce.
Those who make these claims have gone to extreme measures, even to a point of adopting the Palestinian narrative, as if to say that if we (Jews) will become more Palestinian than the Palestinians, peace in the Middle East would come about. Thus, the extreme Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has made J Street seem like the height of moderation. As Isaac Deutscher formulated in his “non-Jewish Jew” regarding the State of Israel, “on a deeper, historical level the Jewish tragedy finds in Israel a dismal sequel. Israel’s leaders exploit in self-justification, and over-exploit Auschwitz and Treblinka; but their actions mock the real meaning of the Jewish tragedy.” This has become the foundation for the adaptation and revisionism of the Arab-Israeli conflict among the Jewish Left, who feel the need to put aside their Jewishness to underscore their pluralism and openness.
Of late, these very issues were challenged by Hillel at Swarthmore College, where the students attempted to question Hillel’s own stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict. To its credit, Hillel’s newly- appointed international president and CEO Eric Fingerhut correctly held his ground and made it clear to Swarthmore where the red lines are, stating: “Your resolution [Swarthmore] further includes the statement: ‘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.’ This is simply not the case. 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.
“Hillel recognizes, of course, that ‘organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice’ violate these guidelines may well be welcomed on campus, according to the policies of the particular college or university. The Hillel on campus, however, may not partner with or host such groups or speakers.
This is entirely within our discretion as an organization, and we have clearly stated our intention to make these important decisions to protect our values and our critically important mission. “Just as the university decides who will teach classes, and what organizations it will allow on campus, so Hillel will decide who will lead discussions in programs it sponsors and with whom it will partner.”
Consequently, Hillel was criticized for limiting the debate on Israel – as if debating Israel’s existence as a Jewish sovereign state fell within the realm of serious discourse. We have witnessed how the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel pro-peace” organization J Street has attempted to sell its agenda as the alternative to the “mainstream” and demand that the tent of the Jewish community stretch to include its views. The Jewish community for the most part opened itself to J Street. At least, until we saw the aggressively anti-Israel pro-boycott agenda advocated by many branches of J Street University begin to pop up demanding to be in the “big tent.”
Now we see the even more extreme anti-Israel so-called Jewish Voice for Peace demanding that it be in the tent via its “Open Hillel” campaign. Where does it stop? Does the “big tent” allow those who wish to burn it down in, with flammable liquids and lit torches? The core of the problem regarding the “big tent” philosophy is that it has no red lines; everyone should be included, even at the expense of Jewish identity and survival of the Jewish state.
Israelis who live and breathe in Israel are hardly uniform in their own views, however, even those in leftist circles believe that Israel has the right to exist as a state in some capacity, within the 1949 or post-1967 borders. As such, one can understand why Israelis do not fully understand what is happening in the Diaspora with regard to these matters, as they have never faced the challenge of debating Israel’s legitimacy in the environment we find on North American college campuses and many Jewish leftwing circles.
This is not to say that diversity of opinion and academic freedom should not be exercised. The difference is that there needs to be a differentiation between criticism and delegitimization, and between open discussion and self-inflicted annihilation. Many, in their naiveté, have no grasp of how they fuel the anti-Israel groups on college campuses, groups like Jews for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Studies Association and others who use this message to validate their own agendas. What is even more problematic are those groups within the Jewish community who believe that this kind of “discussion” will further peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Finally, making a case for Israel becomes increasingly more difficult when Israelis and Jews decide to adopt a Palestinian agenda that detracts from the real issue behind the conflict: Mutual recognition of one another. And above all, mainstream Jewish groups have a responsibility to their stakeholders to establish clear lines that they will uphold while affording their constituents a wide range of opinions that fall within the realm of legitimate debate and public discourse. Being a “big tent” doesn’t mean killing yourself to be in it.
[Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct scholar at the Foundation for Defense for Democracies
and the Middle East Forum, and a CIJR Academic Fellow]
Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2014
Recently I was contacted by a fellow Vassar alumna through Facebook. She wanted to know if I was aware that our genteel alma mater had become a hotbed of anti-Israel, pro-boycott sentiment. Suddenly, my stomach was in knots—a feeling that Vassar has managed to evoke in me ever since I went there in the 1970s. An Orthodox Jewish girl from Brooklyn on a full scholarship, I fixated on this Seven Sister school as my entryway to the American dream, the epitome of style and grace that also prided itself on teaching "critical thinking."
In this case the cause of my angst was a young woman named Naomi Dann, the president of the Vassar Jewish Union. She had penned a piece for the campus paper strongly supporting the recent move by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic exchanges—a decision denounced by college presidents across the country, including Vassar's. Her piece strung together all the familiar buzzwords and clichés used by Israel's critics: "atrocities," "oppressive," "abuses," "colonial," and, of course, "apartheid." Signed jointly with the co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine, Ms. Dann even slammed Vassar's president and dean of the faculty for daring to oppose the boycott against the Jewish state.
There was more to fuel my Vassar angoisse. The head of the Jewish Studies Program, a professor named Joshua Schreier, had also expressed support for the boycott movement. Prof. Schreier was quoted in the campus paper ruminating that while once "instinctively against" the boycott, he had heard more "substantiated, detailed" arguments on its behalf, and as a result "I am currently leaning in favor of it," he concluded delicately, as if choosing a flavored tea. As for Vassar's rabbi, Rena Blumenthal, she was MIA—on leave in Israel, no less—and emailed to say she couldn't weigh in from afar. Huh?
To be sure, I had been aware that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement had taken off on some college campuses, even in the Ivy League. It had become chic to attack Israel even—especially—if you were Jewish. I heard from an alum who was stopped by his own child, a Vassar student, from taking a public stand against the BDS movement. The student was fearful of being ostracized for having a parent who supported Israel. Suddenly the toxic essence of this movement to make Israel and its supporters pariahs in the groves of academe and the cocktail parties of polite society hit home in a way it hadn't before. It also brought back painful memories about my own Vassar experience, and the shattered illusions that had marked it.
I had gone to Vassar a naïf, a sheltered girl from an immigrant community. Mine was a neighborhood of Jewish exiles thrown out or pressured out of Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s—in my family's case, Egypt. We were victims of the Middle East conflict who were barely mentioned in the history books. Though we had been mistreated and denied our homelands, we suffered alone and in silence. No cool campus groups spoke up for us then, or now. Our values were God, faith, family and Israel. We were passionate about the Jewish state, a country that took so many Middle Eastern Jews in when, one after another, Arab countries had forced or pressured us out. I was raised as a Sabbath observer, a keeper of dietary laws, and, oh, expected to marry young and refrain from sex before marriage. Those were the quaint values I carried to Vassar, which I had chosen from among a multitude of schools for the old-fashioned ideals its name evoked. I had read a brochure alluding to a tradition of students drinking sherry with faculty. To someone more familiar with Manischewitz wine, sipping sherry with my professors epitomized what I wanted on this earth: a life of civility and grace. This was Jackie Kennedy's Vassar.
Instead, I found myself on a campus in the throes of a 1970s rebellion. There was a drug culture and a drinking culture, but no sherry culture I could find. Vassar prided itself on being edgy and embraced open sexuality and every other cause of the tumultuous era. My disillusionment came fast. My first day I wandered to the "ACDC"—the forbidding central dining hall—and timidly asked a manager where I could find the kosher section. She looked at me as if I were from another planet. What followed were months of kosher TV dinners, in big aluminum packages. It was incredibly decent of Vassar to obtain those for me, yet every time I lugged one these dinners from the kitchen to the table in their silver foil, I felt the stares of my fellow-diners. It never got easier. I could never take that train from Grand Central back to Poughkeepsie on Sunday nights without the blues setting in. And now, so many years later, my Vassar blues were back.
The other night I received a press release from the president of the Vassar Jewish Union, Ms. Dann—yes, her again. This time, she was attacking Hillel, the venerable campus organization that has offered a home to generations of Jewish students. Following in Swarthmore's footsteps, the Vassar Jewish Union was becoming an "open Hillel"—no longer obliged to heed Hillel's pesky rule of banning speakers who demonize Israel or believe the Jewish state shouldn't exist. The release was replete with more clichés about needing a "diverse range of personal and political opinions" that it argued Hillel failed to provide. I am still waiting for the day a student or faculty member stands up to these academic hooligans at the Vassar Quad. Now that would show some "critical thinking." As for Vassar's Rabbi Blumenthal, she finally agreed to speak to me from Israel over the weekend. She firmly opposes the boycott, she declared, and has been upset by the anti-Israel sentiments on campus, noting: "I am here because I love this country. I am a Zionist." Bravo, rabbi. How nice to hear of one Israel defender at Vassar. I can only pray that others on campus listen.
Tablet, Mar. 4, 2014
Last week, I argued here that there was no point in debating with people who fundamentally disagreed with you; if you believed in Israel’s right to exist, I wrote, and someone didn’t, you really have very little reason to sit down and chat. Apparently, Israel’s academic detractors were paying attention. This weekend, the American Studies department at NYU held a conference titled “Circuits of Influence: U.S., Israel, and Palestine.” With a morning session about the history and efficacy of boycotts and a lunchtime workshop devoted to organizing students on campus and featuring representatives of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace—both organizations being strong advocates of BDS—there could be little doubt about the conference’s true aim.
Not that you’d know about any of it: inviting friends and colleagues to the conference on her Facebook page, NYU professor Lisa Duggan—you may remember her as the president of the American Studies Association and a strong voice in support of the organization’s decision last year to boycott Israeli universities—asked that the conference be kept secret. “PLEASE DO NOT post or circulate the flyer,” read her message. “We are trying to avoid press, protesters and public attention.” Now, it’s one thing for a student organization like Hillel or private institutions like Jewish museums or high schools to decide that their intellectual horizons exclude those who do not share certain core beliefs. A university, however, does not have that privilege. It is—or should be—open to all ideas, to myriad points of view, to discussion, to dissent.
Because any attempt to seriously study human conduct is likely to stir up emotions and give rise to ideological barricades, our best universities have come up with policies to safeguard that sanctity of academic freedom in their midst. Title I of NYU’s own poignant faculty handbook puts it elegantly when it states that professors “should not introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation to their subject,” and should at all times “exercise appropriate restraint” as well as “show respect for the opinions of others.” The recent conference’s organizers did none of that. Forgoing any semblance of serious study, viable research, or honest attempts to understand the intricacies of the subject at hand, they turned their classroom into a seminary designed exclusively to cultivate hatred for one particular nation state and fashion this animosity into ruinous political action.
Hence the call to keep things secret: while academic institutions are, of course, never obliged to let members of the public into their hushed sanctuaries—that’s a privilege obtained by paying a hefty tuition—one should be very, very suspicious of any learned person who insists—against the long-standing and proud American tradition of free inquiry, against the common-sensical and democratic expectation that the university see itself as part of the community that supports and sustains it and not as a small and zealous sect apart—on conducting intellectual work under the cover of darkness. The university should judge whether the organization of a discriminatory conference and the insistence that participants comply, Mafia-style, with a sort of academic Omerta meets its own standards. The rest of us are left with the less subtle and more tragic duty of witnessing the formerly solid tradition of intellectual freedom and debate melt into air.
Justin B. Hayet
Jerusalem Post, Feb. 23, 2014
Just as finals began to get into full swing this past December, the American Studies Association (ASA) passed a resolution that degraded its existing integrity as well as the values embedded within American culture that the ASA seeks to protect. The ASA resolution is a boycott of Israeli higher education institutions. Three Binghamton University professors – Joseph Keith, Ali Mazrui and James Petras – voted in favor of this resolution. Although Binghamton University does not have an official American studies department, these three professors are voting members of ASA. The boycott states that the ASA stands in “solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians. The ASA’s endorsement of the academic boycott emerges from the context of US military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions.” Binghamton University is a generally politically apathetic campus.
Furthermore, in reference to Israel, with over 30 percent Jewish students, Israel is rarely, if ever, questioned by the communal campus conversation. However, with the recent emergence of a SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) student group, a group that endorses the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, Israel’s legitimacy is being interrogated voraciously. The recent tension between the quickly growing SJP and the pro-Israel community is heating up, however roughly 80% of the student population, many of whom are Jews, are strategically being targeted for support by SJP and we cannot falter or wait. We need our campus leadership to stand tall with over 200 other American university presidents in rejecting this heinous boycott.
“Zionism is Racism,” “Israel is an Apartheid State,” and even the tiny bit hilarious “Zionist Music Gives me the Blues.” These phrases are plastered at the front of my mind. These phrases are the reason I have not slept in days. These phrases attack and shame our history and seek to destroy our future. These phrases were screamed by SJP students protesting the Haifa Symphony Orchestra which came to visit Binghamton University last week. I stood peacefully and proudly with Israeli flags alongside five students. We stood next to these hateful students who attacked the very foundation of the Jewish state, the very same state I seek to dedicated my life and eventual legacy to. But Binghamton University was just business as usual. No uproar by the general population at students who bordered on anti-Semitism in their proud display of hate toward anything related to the Jewish state.
Beyond the boycott of Israel, the hypocrisy lies in the obvious truth that any academic boycott undercuts the values and even the history upon which the field of American studies is built. It’s shameful that American values are being manipulated and undercut by an organization that is so meticulously exercising the all-too-familiar double standard that the Jewish state knows all too well. There’s no boycott resolution by the ASA regarding Syria, after over 100,000 dead and 8 million displaced by President Bashar Assad’s murderous regime. And beyond the Middle East, there is no boycott of China’s academic institutions, despite China’s blatant disregard of anything that favors democracy or human rights. There is no boycott of Russian institutions, despite Russia mounting anti-gay laws and President Vladimir Putin’s heinous weekly statements regarding such issues.
Most shocking of all, there’s no resolution against the eight Palestinian universities, all built by Israel with Israeli taxpayer money, despite the Palestinian Authority’s praise of suicide bombers or the PA’s treatment of women and homosexuals. There’s no resolution by the ASA condemning the PA or their universities despite their weekly calls, during the peace talks, that within a future established Palestinian state there will be no Jews allowed, as President Mahmoud Abbas said in 2010: “I will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land.” That rhetoric, words blatantly ignored by the American media, speaks for itself… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link –Ed.]
An Academic Lynching Behind Closed Doors: Tammi Rossman-Benjamin & Leila Beckwith
JNS, Mar. 2, 2014 —New York University (NYU) professor and president-elect of the American Studies (ASA) Association Lisa Duggan recently wrote on her Facebook regarding the Feb. 28-March 1 “Circuits of Influence: U.S., Israel, and Palestine” conference she helped organize, “PLEASE DO NOT post or circulate the flyer. We are trying to avoid press, protestors and public attention.”
Boycott of Israel Delayed by University of Windsor Students: CBC, Mar. 14, 2014—There's still no decision on campus about whether the University of Windsor Student Alliance will adopt a referendum vote that would boycott companies with ties to Israel.
The Funny, New Definition of ‘Diversity’ in America: Jonah Goldberg, New York Post, Feb. 24, 2014 —Cancel the philosophy courses, people. Oh, and we’re going to be shuttering the political science, religion and pre-law departments, too.
This Academic Year’s War For and Against Israel on Campus: Edward S. Beck, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 12, 2014 —What a year it’s been on campus in the war for and against Israel on campus. Things are heating up on American campuses in a way we haven’t seen since the second intifada.
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