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In ‘naked attack on free speech,’ Harvard Hillel bars Avraham Burg

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News from the the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, released today. The speech at the Harvard dormitory took place last week.

November 20, 2013, Cambridge, MA— Avraham Burg, the former speaker of Israel’s Knesset, spoke in an undergraduate dormitory at Harvard College last week after being barred from speaking at Harvard Hillel.

images“It’s such a shame that Harvard Hillel would not allow an open discussion about Israel to take place within its walls,” Sandra Korn, who helped organize the talk. “Hillel should be a space for students to engage with Jewish issues, regardless of religious or political beliefs.”

Burg was allowed to attend an invitation-only dinner in the Hillel building, but was forbidden from hosting the event there since it was co-sponsored by the Harvard College Palestinian Solidarity Committee. The other co-sponsoring student groups included J Street U Harvard and two Hillel-affiliated groups, Harvard Students for Israel and Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance. The event took place in the Quincy House Junior Common Room instead.

“This is an attack on free speech in its most naked form,” said Ann Finkel, a Harvard student who attended the event. “I’m not sure what they were afraid of – people with all kinds of political views had a very constructive conversation with Mr. Burg.”

Notice that it was the sponsorship of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee that did it. This is the political-spiritual crisis in Jewish life, we think we can come to terms with Israeli history and future without engaging our brothers and sisters. The Jewish cocoon, as Peter Beinart put it. Or as David Remnick said on Charlie Rose, where are the Palestinians at this table?

Burg wrote this in our What Comes Next? series:

The next diplomatic formula that will replace the “two states for two peoples” will be a civilian formula. All the people between the Jordan and the sea have the same right to equality, justice and freedom. In other words, there is a very reasonable chance that there will be only one state between the Jordan and the sea – neither ours nor theirs but a mutual one.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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8 Responses

  1. David Doppler on November 22, 2013, 12:30 pm

    Shame on Harvard generally, for having such an atmosphere where thought control can be practiced so nakedly, and ineffectively. Why is this supposed to be an elite university? Come to Harvard where you’ll be taught what to think.

  2. Krauss on November 22, 2013, 2:35 pm

    Avraham Burg makes me proud to be a Jew.

    He upholds the most noble and sanctified traditions of our history, in an era when dark and vicious racism is not only accepted but demanded by the Jewish organizational establishment.

  3. pabelmont on November 22, 2013, 3:41 pm

    Brandeis, then Harvard. Presumably for the same reason: funding — or as it might be called a determination not to rile the moneyed old guard. Years ago it was Vanessa Redgrave, a famous actress, being hired — but then fired — by the Boston Symphony, due to funding concerns,

    The universities and Hillels and Symphony Orchestras (and “public” radio stations and NPR and so much more) should stand up on their legs and say NO NO NO to funders who seek to control their programs. If everyone said NO to this sort of tyranny the big-money folks would have nowhere else to spend their money and, if they desired to see their names on a building, would have to grit their teeth and give to organizations which promoted free discussion.

    But just as the Congress is “owned” by AIPAC, so too the universities are perfectly ready to allow themselves to be “owned” as well.

    I don’t expect to hear many rabbis speaking out against this decision from Harvard Hillel.

  4. DICKERSON3870 on November 22, 2013, 3:54 pm

    RE: “In ‘naked attack on free speech,’ Harvard Hillel bars Avraham Burg”

    MY COMMENT: The Zionist campaign to suppress free speech here in the U.S. is yet another reason I fear that Revisionist Zionism and Likudnik Israel (specifically by virtue of their inordinate sway over the U.S.) might very well be an “existential threat” to the values of The Enlightenment [like the “right of free speech”]! ! !

    SEE: “The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics”, by David Theo Goldberg & Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009

    [EXCERPT] . . . It is an extraordinary fact that no fewer than thirty-three distinct organizations – including AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish National Fund – are gathered together today as members or affiliates of the Israel on Campus Coalition. The coalition is an overwhelmingly powerful presence on American college campuses for which there is simply no equivalent on the Palestinian or Arab side. Its self-proclaimed mission is not merely to monitor our colleges and universities. That, after all, is the commitment of Campus Watch, which was started by pro-Israel activists in 2002. It is, rather (and in its own words), to generate “a pro-active, pro-Israel agenda on campus.”
    There is, accordingly, disproportionate and unbalanced intervention on campuses across the country by a coalition of well-funded organizations, who have no time for — and even less interest in — the niceties of intellectual exchange and academic process. Insinuation, accusation, and defamation have become the weapons of first resort to respond to argument and criticism directed at Israeli policies. As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . .



    • DICKERSON3870 on November 22, 2013, 4:03 pm

      “Boycott activists beat Israel lobby in French high court”,
      by Ali Abunimah,, 11/21/13

      [EXCERPT] Palestine solidarity activists in France are celebrating a victory in the country’s highest criminal appeals court this week, affirming the earlier acquittal of an activist in a case stemming from protests calling for the boycott of Israeli goods.
      The ruling strikes a severe blow to efforts – supported by the government – to use legal repression to outlaw boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns in France.
      The court victory comes as France’s Left Party became the first political party in the country to openly endorse BDS. . .

      SOURCE –

  5. Mike_Konrad on November 22, 2013, 5:48 pm

    Hillel is a private group. This is not a loss of free speech.

  6. Nevada Ned on November 22, 2013, 7:25 pm

    What Avraham Burg has to say is nothing special. Equal rights for everybody.

    What IS *VERY* special is who is saying it! Burg is a former Speaker of the Knesset, and a former insider in Iraeli Jewish politics.

    As Mondoweiss readers know very well, most Israeli Jews vehemently reject Burg’s message and reject racial equality between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. This rejection is widely shared, based on the fears that Israeli Jews have about what would happen to them if the Palestinians ever had power.

    Of course, this is just a rationalization of Israel’s racist policies. The group that really faces an existential threat is the Palestinians, not Israeli Jews.

    But let’s grant that the fear is genuine, at least among most Israeli Jews.

    (I wouldn’t count Netanyahu and his ilk, who today are claiming that Iran is developing nuclear weapons to bomb Israel; but back in the 1980’s, Israel and the U. S. Reagan Administration were selling missiles to Iran. For Netanyahu, hysteria about Iran can be dialed up or dialed back as circumstances allow).

    I hope that Mondoweiss can open a conversation about how advocates for the Palestinians can attempt to address the fears of Israeli Jews. Granted that the fears are rooted in racist hysteria. Still, the fear is real in most cases.

    Building up a movement, including Jews, Palestinians, and “third parties”, is a step forward towards that goal. But what can the movement do to neutralize and allay the racist fears promoted by Netanyahu and the rest of the Israeli ruling class?

    • Bosnorth on November 24, 2013, 6:58 am

      You’re absolutely right that a joint movement is the key, and that is exactly what is being created. Groups in Israel have joined up with Ramallah (which was initiated by some senior Fatah people). Early this month the second event, a study day, in Ramallah attracted 100 activists, and a joint Program has been adopted too, which clearly sets out equal rights for all from the river to the sea. It aims to reach a mass audience and the Palestinian group stated at the outset that it was thinking big and planned to start committees in the towns and refugee camps. As a movement rather than a party, they will have the flexibility to attract and influence the existing political and social institutions and infrastructure. Hopefully Avram Burg can play his part in this, and actively promote a better future for all in Israel-Palestine. The best way to allay fear and to answer the question of how a unified country can work is by example and the sight of good people working together to bring it about.

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