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Florida Jewish leader quits a Hillel board to protest bar on free speech

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Bruce Warshal

Bruce Warshal

We have welcomed the Open Hillel movement as evidence that young American Jews are now the leaders of the American Jewish community: they are rejecting Hillel’s red lines barring anti-Zionists and boycotters from participating in campus organizational life. Now here is a column in the Florida Sun-Sentinel/Jewish Journal from an older rabbi, Bruce Warshal, also condemning Hillel’s red lines, saying he has quit an honorary Hillel board to protest the bar on free speech.

Notice who is leading this conversation! Warshal is about 80, a leader of Peace Now who has said Israel is headed for apartheid. But he was not moved to say anything against Hillel’s obnoxious red lines for four years. Until the students organized. Excerpts (thanks to Barbara Harvey):

It is with a heavy heart that I write this column. I have long been a supporter of the Hillel movement on college campuses….

I also played a significant role in obtaining the funding for the Hillel building on the Florida Atlantic University campus. I have served on the board of directors of my local Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach, on its executive board and recently on its honorary board. But, regrettably, I have resigned from the honorary board, and I am publicly declaring that I am getting off the Hillel bandwagon.

Hillel is no longer the Hillel of yesteryears. In 2010 the national Hillel issued guidelines as to what is permissible dialogue at Hillel — speakers who “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel,” support boycotts, divestments or sanctions against Israel or “foster an atmosphere of incivility” are banned from Hillel. This has essentially banned all liberal Jews who love Israel but disagree with the current Netanyahu government from Hillel involvement….

I refuse to let my Zionism dominate my Judaism. The love of Israel is only a part of Judaism. The Zionist movement is only 150 years old; Israel is only 65 years old. Judaism has existed for thousands of years without both. Unfortunately, for too many years American Jewry has made Israel the major part of its Judaism. It’s a part, but not the major part.

Also consider what Warshal says about what is driving the Hillel policy, money. Jewish organizations fear they will lose their big donors if they even break bread with liberal Zionists!

Money — money from conservative Federations, and major donors who are committed to AIPAC and fear a more liberal Jewish lobby. In Boca Raton, my Jewish Federation does not accept J Street on its Community Relations Board, as if it were an outpost of the PLO. I believe that this, too, is a capitulation to a couple of major conservative donors. Money talks.

Every year my local Hillel sends students to the AIPAC national conference, paid for with a donation by a local AIPAC supporter. Last year I spoke with a prominent lay leader on the Hillel board and offered to pay the expenses of some students to the J Street national conference. I was advised not to do that since it would put the board in a precarious position with some major givers. This melding of Hillel with the right-wing supporters of Israel was publicly confirmed when leaders of Hillel and AIPAC recently published an essay in the New York Jewish Week hailing their partnership on campuses.

The Israel lobby gains its power in the political process by telling politicians that they can’t get money from Jews unless they take rightwing positions on Israel. That conservative hegemony is changing, but too slowly. The liberal Zionist group Peace Now, for instance, is on the board of the Conference of Presidents, a rightwing Zionist organization that refuses to criticize the occupation, out of a communal impulse and a desire to maintain access to power.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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13 Responses

  1. Citizen on March 5, 2014, 11:30 am

    Money talks, everybody else walks. It’s the ultimate American TV reality show. We all tune in; we like puke shows.

  2. pabelmont on March 5, 2014, 12:39 pm

    This rabbi has made the right decision, a bit late, but everything here — all progress — is more than a bit late. I am very grateful. and he has named the culprit: MONEY. I think he should advise his (former) Hillel and other Jewish organizations to (preferably at the same time) dump the AIPAC-fear, the DONOR-fear, and go for Jewish first and pro-Israel wherever it may still fit in (if at all). Being pro-Jewish (a startlingly neat idea for a Jewish organization!) here means pro-free-speech for Jewish people, Jewish members, etc.

    He nailed it. Brave man!

  3. Dan Crowther on March 5, 2014, 1:21 pm


  4. ahhiyawa on March 5, 2014, 1:34 pm

    This goy applauds the Rabbi, not chastens him for being late to the party.

  5. UpSIDEdown on March 5, 2014, 6:04 pm

    I hope Mr. Warshal feels a sense of relief for doing the right thing no matter how long it took him to get there I hope he’s able to bring other Jews to his side of thinking as well. How refreshing to read someone blaming the whole mess on MONEY of course its the absolute fact but not many dare say it.. Great article thanks.

  6. The JillyBeans on March 5, 2014, 7:41 pm

    There’s nothing worse than someone having a tantrum out loud in your name. I don’t blame Rabbi Warshal for quitting in protest. The Israeli Zionism machine is as embarrassing as Jackson/Sharpton con machine speaking for American blacks.

  7. tokyobk on March 5, 2014, 11:53 pm

    There is no question the direction of the leadership and general sentiment of the Jewish American community in the last 60 years but as I have said before, non and anti-Zionism -began- in the Jewish community when Zionism itself was still a nascent idea not widely discussed, or even taken seriously as a real possibility. (There have been multiple attempts at mass aliyah in the past, but as an organised philosophy drawing on European nationalism and (world be) religious justification.)

    The kind of principled anti-Zionism on humanist grounds that most people here would claim, post-dates Jewish anti-zionism. But, better late than never!

    This -return- to the time when the majority of Jews opposed a secular state on both/either religious or dual loyalty grounds is something being discovered by liberal Jews all over, often independent of the structures. I know as sure as I know anything that this is preparation for when the two state solution fails for good. At that point the costs will be too high and the contradictions too great to maintain an uncritical Zionism or necessary conflation with Judaism and Israel.

    Young religious Jews at a (non Hasiddish) orthodox school wanted to invite Prof. Khalidi to hear his point of view. This kind of inquiry would have been an impossible thought ten or 20 or 40years ago, but not 70 or 80 years ago.

    Robust, Pro-Jewish, non and anti-Zionism will be a story within the Jewish community in the next few years, without a doubt (and to the disappointment of those who have a psychological need for the Jews to be a nefarious monolith)

    • Ecru on March 6, 2014, 4:06 am

      @ tokyobk

      The kind of principled anti-Zionism on humanist grounds that most people here would claim, post-dates Jewish anti-zionism. But, better late than never!

      So Jewish anti-Zionism you admit had nothing to do with a belief in human rights and equality but rather

      the majority of Jews opposed a secular state on both/either religious or dual loyalty grounds

      My how wonderfully liberal of them. You first try and take credit for anti-zionism – and I have to wonder how you’d feel if Germans after the war had said “but we had a resistance movement first you lot just hitched onto our wagon later so Germans have zero blame in what the Nazis got up to” and do this by trying to describe the Jewish community as a monolithic block.

      Fail. Zionism is a Jewish problem, aided and abetted by corrupt politicians and loony Christian fundamentalists – live with it.

  8. Ecru on March 6, 2014, 12:20 am

    Yes and I’ll also buy that bridge he’s selling. Sorry but NIL points from me.

    This is not about justice for Palestinians, this is not about standing up against Jewish Fascism and Jewish bigotry – the “good” rabbi even states he’s still a Zionist. No this is about damage limitation – he’s realised that Jews and the Jewish community might suffer if they continue to tie themselves to Israel because eventually even the brain-dead American goys will realise they’ve been had. It’s a self-serving cynical move and nothing else.

    Not deserving of praise.

  9. Citizen on March 6, 2014, 12:33 am

    Hats of to Mr. Warshal! Maybe his grandchildren nudged him?

  10. kalithea on March 6, 2014, 2:04 am

    Too little; too late. I’d rather he renounce Zionism.

    This sentence “I refuse to let my Zionism dominate my Judaism.” makes me wonder: Why hasn’t he renounced Zionist yet? Zionism dominates faith in every way!

  11. kalithea on March 6, 2014, 10:21 am

    I must add another note on this subject.

    “Warshal is about 80, a leader of Peace Now who has said Israel is headed for apartheid.”

    Why is it that Zionists who want to “rescue” Zionism always hang on to “Israel is headed for apartheid”. Israel isn’t headed for Apartheid – it’s already therrrre! How long are these Zionists going to say Israel is “almost there”? This is DENIAL. This is buying time to save Israel from itself the easy way (the “ain’t gonna happen way”), while others suffer. This is delaying and denying justice.

    You know how many Zionists who recently grew a conscience go around pretending that Israel isn’t there yet? A lot! I’ve seen this over and over again. They just can’t bring themselves to accept reality.

    The reality is that Israel has been an Apartheid Regime for some time now, but somehow no one wanted to go there – the word was scary, untouchable. When Jimmy Carter put out his book; he was lambasted and painted as senile, and as siding with the terrorists, but everyone knew already he was more aware than most and telling the truth. Why else would he risk his reputation?

    We have an image in our mind’s eye for years now of what Israel looks like and it ain’t a “beachy, party, sceniky, historically touristy” image like Zionists have painted it for years. It’s the image of cattle corridors, checkpoints sometimes with sniper towers and armed guards; a concrete WALL encroaching on Palestinian land, with ongoing home demolitions, ongoing ethnic cleansing, ongoing theft of land with rapidly expanding illegal settlements, crowded, impoverished refugee camps, ongoing sporadic killing of Palestinians at peaceful demonstrations and checkpoints, ongoing settler, military and administrative persecution and harrassment of Palestinians, ongoing separation of Palestinian families, ongoing two-tier justice (no justice) and racist social system, ongoing illegal arrests in the middle of the night, ongoing arrest, imprisonment and abuse of Palestinian children, ongoing suppression of Palestinian education, culture and sports and on and on….Isreal isn’t “becoming” an Apartheid State. Israel IS an Apartheid state! I know it’s hard for Zionists to admit their precious Zionism created such a monstrous situation. But we’re here, it’s here, it’s not “becoming” or heading, Israel has arrived at the Apartheid Terminal for some time now. So everyone quit saying it’s not there yet! It really denies truth and reality and all reason.

  12. pabelmont on March 6, 2014, 12:10 pm

    One idea I had recently, after reading this essay, is that MAYBE the club of big-money folks who we call collectively AIPAC or The Lobby are like other folks in that they do a lot out of social concerns, that is, they like to feel approved of by their friends (here, other big-money Zionists) and “go along” with the Israeli hard-line just to keep their own friendships in order — rather than from hard-line ideology.

    If that is true, it follows that an interesting (and RISKY) strategy for smaller Jewish organizations to take (in spite of worrying about funding from the biggies) would be to PROCLAIM THAT JEWISH VALUES/ETHICS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ISRAEL and that free speech is a Jewish value. And then just take a blatant position that the censorship opposes and ask donors to ignore pressure from friends to remain hard-line Zionists when that conflicts with Jewish values.

    The OPEN HILLELS are doing this, it seems. taking a risk as to money. Or saying they don’t need (big) money.

    It is risky. Imagine if NPR or WNYC were to start being even-handed and all their largest donors quit on them! Wow! But what a story. (Again, Wow!)

    But also imagine if NPR or WNYC were to start being even-handed and many of their large donors kept right on giving, or even gave more, AND SAID SO. FROM THE ROOF-TOPS! And also said, we’ve been waiting for this opportunity, and we’ve waited too darn long!

    I’m waiting for the day.

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