If Hillel rejects nonviolent resistance to the occupation, what does it propose in its place?

Two weeks ago, our group, the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, partnered with the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance to organize an event that dealt explicitly with the struggle to strengthen a Jewish identity that fights nonviolently for social justice and equality for all people in the Holy Land. Because of the event’s relevance to Jewish audiences, PJA originally reserved a room for the event in Harvard Hillel, the center of Jewish life on campus. Although we were delighted that Harvard Hillel initially agreed to have this dialogue take place in its building, the offer was suddenly revoked a week before the event. Due to pressure from Hillel International, the event was prevented from taking place in Hillel because PSC was a co-sponsor.

As rationale for excluding our organization from this dialogue in Hillel, Harvard Hillel’s executive director noted that PSC supports the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. BDS is a movement initiated in 2005 by Palestinian civil society in order to nonviolently demand an end to Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies, and it has since become the largest international, peaceful movement successfully calling for change to these policies. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, companies targeted by BDS have lost billions of dollars in contracts, and companies around the world have divested from Israel. In October, Richard A. Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, called for a boycott of all companies profiting from Israeli settlements.

Harvard Hillel’s decision to ban us from co-sponsoring events at Hillel has silenced dissident voices in the Jewish community, a disconcerting act itself, given Hillel’s intention to be a space for all Jewish students. However, it has also made us wonder: if Hillel does not want to interact with pro-Palestinian groups that support nonviolent resistance for peace, how does Hillel expect people to resist Israel’s brutal occupation and well-documented human rights abuses?

Hillel International’s policies opposing groups which support BDS is a disgraceful attempt to silence critique and dissension against the policies of the State of Israel in the Jewish community. We appreciate the solidarity of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and that of countless other pro-peace Jewish groups and hope that Hillel will be able to evolve not only to accept modern discourse on a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also to accept viewpoints in its community that do not align with those of its main sponsors and leaders.

Last week witnessed a dramatic rise in violence between Israelis and Palestinians unprecedented in recent years. The fighting began last week when Israel ended a tacit truce with Hamas by assassinating the Hamas commander who was tasked with enforcing ceasefires and was in the process of negotiating a new one. In the following week, widespread Israeli bombings of Gaza killed at least 150 Palestinians. Hamas and other militant groups responded by firing rockets into Israel, killing five Israeli civilians.

The recent violence is the tragic consequence of over 60 years of Israeli dispossession of Palestinian lands and the continuing occupation and siege of the Palestinian people, which has ensured an unsustainable and unlivable reality, especially in Gaza. Between 2007 and 2010, Israel prevented even the most basic of goods—including staples like concrete and medicine as well as items like pasta, fruit juice, and chocolate—from entering the Strip, enforcing a siege by land while controlling and limiting Palestinian access to air and sea. Today, many imports and most exports are still banned by Israel.

The Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee is strongly opposed to the use of violence by any actor, especially violence targeted at civilians. However, we also recognize that Palestinian support for Hamas and participation in violent resistance is a response to a regime of occupation and human rights abuses that has lasted for over 60 years. This week’s events and Israel’s latest attack on Gaza demonstrate the tragic consequences of violent resistance.

The violence does, however, raises questions for all people who are interested in seeking a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli occupation and siege of the Palestinian population is immoral, and it perpetuates an unsustainable situation, resulting in a violent conflict last week in which Palestinians lost their lives daily and Israeli civilians were threatened with violent responses. If we understand this, then we must support resistance against Israeli policies: No government will change its policies if people do not speak out against them. Additionally, all occupied populations have the right to resist, defend, and reclaim their homes and land. It follows that if we truly seek peace in the Holy Land and reject violent resistance as a means to accomplish this, it is irrational and illogical to exclude nonviolent resistance from the available strategies. If Hillel seeks to be a relevant part of discourse on a just peace in the Holy Land today, it must stop silencing those voices that advocate BDS as a form of nonviolent struggle.

This post first appeared in the Harvard Crimson.

About Giacomo Bagarella and Alex R. Shams

Alex R. Shams and Giacomo Bagarella are members of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee.
Posted in Activism, American Jewish Community, BDS, Israel/Palestine, US Politics

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  1. Woody Tanaka says:

    “if Hillel does not want to interact with pro-Palestinian groups that support nonviolent resistance for peace, how does Hillel expect people to resist Israel’s brutal occupation and well-documented human rights abuses?”

    They don’t. With, sadly, few exceptions, Jewish organizations and every Jewish leader in the US dosn’t want anyone to support any resistance to the crimes of the israelis. They simply approve of brutality and human-rights abuses when it is israel doing it to non-Jews. THAT is where your first problem lies.

    • jl1 says:

      Woody,

      I recall a conversation I had with Roi, a charming young Israeli recently released from service in the IDF who had moved to NYC for a change of scenery. He waited table at a cafe I’d drop into for a late night meal on occasion. We came to know one another and spent many a slow evening debating, arguing and even commiserating on the state of Israel and the never ending discord that haunts that little nation. One day, almost in exasperation, I demanded of Roi that the status quo wouldn’t hold forever, that there would come a day when a sleeping U.S. constituency would grow weary of the fight and turning a more critical eye on Israel begin to demand a distancing from the situation. I’ll never forget his response. He looked at me, his liquid blue eyes intense with the conviction of a martyr and stated simply and with little emotion, “Jon, we don’t care!”

      This is when I began to understand the impossibility of the situation in understanding that his opinion was an accurate appraisal of Israel’s mindset and intent. Sadly Roi soon left. I was informed one evening that he had flown south looking for greener pastures in Brazil. They don’t care Woody, and they won’t.

      • Mooser says:

        “He looked at me, his liquid blue eyes intense with the conviction of a martyr and stated simply and with little emotion, “Jon, we don’t care!”

        People say a lot of stupid stuff when they’re half-drunk, and even more when they’re sober. But look at it this way: In spite of your romantic connection with his “liquid blue eyes” (ROLF!, keep your affairs to yourself, m’okay?) he wasn’t up for that matyrdom you invest him with and ske-daddled, flying down to Rio.
        That’s good enough for me.

      • AhVee says:

        There’s an impressive amount of anti-Americanism among the settler crowd, clear for all to see on the various settler-news outlets, some seem to believe that American involvement with Israel has a lot to do with Christian lore and some desire to lay claims of their own to the region for religious reasons. I’m not surprised why this facet isn’t illuminated in the American media. There’s this “good, help us sweep the Palestinians out the way, then eff off” thing going on.
        Roi sounds like your standard, run of the mill IDF Zio, what were you expecting? Also pretty reflective of the general arrogance around. After all, they didn’t need the U.N. either, after they got ‘their’ land, if they can abandon mommy, what would make them think that they need daddy? It’s hardly a revelation.

    • thetumta says:

      But your unwilling to do the heavy lifting and that’s the key, just pay others to do so for now. If you think this situation is going to be resolved without serious violence, I have a bridge for sale. Good price!
      Hej!
      P.S. You’re just 10 days too late. Perhaps it’s time to bail?

      • Woody Tanaka says:

        “But your unwilling to do the heavy lifting and that’s the key”

        Nonsense. I would be fine with doing the heavy lifting, but change must come from within and I’m not of that community. Do you think they’d listen to the likes of me?? No. They already have a pre-printed excuse cheat-sheet. It says, “________ is a (choose one): Jew hater, anti-semite, confused person. Feel free to ignore him.”

        You need a lot of people who are willing to say, “If my prinicples mean anything, I can’t excuse Israeli acts because they happen to be Jews” and who are willing to take the punches that will surely come their way.

  2. seafoid says:

    Hillel will come around, perhaps sooner than people think

    link to guardian.co.uk

    • Mooser says:

      I’m sorry seafoid. I don’t understand how the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN will in any way impact Hillel. What am I missing?

      • straightline says:

        I realise a little off-topic but this is great news to me as an Australian. And apologies if it has already been posted but haven’t seen it.

        Australia will abstain on the Palestine statehood vote – it was going to vote “No”! Gillard has been rolled by the Labor caucus.

        link to smh.com.au

        No doubt the recent Israeli killing spree in Gaza had an effect.

      • seafoid says:

        Moshiach will speak to hillel via the UN GA. Isn’t hillel named after some really enlightened rabbi? How did it turn all crabby and twisted?

        • seafoid says:

          Mooser- I was very impressed by Carlo Strenger in Ha’aretz yesterday.

          link to haaretz.com

          Pitching UN recognition of Palestine against the new Likud’s extreme right-wing ideology could lead towards a showdown between a Likud-Beitenu government and the world at large. Skeptical about the possibility of reaching a viable agreement with Palestinians, most Israelis have opted for the prolongation of the status quo in which Israel expands settlements without annexing the West Bank. This gradual de facto colonization under the aegis of an unclear legal situation is now likely to come to an end.
          How will Netanyahu maneuver between his increasingly right-wing constituency and Israel’s allies in the world?

          link to haaretz.com

          Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, a staunch ally of Israel, has suffered a stinging political setback after being forced by her own cabinet ministers to backtrack from an earlier decision to oppose the Palestinian bid at the UN and to order an Aussie abstention instead.

          Hillel can go and swing, frankly

          It is all going very Armin van Buuren

  3. Mooser says:

    “the struggle to strengthen a Jewish identity that fights nonviolently for social justice and equality for all people in the Holy Land.”

    I thought that was anti-Zionism.

    • Mooser says:

      Gosh, it’s beyond me why Hillel won’t join you in your attempt to help make it possible for the Zionists to keep as much of their loot as possible. I would have thought it would be right up their ally. Or maybe Hillel wants justice for the Palestinians, not just “peace” for the Israelis. (oh, brother, I just slay myself sometimes)

      Oh well, before you get to anti-Zionism, maybe you gotta go through not-a-Zionistism.

  4. sardelapasti says:

    “to strengthen a Jewish identity…”

    Definition of this “Jewish identity”, please, which you got suckered into supporting? With exact parameters. Is it adherence to religious rituals, or to religious precepts, or does it apply to non-religious people, and if it does, according to which criteria exactly; is there a whiff of a shadow of hard documentation for any “pan-Jewish” claims made in the latter case, which?

    Either your outfit checked, and should provide an accounting, or you didn’t, in which case one can seriously doubt your group’s seriousness and relevance.

  5. pabelmont says:

    Hillel might be willing to hear Jews talk about non-violent resistance to Israel, or even anti-Zionism, but not Palestinians talking about BDS. THEREFORE, some Jews ordinarily able to use Hillel should try them on that.

    HOWEVER, I am reminded of a story: In a home for insane people, one lady was vacuuming all the time with an annoyingly loud vacuum-cleaner. Someone asked her why she wanted everything to be so very clean. “I don’t,” she said. So why vacuum all the time? “So I cannot hear my voices,” she said.

    I think Hillel doesn’t want to hear Jewish voices defending the human rights of Palestinians because they have been brainwashed to believe that there cannot be Palestinian national and human rights and also Jewish (Israeli) national and human rights in adjacent small territories — and because talk of the “right of return” for Palestinians and democracy within Israel (implying greater rights for Palestinian citizens) seems to them a form of doom. I suspect that they also feel “doom” when Jews, especially in any sort of numbers, support BDS, because it makes their opposition to BDS seem (as it is) “crazy”.

    The “voices” they want to block out are the voices of Jews of conscience. The voices of Jews of conscience remind them that they themselves have abandoned traditional Jewish ethics and that is soul-shattering.

    AND, OF COURSE, Hillel is knuckling-under to AIPAC, just like all the politicians in Congress and like most of the USA’s media. Musn’t forget that, It’s not really about ethics at all, just seems that way. It’s about POWER.

  6. mondonut says:

    You propose that BDS = nonviolent resistance to the occupation, which sounds benign enough. However another specific goal of BDS is the complete Right of Return for millions of Palestinians. Many (most?) supporters of Israel correctly see the RoR demand as a demand to end Israel itself.

    So it hardly surprising that Hillel would reject an opportunity to work with organizations that advocate the elimination of the State of Israel.

  7. RoHa says:

    “a Jewish identity that fights nonviolently for social justice and equality ”

    A problem here. There are not many old style telephone boxes left. Where can one go to shed the secret identity of mild-mannered Mooser and emerge as the non-violent fighter?

  8. ● RE: “Between 2007 and 2010, Israel prevented even the most basic of goods—including staples like concrete and medicine as well as items like pasta, fruit juice, and chocolate—from entering the Strip, enforcing a siege by land while controlling and limiting Palestinian access to air and sea. Today, many imports and most exports are still banned by Israel.” ~ Giacomo Bagarella & Alex R. Shams

    ● FROM ALISTAIR CROOKE, London Review of Books, 03/03/11:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . It was [Ariel] Sharon who pioneered the philosophy of ‘maintained uncertainty’ that repeatedly extended and then limited the space in which Palestinians could operate by means of an unpredictable combination of changing and selectively enforced regulations, and the dissection of space by settlements, roads Palestinians were not allowed to use and continually shifting borders. All of this was intended to induce in the Palestinians a sense of permanent temporariness. . .
    . . . It suits Israel to have a ‘state’ without borders so that it can keep negotiating about borders, and count on the resulting uncertainty to maintain acquiescence. . .

    SOURCE – link to lrb.co.uk

    • ● P.S. ALSO, FROM WIKIPEDIA [Learned helplessness]:

      [EXCERPT] Learned helplessness is the condition of a human or animal that has learned to behave helplessly, failing to respond even though there are opportunities for it to help itself by avoiding unpleasant circumstances or by gaining positive rewards. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.[1] Organisms which have been ineffective and less sensitive in determining the consequences of their behavior are defined as having acquired learned helplessness.[2]
      The American psychologist Martin Seligman’s foundational experiments and theory of learned helplessness began at the University of Pennsylvania in 1967, as an extension of his interest in depression. Quite by accident, Seligman and colleagues discovered that the conditioning of dogs led to outcomes that opposed the predictions of B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism, then a leading psychological theory.[3][4]

      Experiment
      Summary
      In the learned helplessness experiment an animal is repeatedly hurt by an adverse stimulus which it cannot escape.
      Eventually the animal will stop trying to avoid the pain and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation.
      Finally, when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness prevents any action. The only coping mechanism the animal uses is to be stoical and put up with the discomfort, not expending energy getting worked up about the adverse stimulus. . .

      SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

  9. Mooser says:

    Definition of this “Jewish identity”, please…”

    Absolutely essential, and especially important in order to evaluate claims of “strengthening”.

  10. piotr says:

    Hypocrisy in my theory was invented by Romans who were given lip service to the idea of Justice, rather than slaying the enemies as commanded by a deity that does not have to explain anything. Properly applied, it is an invaluable tool of statecraft.

    Misused it can crumble upon its weight. International justice is always iffy, but this spectacle seems from gangster world: if you will rat on us to police or DA, we will beat you up or worse. Can a secret declaration not to sue have ANY validity? Is extracting such declarations legal?

    It seems to me that if it is legal, it is precisely the kind of manouver that makes the law a naked tool of the powerful rather than providing at least an illusion of “equal rights”. We should obey the Law or the Hegemon or Leviatan?

    Forget Hillel. It seems that Western Civilization comes closer and closer to the Gandhian quip “it would be an excellent idea!” (what he thinks about it).

    The tawdry truth is that USA is afraid of having troops, officers and officials liable for war crimes so since Bush administration USA spend considerable effort to extract exactly such declarations for its own benefit.

  11. HHM says:

    See also these links re: Hillel:

    1) The US to Gaza Initiative and the Hillel Controversy at Rutgers
    Deepa Kumar Monthly Review Magazine. November 5, 2010
    link to tinyurl.com

    2)Hillel to DePaul SJP: The Nakba is a ‘festivity to to delegitimize and destroy Israel’
    by Sami Kishawi on May 13, 2010 link to tinyurl.com

    3)Let the Sun Shine In: Israel lobby tries to censor my appearance at University of New Mexico
    Ali Abunimah link to tinyurl.com

    4) JVP, Harsh Critic Of Israel, Seeks a Seat at the Communal Table But Its Refusal To Support ‘Two States’ Prevents Acceptance By Gal Beckerman
    Published April 13, 2011, issue of April 22, 2011. link to tinyurl.com

    5) Hillel students and professionals gear up to face anti-Israel campus activism
    By Sue Fishkoff · August 16, 2010 link to tinyurl.com

    • Mooser says:

      Yeah, HHM, I was sort of asking myself what they smoke at Harvard. What did they expect from Hillel? Isn’t Hillel virtually (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they literally help facilitate this, not virtually) a recruiting station for the IDF?

  12. Shmuel says:

    if Hillel does not want to interact with pro-Palestinian groups that support nonviolent resistance for peace, how does Hillel expect people to resist Israel’s brutal occupation and well-documented human rights abuses?

    If Hillel rejects both violent and non-violent Palestinian resistance, one can only conclude that it rejects Palestinian resistance tout court. And if it rejects Palestinian resistance, it must support (whether enthusiastically or in a hand-wringing, lesser-of-the-evils sort of way) the status quo of Israeli occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, because the powerful and the privileged will not renounce their power and privilege unless somehow compelled to do so. It is in this light that we must view any professions on the part of Hillel or similar organisations of commitment to
    peace or a two-state solution — or to diversity of opinion.

    • Mooser says:

      If Hillel rejects both…/….or to diversity of opinion.

      Gee, Shmuel, if you could figure that out, why can’t those Dink Stovers. No, he went to Yale.

  13. Kathleen says:

    Clearly Hillel rejects PSC’s support of BDS because it is working. Israel, the I lobby, clearly Hillel want to continue to drag out the 60 year occupation. Pretending that there is movement and the real possibility of an agreement. All the while Israel continues its theft of Palestinians lands, destruction of Palestinian homes, olive trees and Palestinian lives. Hillel has made it clear they do not support a real solution

    • seafoid says:

      The occupation is going to crash . no chance of a repeat of the last 60 years .

      link to haaretz.com

      As Haaretz’s Barak Ravid has reported, Israel’s response to the Palestinian step will be more muted and restrained than previously advertised: Jerusalem, in this case, talked loudly but carried a rather small stick. This prudence, which some will portray as weakness, is a result of a combination of factors, including Barack Obama’s reelection , the aftermath of Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, the need to concentrate on the Iranian big picture and the most recent complication: the decidedly hawkish makeup of the new Knesset list selected by the Likud on Monday.