Free Speech in America: At Harvard Hillel, Israeli Soldiers Accompany Visitors Thru Exhibit Opposing Occupation and Seek to Explain Exhibit Away

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I am a big fan of Breaking the Silence, the Israeli veterans group which has documented the ways that soldiers serving the occupation are broken down morally and end up doing horrible things. (Demonstrating the principle that occupations will always corrupt a fighting force, as well as the occupiers’ society).

In fact, I celebrated the Breaking the Silence exhibit of soldiers’ photographs at Penn a few weeks back. Well then BTS went to Harvard and got coopted. It was to have staged the exhibit at an open space on campus, Harvard’s Center for International Studies. A sponsoring organization, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, got the exhibit moved inside Hillel Center, along with Harvard Students for Israel, which thought this would cut down on the fanfare and volume of visitors.

Then you could only see the show at certain times. And when you got to see it, you
were accompanied by an Israeli veteran who explained the show away.

Did I hear that right? Here you will find a letter from Bernie Steinberg, the director of Hillel (and a guy who told me two years ago that Jews who were upset by Walt and Mearsheimer’s paper were going to go to Harvard donors over the fact that Stephen Walt has a chair at Harvard–use crude money leverage against ideas):

[O]ur students have achieved their goals. They have
prevented a circus on campus. People have come to the exhibit only at
fixed times. And when they come, they are accompanied by an IDF soldier
who provides an explanation, including explicit statements about the
need for Israel to defend itself against terrorists; including the fact
that the IDF has an exemplary code of ethics;

Jewish Voice for Peace‘s site says the compromises are progress and applauds Steinberg for standing up to Zionist Organization of America– which of course wants the exhibit, which I believe closed two days ago, sent back across the sea.

These compromises are offensive and un-American. Since when do Americans have to be babysat and handheld to receive pointed information about a foreign country? Since when does information in our society need to be ghettoized, explained away, "contextualized," so that we can digest it–about a foreign country? Since when do we go to the museum, or a controversial exhibit,  or an angry movie, accompanied by foreign soldiers?

Are we bold brave free grown-up Americans or not? And since when do American Jews, with the most beautiful scholarly history of any people, abase their own tradition to serve a militarized state half the world away.

Part of the problem is Harvardism, I’m afraid. Penn is O.K., because it has less prestige. But Harvard is too prominent to in any way license an anti-occupation show. Chilling.

Please note the correction to this post given to me by BTS…

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