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Whither American Jewry and Berkeley’s Hillel?

The campus Jewish organization makes common cause with Israel's enemies while rejecting Jewish values.

by
Abraham H. Miller

Bio

December 7, 2009 - 12:00 am

When the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick engaged the topic of “divergence” — the parting of ways between Israelis and the American Jewish left — she culled appropriate examples from Berkeley’s Hillel, a liberal Jewish campus organization. Even in Berkeley, Hillel’s antics are more than a source of embarrassment to the activist, pro-Zionist component of the Jewish community.

However, Hillel’s repeated bad behaviors of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist activities are absent opposition from Jewish community leaders. Their  tactic is to deny every episode that reaches the public agenda, while giving a wink and a nod to what happens on campus. Caroline Glick is sure to be bombarded with denials, either from here or from the national organization.  She should be comforted as to the accuracy of her renditions in direct portion to the intensity of these denials.

The current mantra concerning Hillel from those doing damage control is that Hillel has now changed. But the reality is that Glick’s description of a Hillel that is both anti-Jewish and anti-Israel is as true today as it ever was.

Yes, Hillel did finally celebrate Passover, after two years absence. And much is made of this as a harbinger of change. We are showcasing to the world that an organization committed to the preservation of Jewish values is actually celebrating Passover.

But what we would prefer not to publicize is that Hillel’s students were involved in this years’ Zionist-bashing, Israel Apartheid Week, sponsored by the virulent, anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine. Hillel’s  Valentine’s Day invitation took an insensitive and provocative swipe at orthodox Jews, calling them “scary,” perhaps suggesting that they were somehow the equivalent of Islamist suicide bombers.

All of this came in the absence of a learning curve from past bad behavior that included celebrating Cinco de Mayo with a barbeque party on Yom Hazikoron, the day of remembrance for fallen Israeli soldiers, and holding a dance party on Yom Hashoah, the solemn day of mourning for the Holocaust.

While Hillel students have been cautioned by Hillel leadership not to demonstrate on behalf of Israel and have been told that the Israeli flag is an offensive, militaristic symbol, there has been no such cautions when it comes to Hillel-sponsored Kesher Enoshi working with Students for Justice in Palestine and bringing in Israeli John Kerrys to discuss war crimes in Gaza in an event known as “Breaking the Silence.”

Even the name itself is a misnomer. Israeli soldiers are free to speak their minds and to put up what they want on the Internet.  There is no silence to break. There is no incarceration that awaits them for taking their ideas to the public. And among all soldiers, there is always the fringe of the fringe, the John Kerrys of the world, whose ego can only be sated by turning the deviant to the commonplace.

What of programs that will extol the behavior of the Israeli military as a professional and moral army, as former British Army Colonel Richard Kemp described them? Such programs are as likely to be held at Hillel as a program on the value of covert operations is likely to be held on the Berkeley campus.

This November, Kesher Enoshi students brought members of Students for Justice in Palestine into Hillel to vote for Kesher candidates running for the board of the Jewish Student Union, an important arm of Hillel that controls the funding of student groups. This is the means through which the Jewish community’s money is dispensed on the Berkeley campus. Through its alliance with the virulent anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine, Kesher Enoshi hoped to control the financial resources of Jewish students. Fortunately, the Kesher Enoshi candidates lost, even with their attempt to use a pro-Palestinian group to influence the outcome.

Hillel fundraising letters portray the organization as a place that promotes Jewish values and stands as a shield against the growth of campus anti-Zionism, which often masquerades as anti-Semitism. At Berkeley, however, several Hillel activists have moved from the embrace of Jewish and Zionist values to become prominent  in the Palestinian cause. Avital Aboody,, once head of  Hillel’s Israel Action Committee, is now active in the Free Gaza Movement. And Hillel student leader Itamar Haritan is now aligned politically with the Palestinian cause on campus. Perhaps at Berkeley’s Hillel that is indeed the definition of Jewish values.

Some blame Ken Kramarz for the fiasco on Berkeley’s campus, attributing Hillel’s anti-Judaism and anti-Israel’s programs to his arrival in 2007. But such thinking is simplistic. Kramarz couldn’t  do anything without major support from the organized Jewish community.

The Hillel we have, like our notorious anti-Israel film festival, is what the community wants. Caroline Glick asks: “Whither American Jewry?” In this community the answer is quite obvious: “On the campus we are standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel’s enemies while mocking our own heritage. At the film festival we are saluting Hamas-embracing Cindy Corrie, while beatifying her daughter who gave her life to make it possible for suicide bombers to kill other Rachels in Tel Aviv. This is who and where we are.

“Our Jewish Federation could not pass a resolution that would prevent a replay of this year’s anti-Israel film festival fiasco. But while we are smug about our progressive view of the world, we are incapable of defending it outside our incestuous political culture. At some level, we do comprehend how pathetic and ridiculous we look to the outside world.

“So, rest assured, our leadership and that of national Jewish organizations are gearing up to find refuge in denial, however implausible. Don’t be deceived. In this community there is an immense pride in our disdain for Israel and our mockery of Jewish values.  It is, after all, what we have become. We just can’t acknowledge it in the wider court of public opinion.”

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and a former head of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association.
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