Facing a breakaway movement of young idealist Jews who want to be able to hear criticism of Israel on campus, what does Hillel International do? Well, it’s undertaken an effort to smear Palestinian solidarity activists on campus as anti-Semites. Hillel is championing a smartphone app developed by the rightwing Simon Wiesenthal Center to report anti-Semitism on campus. The app purposely blurs the line between criticizing Israel and bigotry against Jews:
The app is designed to enable students to instantaneously report on anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents as well as serving as a platform to share breaking news relevant to Jewish activists.
“Hillel International Partners with Simon Wiesenthal Center to Combat Anti-Semitism on More Than 550 College Campuses,” is the bold Hillel announcement, from December 11.
The effort is the definition of the word reactionary. CombatHateU’s logo is a shield of vigilance, with several phrases around it and on it:
anti-Israel harassment campus threats anti-Semitism
see it. report it.
If you go to the twitter feed for CombatHateU, you will find that it completely conflates BDS and anti-Zionism with hatred of Jews. Like in this tweet about a BDS measure at Concordia University in Toronto at a time “when anti-Semitic violence is still fresh in the minds of the Jewish community” there. BDS equals anti-Semitic violence– really?
Or when CombatHateU tweets Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor’s alarmist speech at the U.N. saying that Europe abandoned the Jews in the 40s and it is doing so again by supporting a Palestinian state– for a people who “celebrate death” rather than “sanctify life,” as Israelis do. Scary Rhetoric 101.
I don’t think this sort of ultraright positioning can last on the part of an organization, Hillel International, whose mission is to represent Jews on campus– all Jews, including those who are not militant nationalists.
After all, the organization is under siege right now by the Open Hillel movement, young idealists who refuse to accept the group’s authoritarian strictures against hosting anyone who speaks in favor of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) or who is thought to delegitimize or demonize Israel. Several campus chapters have broken away from Hillel International over these rules barring free speech; the Open Hillel conference in October was a great success, with a diversity of views and a declaration that it “is time to build the future of the American Jewish community.”
So Hillel International is doubling down.
The organization’s conduct is more evidence that in the wake of the Gaza slaughter, the center has collapsed in the U.S. discourse about Israel/Palestine. Sharp criticisms of Israel’s conduct in the American grassroots produced a reaction in the mainstream Jewish community: that you are with Israel or against Israel. That is why Ari Roth lost his job at Theater J in Washington. He was being pressured by the establishment to acquiesce in uncritical acceptance of the Israeli line (as Tony Kushner put it). And Liberal Zionists are under pressure from non- and anti-Zionists to stop being so lukewarm, and to start doing something to actually counter the occupation. Thus the initiative by the Gitlin/Walzer/Wolfe/Zipperstein group to strip Naftali Bennett of his freedom to travel. I wonder what CombatHateU would make of that.