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Hillel accuses BDS activists of ‘colonizing’ student groups

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The University of California Student Association (UCSA) made history on 8 February 2015, voting overwhelmingly to divest from companies complicit in human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as from the governments of Israel, the US, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Mexico, over these states’ human rights violations.

Between 2012 and the end of 2014, six University of California (UC) campuses (UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, UC Los Angeles, and UC Davis), along with UAW-2865—UC’s student union, representing over 13,000 student workers—passed resolutions calling for divestment from corporations complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of and human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza.

The UCSA is the official voice of UC students, representing over 239,000 students on the system’s 10 campuses. Many have called its support of divestment the largest victory in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on US campuses.

Two resolutions were passed in the UCSA vote. The first, the “Resolution Calling for the UC Regents to Divest from Corporations Violating Palestinian Human Rights,” passed with nine votes in favor and just one against, with six abstentions. It solely calls on UC Regents “to divest from corporations that violate Palestinian human rights,” and only addresses “issues of corporate complicity in human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and elsewhere.” The word “Israel” is never mentioned in the text of this resolution.

The second resolution passed in the vote, the “Resolution Toward Socially Responsible Investment at the University of California,” also passed in a landslide, with 11 members for, one against, and three abstaining. This resolution calls on the UC Regents to divest from the governments of Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the US, for egregious human rights violations.

Hillel’s Accusations

In response to these passed divestment measures, Hillel at UCLA sent an email to the thousands of people on its listserve, strongly condemning the decision of the democratically elected UCSA. Mondoweiss got in touch with a student on the UCLA Hillel listserv, who archived the email so that others may read it.

In its message, Hillel accuses the UCSA of “attacking their own country.” It proceeds to claim that BDS measures have passed at numerous University of California branches “only because [student groups] have partnered with other radical and marginal groups to create coalitions in which each group supports one another’s special interest projects.”

UCLA Hillel characterizes the groups who supported the divestment as “incredibly extreme and marginal” and speaks of “the radical ideology of the zealots who somehow have managed to take over various organizations,” insisting that the “UCSA doesn’t represent any significant amount of UC students.”

Ignoring the fact that the UCSA consists of student representatives who were elected or appointed by elected member student governments, the measures had an incredibly broad base of support. Close to 90 student organizations across the state backed the UCSA divestment. In January 2015, this enormous array of student groups, along with many professors from a variety of disciplines who also supported the measures, signed a letter to the UCSA Board Members “proudly endors[ing]” the resolutions.

The following are just some of the organizations who supported divestment:

  • UAW-2865, the student union representing over 13,000 student workers;
  • Mentors For Academic and Peer Support;
  • Graduate Students of Color Collective;
  • Afrikan Student Union;
  • Black Student Union;
  • Jewish Voice for Peace;
  • Armenian Students’ Association;
  • Student Affirmative Action Committee;
  • Improving Dreams Equality Access And Success (IDEAS), an immigrant rights groups;
  • El Congreso, a [email protected] student group;
  • Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Project;
  • Students Against Mass Incarceration;
  • Student Sustainability Collective;
  • Asian and Pacific-Islander Student Alliance;
  • Kaibigang [email protected], a [email protected] student group;
  • South Asian Advocacy Group;
  • Coalition of South Asian Peoples;
  • Pakistani Student Association;
  • Afghan Student Association;
  • a variety of Arab student organizations;
  • many Muslim student organizations;

and more.

Professors who supported the measures also came from fields as diverse as

  • African-American studies,
  • natural resources,
  • Spanish and Portuguese,
  • urban planning,
  • medicine,
  • American studies,
  • film and media studies,
  • anthropology,
  • literature,
  • visual arts,
  • sociology,
  • ethnic studies,

and others.

It is clear that the BDS movement and advocacy for Palestinian human rights in general have broad, diverse bases of support. It is in fact Hillel and the Zionist movement overall that are increasingly bereft of the robust grassroots backing they accuse Palestinian solidarity activists of lacking.

“Highly Insensitive and Incredibly Insulting”

The UCLA student groups who supported the university divestment measure.

The UCLA student groups who supported the university divestment measure.

Mondoweiss spoke with Jacob Manheim, president of Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA, who expressed great concern at Hillel’s response to the divestment. “It’s shocking that Hillel at UCLA leadership has decided that the best way to fight divestment is to attack the integrity of student of color organizations that support Palestinian rights,” he said.

“Rabbi Lerner’s comments really demonstrate the enormous gulf between Hillel leadership and progressive Jewish students,” Manheim explained. “Rather than targeting immigrant groups, as Lerner does, I think the Jewish community should show the same sensitivity towards other communities that we would expect for ourselves.”

Hillel at UCLA went so far in its denouncement as to claim that the coalition of student organizations which voted on the divestment measures “runs for election on a supposedly progressive platform, brings out their voters en masse, and succeeds in essentially colonizing various student leadership groups. When their leadership foothold is established, the being to use the group’s [sic] to pass their radical initiatives one after another.”

Students for Justice in Palestine board member and Palestinian-American Safwan Hamdi told Mondoweiss that, by “calling into question student groups’ partnering with ‘radical and marginal groups to create coalitions in which each group supports one another’s special interest projects,’ it seems Hillel’s email is attempting to vilify student efforts of intersectionality and solidarity. What they fail to realize is that our profiting from human rights abuses is something that affects all students.”

“This ‘radical and marginal coalition’ they speak of,” Hamdi said, “in fact consists of the underrepresented students and student groups across the UC system, from all walks of life, who otherwise have difficulty making their voices heard by administration, and who collectively oppose any and all forms of oppression.”

“Furthermore, it is highly insensitive and incredibly insulting for the author(s) of this email to accuse pro-divestment groups of ‘colonizing,’” Hamdi added, “considering the fact that many of these students and organizations come from backgrounds who have suffered from American and European colonization.”

Conrad Contreras, External Vice President of UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association, also spoke with Mondoweiss. He remarked that Hillel’s “statement targets the entire students of color coalition on campus. Our communities come together because of intersecting experiences and histories with a common goal to see the liberation of all people,” he said, not as “radical and marginal groups” in pursuit of “special interest projects.”


In its email, Hillel at UCLA also accused the Palestinian human rights advocates of being “a highly organized, well-funded, and extremely passionate opposition.” Such an accusation is intriguing, considering the well-documented external funding from wealthy donors for Zionist organizations both on and off US campuses.

Journalist Max Blumenthal has written about how “so many Zionist accusations against Palestinian society (‘They only understand force,’ ‘They teach their children to hate,’ ‘They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’)” are “projections,” referring to the psychological phenomenon in which a party charged with a crime denies any wrongdoing and accuses others of the very same behavior in which it is engaging. Blumenthal was speaking in regard to the common claim by supporters of Israel that Palestinians use “human shields,” a war crime in which Israel itself has regularly engaged, according the UN and other leading international organizations, yet examples of the phenomenon extend much further.

In a prime example of such projection, Hillel at UCLA was itself embroiled in controversy in late 2014 when a leaked email showed it had hired the DC-linked PR firm 30 Point Strategies in order to smear Palestinian solidarity activists. 30 Point openly spoke of launching a “counter-offensive” against student activists, with the support of Hillel International.

In spite of this costly PR campaign, UCLA passed a BDS measure, with the support of over 30 student organizations from a wide variety of backgrounds.

At the University of South Florida (USF), a similar controversy erupted. Mondoweiss revealed that pro-Israel students have, in the words of a Hillel executive, “been working quietly behind the scenes building alliances with other student organizations and getting involved with student government in order to thwart the efforts of SJP.” Hillel admitted to secretly meeting with board members of the USF Foundation in order to silence the voices of the 10,000 students who physically signed a BDS petition.

Documents obtained through a public records request also demonstrated that Zionist organizations had essentially bribed USF administrators. Moreover, USF President Judy Genshaft, who vociferously condemns the academic boycott of Israel, has direct financial ties to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

It was also discovered in mid 2014 that Adam Milstein—an Israeli real estate mogul with, as of 2009, a $147 million net worth and a documented history of overtly anti-Muslim remarksmade large donations to pro-Israel student government candidates at UCLA. Milstein is founder of the Milstein Family Foundation, a purported charity whose professed mission is “to strengthen the State of Israel,” and a founding board member of the Israeli-American Council. Personal emails show that Milstein personally told donors to send checks to UCLA Hillel’s director of fundraising.

In short, Hillel is accusing the UCSA of engaging in the very questionable behavior of which it is itself guilty.

The Palestinian solidarity movement may indeed be “extremely passionate,” as Hillel alleges, but it certainly is not well-funded, particularly compared to the billions upon billions of dollars in US donations Israel receives.


Further compounding the irony of a Zionist organization accusing a diverse array of Palestinian human rights advocates of “colonizing” student groups is the fact that Zionism itself is a colonialist movement. Ohio State University Professor of Law John Quigley documents the colonialist origins of Zionism in his 2005 book The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective.

Quigley cites correspondence between Theodor Herzl, the “Father of Zionism,” and Cecil Rhodes, the mining magnate who named the former colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after himself. In 1902, Herzl reached out to Rhodes, asking for help with a new colonial project. Herzl openly spoke of “the idea of Zionism, which is a colonial idea.”

“You are being invited to help make history,” Herzl wrote. “It doesn’t involve Africa, but a piece of Asia Minor; not Englishmen, but Jews. How, then, do I happen to turn to you since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you? How indeed? Because it is something colonial.”

Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer based in New York City. His work has been featured in a variety of publications. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton. His website is

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19 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on February 26, 2015, 11:08 am

    RE: “In its email, Hillel at UCLA also accused the Palestinian human rights advocates of being ‘a highly organized, well-funded, and extremely passionate opposition’. Such an accusation is intriguing, considering the well-documented external funding from wealthy donors for Zionist organizations both on and off US campuses.” ~ Ben Norton

    FOR THE UMPTEENTH TIME: “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. . .


  2. pabelmont on February 26, 2015, 11:57 am

    Staggeringly marvellous article. “Projection”. Outside funding! (Gosh!) Infiltration! (Gosh!) It’s getting to the point that iHillel never misses a chance, never misses an opportunity, to put its foot in its mouth (next to that silver spoon). Whereas I never miss a chance to mix a metaphor.

  3. Krauss on February 26, 2015, 1:11 pm

    Great original reporting, bravo Ben!

  4. Bornajoo on February 26, 2015, 1:37 pm

    “They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’)” are “projections,” referring to the psychological phenomenon in which a party charged with a crime denies any wrongdoing and accuses others of the very same behavior in which it is engaging.”

    Yep, this is precisely what the Zionists do!

    The quote at the end from herzl is priceless.

    They are definitely more than rattled.

    Terrific article Ben, many thanks

  5. Pixel on February 26, 2015, 1:45 pm

    These Zionist college kids honestly believe what they’re saying.

    Being a cockeyed optimist, I still believe there’s hope for them, yet.

    They’re young …and times they are a changing.

  6. maggiesager on February 26, 2015, 3:01 pm

    You need to make two corrections.

    #1 The UCSA bills did *not* have different votes, they were voted on as a package.

    The voting results you say are for the bill called “Resolution Toward Socially Responsible Investment at the University of California” were actually a misvote. There was a vote on whether to vote on the bills together, and some student reps were confused, thought they were still “voting on whether to vote together,” when that motion had already passed and they were supposed to be voting on the actual legislation. There was a re-vote to clear things up, which is where you get the results 9-1-6. Neither bill was considered by itself, ever.

    Source: I was there. You can also check twitter!

    #2 The second bill does not call for divesting from the Israeli government. It calls on divesting from the other countries, yes, because the UC has bonds invested in their governments. It does NOT have investments in Israeli government bonds. Regarding Israel, the text of the bill talks about companies like caterpillar, which are complicit in human rights violations.

    Also, as an aside, the second bill was not written by SJP or anyone affiliated with the movement. It was written by rep Rebecca Ora, by herself, who is a liberal zionist.

    Source: I have the text of the bill.

  7. Mooser on February 26, 2015, 6:31 pm

    “Piloting the Jewish Future”? That’s a big job, for young people who have proved brave and daring. They must be apprenticed to a pilot for years.

  8. DoubleStandard on February 26, 2015, 6:54 pm

    If you guys seriously think that of the 239,000 students in the UC system, 91.6% of them agree with this resolution — let alone actually care about I/P — then you are delusional. The very fact that the vote was so lopsided speaks to how undemocratic it was.

    The resolution against the US and other countries passed by the same margin as the one against Israel. I can’t imagine that 91.6% of the kids at these schools really want to boycott their own government. Not all of them are majoring in anthropology and ethnic studies.

    • Cliff on February 26, 2015, 10:35 pm

      Sure DS. But whatever the real number is – its still more than people who support Israel.

      And anti-democratic? You mean like how Jewish student groups have to hire PR firms and also meet with University officials to torpedo other student groups opposed to Jewish colonialism?

      Or how about all those (likely) pro-Israel donors who use their money to threaten Univ. where divestment res. passes?

      The organized Jewish community is anti-democracy.

    • annie on February 27, 2015, 10:15 am

      speaking of “radical and marginal groups”, hillel is sounding more “radical and marginal” all the time. supporting zionism is definitely radical.

      • Mooser on February 27, 2015, 11:06 am

        “speaking of “radical and marginal groups”, hillel is sounding more “radical and marginal” all the time”

        Yes, but thanks to the poster pictured at the top of the article, I finally know what Hillel does! “Piloting the Jewish Future”! So it must be just like those small boating and seamanship courses I took from the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

  9. hophmi on February 27, 2015, 10:16 am

    LOL. The notion that this is example of intersectionality just shows how these fashionable humanities terms will be manipulated to suit political needs, and how students will mimic their professors. Intersectionality posits that all forms of oppression have to be studied together, rather than isolation. It has little to do with political coalition building to advance a partisan agenda, which is, well, just old-fashioned politics. In fact, the idea that huge amounts of resources should be spent obsessing over one conflict in a world full of much more serious human rights violations is the opposite of an intersectional approach that focuses on all forms of oppression, rather than just one, as the anti-Israel movement does.

    • Mooser on February 27, 2015, 12:25 pm

      as the anti-Israel movement does.”

      And I thought the express aim of BDS is Israel’s occupation. But I see you’re point, Hophmi, now that I’ve read all the posts from “Talknic”. I really do see your point. I mean, once you start going after the “occupation” where does it stop? At the partition lines, with no Jerusalem?

      Oh, I almost forgot: obsessing over one conflict in a world full of much more serious human rights violations Yup, the whole world sucks.

    • Cliff on February 27, 2015, 1:51 pm


      In fact, the idea that huge amounts of resources should be spent obsessing over one conflict in a world full of much more serious human rights violations[…]


      Tell that to AIPAC and J Street and StandWithUs and all of the organized Jewish community’s efforts to perpetuate Islamophobia and hatred of Arabs due to a conflict over resources with the Palestinians.


  10. lyn117 on February 27, 2015, 10:47 am

    Accusing the Palestinians rights people of “colonizing” is yet another example of Zionists s co-opting and mis-using their language. Another example is claiming the “right to self determination” for Jews as a group represented by Zionists. Self-determination was the right of peoples living under colonial powers to decide their own future and nature of their political system without it being imposed on them by outside powers. The Zionists have always been the outside power in Palestine so no such right exists, and it certainly never included the “right” to exclude native people from the decision as Zionists have always done.

    • annie on February 27, 2015, 12:43 pm

      and don’t forget 1948 UN res. 194 phrasing “right of return” reference to palestinians refugees, israel co-oped that same terminology in their 1952 nationality law referencing only jewish immigration by co-opting the term “return”, applying it to people who had never been there before nor had many/most of their relatives for thousands of years if ever at all.

      • Mooser on February 27, 2015, 8:22 pm

        “Colonizing”? They remind me of a completely tone-deaf person walking a large dog.

  11. Mooser on February 27, 2015, 12:38 pm

    “I don’t think I’m out of touch. I recognize that most of the world doesn’t like Israel. I just think they’re wrong, and that they are usually hypocritical in their criticism.”

    “hophmi May 24, 2010 at 3:49 pm” 2010!! The Pilot is ever-steadfast, at the helm, day and night!

  12. kma on February 28, 2015, 12:39 pm

    Israel and its minion, Hillel, will have to host trips to Israel for hundreds of millions of Americans to make a dent on their collective opinion. Hahahahahah!
    In the meantime, the average American is sick of it and has had some eye-opening glimpses into the truth through sending its young to Iraq and Afghanistan and seeing what Israel does to Gaza and the West Bank.

    Zionists can tell themselves they have the minds of Americans, but they know as well as anyone what they have to do every minute of every day to purchase/threaten/entice politicians and media into supporting ethnic cleansing. I don’t even think more than half of American Jews do.

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