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‘Israel Can Do No Wrong’: Jewish Dissent, Jewish Repression

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Posted on Dec 30, 2013
AP/Tim Larsen

By Stanley Kutler

(Page 2)

Burg is reviled in Israel for breaking the country’s long-standing “nuclear ambiguity” and denounced as a self-hating Jew because of his criticism of the religious establishment and the occupation, among other deviations from the now-prevailing nationalist, right-wing Israeli ideology. Commentary magazine denounced his attempt to define a post-Zionist Israeli state as an exercise in “despising Israeli democracy.”

Swarthmore College’s Hillel chapter also tried to have a balanced discussion of the Palestinian question, but the governing body prevented it. Later, apropos of nothing, the chapter was vigorously denounced by the notoriously intemperate John Podhoretz, the hereditary editor of Commentary.

Parenthetically, the latter affair illustrates only too sadly what the media choose to report. Politico described a public panel discussion as strictly a personality clash between some well-known names in the Jewish community over snubs and insults, real or alleged. MuzzleWatch, however, noted that the outburst was over the very real repression at Swarthmore.

The Swarthmore Hillel student board’s reaction to the clumsy attempt at censorship undoubtedly triggered Podhoretz’s outburst. Hillel International’s declared policy prohibits student groups from partnering with organizations or hosting speakers who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or who “[d]elegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel,” or who support any boycott of, divestment from or sanctions against Israel.

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The students responded with a direct attack on the barring of speakers such as Burg. Such policies, they declared, insulted the memory of their namesake, Rabbi Hillel, “who was famed for encouraging debate.” They attacked attempts to present “a monolithic face pertaining to Zionism that does not accurately reflect the diverse opinions of young American Jews.” The Swarthmore chapter then declared itself to be an “Open Hillel,” one that would encourage “dialogue within the diverse and pluralistic Jewish student body”—meaning that it would host a partner or any speaker at its own discretion and retain “the values of open debate and discourse espoused by Rabbi Hillel.”

Beyond AIPAC’s destructive—and let us hope, self-defeating—lobbying efforts, American Jews should be concerned with what is happening in their own communities. AIPAC and its like-minded allies in the United States can praise Israeli democracy, but first they must respect American democracy. The Israeli government and the various lobby groups in the United States would do well to heed the stark reality of polls revealing ever-declining support for Israel among younger American Jews.


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