Shany Mor wants you to know that the American Jewish community is wide open to critics of Israel.
In The New Republic, the former Israeli National Security Council official has penned a long, meandering critique of Peter Beinart’s latest New York Review of Books essay. What has troubled Mor is Beinart’s contention that American Jews live in an intellectual “cocoon” that does not speak to Palestinians. On the contrary, Mor argues that Jews in the U.S. have a “robust and diverse and self-critical intellectual space” that “manifests” itself strongly on Israel.
Trouble is, anyone searching for examples of how the organized Jewish community shuts down dissent on Israel doesn’t need to look far at all. (There are indeed plenty of Jews who do not adhere to the “cocoon” Beinart wrote about, but they exist outside the Jewish establishment Mor is writing about.)
The piece Beinart wrote points to Hillel guidelines that advise against chapters hosting speakers who “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders,” “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel,” or “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.” Mor brushes the guidelines off:
[Beinart’s] third objection is that an Arab member of Knesset who even “presides over sessions of the Knesset” wants to remove Israel’s Jewish identity, and therefore he might not be allowed to speak at a Hillel function. Can anyone imagine a member of Knesset being turned away from a Hillel? Has this happened? All Beinart has done is present Hillel’s entirely reasonable sounding guidelines, mock them as vague where they are deliberately anodyne, and then proceed to give them the most uncharitable and radical interpretation possible.
Mor ignores a very recent example of “a member of Knesset being turned away from a Hillel.” And this (former) Knesset member was not even Arab–he was an Israeli Jew who used to be the speaker of the Knesset. In November, Avraham Burg was barred from speaking in a Hillel space at Harvard, his crime apparently being advocacy of a single state with equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. As Ann Finkel, a Harvard student, put it, “this is an attack on free speech in its most naked form.”
Another recent example of Hillel clamping down on critics of Israel occurred at Binghamton University. In December 2012, a student was ousted from the Hillel board because he brought a pro-BDS Palestinian filmmaker, Iyad Burnat, to speak at a different campus organization.
The list of examples of the “American Jewish cocoon” is exhaustive. There was the Jewish community mobilizing to shut down a Palestinian children’s art exhibit in San Francisco in 2011; the cancellation of a talk on Israeli democracy at an Upper West Side synagogue; the tossing out of young Jewish Voice for Peace activists from the Jewish Federation’s TribeFest; and so on.
Sounds like the organized Jewish community has a problem: the lack of a “robust and diverse and self-critical intellectual space.” Mor should take note.