Yesterday the New York Times stunned us by publishing a very fair story about the vote by Swarthmore Hillel to throw out Hillel International guidelines on who is welcome, indicating that it will invite anti-Zionists. Reporter Laurie Goodstein told her story in a calm, thoughtful manner, and clearly tilted toward the liberalism of the Swarthmore Jewish students. While she quoted Alan Dershowitz, she offered a forum for young Jews to describe the Jewish organizations’ muzzling of debate.
Expect David Harris of the American Jewish Committee and Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League to hammer this story in the next day or so from their prescribed places at the top of the New York Times letters column. But savor Goodstein’s reporting in the meantime. Here’s the very straight setup from the Times’ national religion correspondent (who describes herself as “anti-nothing except evil doing”):
At American colleges, few values are as sacred as open debate and few issues as contested as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Hillel, whose core mission is to keep the next generation of Jews in the fold, says that under its auspices one thing is not open to debate: Those who reject or repudiate Israel have no place.
This month, the students at the Swarthmore Hillel rebelled, declaring themselves the first “Open Hillel” in the nation. They will not abide by Hillel guidelines that prohibit chapters from collaborating with speakers or groups that “delegitimize” or “apply a double standard” to Israel.
The Hillel dispute has amplified an increasingly bitter intra-Jewish debate over what is permissible discussion and activism about Israel on college campuses…
Goodstein takes care to document the absurdity of the Hillel standards, from the point of view of the students:
Joshua Wolfsun, a student on the Swarthmore Hillel board, said, “There are a lot of really smart people across the political spectrum on Israel that we want to talk to, and we feel that Hillel should not have a political litmus test on who is allowed and who is not.”…
A nationwide online petition in support of the Swarthmore Hillel’s rejection of those guidelines has gathered 1,200 signatures.
In an interview, Mr. [Eric] Fingerhut said, “If we’re an organization that is committed to building Jewish identity and lifelong connections to the Jewish world and to Israel, then we certainly have to draw lines.” But some students active in Hillel say the lines are either muddy or wrong…
The piece closes with the case of Ben Sheridan, a student at Binghamton University who was forced to resign from a pro-Israel group on campus because he arranged a screening of the documentary, 5 Broken Cameras. Goodstein leaves the reader feeling that Hillel maintains a totalitarian standard of free speech.
Mr. Sheridan, 21, wears a wristband that says “Israel Is Strong” in Hebrew. He spent his gap year in Israel, has an Israeli flag in his dorm room and did an internship at the American Jewish Committee.
“The second I question Israel — Israeli policies, not its existence — all of a sudden I’m a pariah?” he asked. “If Hillel is going to be the group that represents all Jews, how can it say, ‘On Israel we have one policy only’?”
Again, how long before the Israel lobby assumes its designated soapboxes, atop the Times’ letters column?
Maybe the Times Jerusalem correspondents should have a Skype conversation with Goodstein to learn how to cover a highly-controversial matter in an evenhanded fashion.
Update: The article has stung International Hillel. President Fingerhut squawks in this long posting that the Times interviewed him at length and did not quote him enough, and told the story wrong.
Instead of seizing the opportunity to look deeply into this issue, the Times took the easy way and turned its story into a simplistic discussion of free speech on campus and conflict among millennial Jews and their elders.
This article couldn’t be more wrong.
I spoke to the reporter for nearly an hour. David Eden also spoke with her several times. As you can see, we both are briefly quoted in comparison to the few students who are showcased.
Fingerhut seeks to diminish the movement at his door:
The Times reported that a “nationwide online petition in support of the Swarthmore Hillel’s rejection of [the Hillel Israel] guidelines has gathered 1,200 signatures.” It was pointed out to the reporter that there are approximately 400,000 Jewish students on American college campuses, nearly 20 million college students overall, and that a thousand or so names, many from non-students or signed “anonymous,” was not a large number. That fact was ignored. When it was pointed out that there is no groundswell of support for “Open Hillel,” it was brushed aside and not included.
Notice that Fingerhut is afraid of the anti-Zionist trend. We love to talk with all students, he says. Some of whom –
mistake their deeply held disagreements with the policies of the Israeli government as anti-Zionism, while others are swept up in the anti-Zionism of friends or faculty, or simply in the passion of being young and on campus.