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Gladstone ’18: What does it mean to protest “Jewish journeys”?

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Monday, February 1, 2016

Thursday evening, Brown/RISD Hillel hosted an event featuring Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas and human rights activist and Jewish Agency of Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky, on “Jewish Journeys.” Two Jewish figures, one American and one Israeli, came to tell their stories of self. I was very disappointed to see that “Students for Justice in Palestine” had selected this event — one that was meant not as a political discussion but as a conversation about personal identities — as a target for protest.

SJP activists politicized the event, and the speakers decided to address the issues that protesters had introduced. Douglas, for example, openly criticized Israel’s settlement construction policies and called out members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party for positions with which he disagreed, despite SJP’s attempt to portray Douglas’ acting career as the Israeli government’s attempt to “whitewash” Israeli policies. As a Jewish student in the audience, I couldn’t help but worry about the implications of a group on Brown’s campus accusing a non-Israeli Jew (who openly challenges Israeli policies) of carrying out a foreign government’s subversive plots. Is any Jew in the public eye, then, subject to allegations of fifth-column conspiracy?

It is perhaps because of such questions that SJP felt the need to lie about the event when advertising its protest. The members of SJP fortified their claim about Douglas’ secret mission by declaring in no uncertain terms that the event was funded by the Israeli government, which is simply false. Rather, the event was funded by several organizations, some of which receive some funding from the Israeli government, among other sources. SJP’s logic would imply that — because Brown receives funding from the American government — any event hosted by a Brown student organization is bankrolled directly by President Obama’s office.

SJP also slammed the event as a violation of academic freedom, claiming that “American Jews are still not allowed to speak freely regarding Israel within Hillel,” which surprised me. I have had many conversations within Hillel and at Hillel-sponsored events with American Jews who wrestle with their connection to Israel, some of whom openly question Israel’s very existence. Last year, for example, Hillel co-sponsored a talk by Palestine Liberation Organization Ambassador Maen Areikat.

Of course, the idea of activist groups slandering Jews with unpopular political ideologies is nothing new. SJP lied about an event on “Jewish journeys” to suggest that it abridges academic freedom and invites “infringement of the Israeli government upon our campus.” The American government, while obviously on a different scale, used a similarly misleading tactic in the 1940s when it refused to let Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust into the country in case they might be communists. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, oppression of Jews was justified through trumped-up claims that they were “capitalists”  — Sharansky himself was imprisoned for nine years, alongside thousands of other Jews incarcerated or otherwise punished simply for wanting to emigrate.

Aside from SJP’s disturbing choice to protest and politicize an event that was meant to center on Jewish stories of self and not on Israel, it is important to note that the group’s tactics in general are often flawed. The SJP narrative oversimplifies the complex Palestinian-Israeli conflict into a black-and-white conception of Israel and Palestine as two monolithic, static entities, seeking to promote Palestine as a whole over Israel as a whole. At the event, they chanted the classic line: “from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea, Palestine will be free” — that is to say, there should be a single state of Palestine that stretches over the entirety of what is today Palestine and Israel, and Israel should be obliterated entirely.

Unfortunately, SJP consistently fails to note nuances in both Palestinian and Israeli politics. Many groups in the United States and Europe, by seeking to punish Israel for its policies without engaging in peace negotiations, perhaps unwittingly reinforce the narratives of hawkish Palestinian religious-conservative parties such as Hamas over those of more peace-inclined parties such as Fatah. The latter, although deeply flawed, is willing to negotiate and seeks to establish a secular republic alongside Israel. It is for that reason that Hamas officials have been known to praise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which SJP tirelessly promotes, whereas Fatah condemns such misguided American and European intervention in Palestinian politics.

At the same time, right-wing Israeli politicians such as Prime Minister Netanyahu craft their narratives around fears that the world is hostile to the Jewish State  — movements like SJP help them maintain power at the expense of left-wing Israelis who see peace and Palestinian statehood as high priorities. At Thursday’s event, in fact, delegates from conservative American organizations took footage of the protesters to use in their promotional materials in support of the Israeli political right. SJP, then, strengthens both Palestinian and Israeli hawks over their more dovish rivals, making the prospects for peace and the establishment of an independent State of Palestine ever more distant.

Sadly, those protesting outside the event did not engage in nuanced conversation. At least one of the protesters was inside the room before the event, but instead of staying and hearing another perspective, he chose to distribute leaflets and walk out. Had he and the other protesters joined us inside, they would have heard that, after they politicized the event and forced the conversation to focus on Israel and Palestine, members of the audience expressed a great diversity of opinions. They would have heard fellow students, including leaders of the pro-Israel movement at Brown, voicing their concerns about Jewish Agency policies. They would have heard both speakers, in fact, voice their support for Palestinian statehood and declare that ending the occupation as soon as possible should be a priority. I, for one, am glad to have Hillel as a place to engage so seriously with these topics, to exchange ideas with people who love Israel passionately and are critical of some of the country’s policies, in some cases, and who don’t think Israel should exist at all, in other cases. But unfortunately, the SJP members heard none of this, because they were too busy standing outside and demanding all of the land “from the River to the Sea.”

It’s important that Jews, like every other group on campus, be able to share stories of self without the event being politicized. It’s also important that Jews in this country be allowed to have successful careers without being accused of serving as agents of foreign governments. Despite SJP’s claims about what the speakers believed, neither of them chose to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and I agree with them in that the two are certainly distinct.

SJP, however, crosses a line when it protests events on “Jewish journeys.” Readers of this article should see it not only as my attempt to voice the grievances of some Jewish students on this campus, but also as my plea to Students for Justice in Palestine to seriously think through the ways in which they frame their arguments and the arguments that they choose to make. Protesting Jewish events is not a necessary evil on the path to Palestinian liberation. In practice, it undermines the prospects for peace and for Palestinian statehood. In a complex situation like the conflict in Israel and Palestine, it is mutual understanding, and not antagonism, that breeds justice. I hope that Students for Justice in Palestine will take a hard look at what they are trying to accomplish, from the River to the Sea, as they bolster the most hawkish figures in both Palestinian and Israeli politics and as their campaign takes aim at American Jews.

Benjamin Gladstone ’18 writes as an individual, not on behalf of Brown Students for Israel or Hillel.

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  1. to the bdh editors says:

    BDH editors, PLEASE do not allow comments for this article.

  2. SJP Students,

    If you start seeing posts disappear you know that you’ve been censored. Its time to ask the BDH to hold up its bargain on free speech.

  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/01/opinion/dont-shoot-the-messenger-israel.html?src=me&_r=0

    “Some sought to shoot the messenger — twisting my words into a misguided justification for violence. ” – This is UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon calling out Israeli Prime Minister on his dishonesty.

    “At the same time, thousands of Palestinian homes in the West Bank risk demolition because of obstacles that may be legal on paper but are discriminatory in practice. Palestinians — especially young people — are losing hope over what seems a harsh, humiliating and endless occupation. Israelis are also reeling from near-daily attacks and losing sight of the possibility of a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians.”

    Who heads the Agency that spear heads the building of settlements —– NATAN SHARANSKY.

    Ask yourself. HOW HONEST IS THIS EDITORIAL when it glosses over all this. Its about time for Mr. Gladstone to own up to some honesty rather than using religion (like the Hillel) as a cover for Israeli apartheid.

    • The Jewish Agency does not build settlements at all. Period. Nor does it operate in the West Bank. As for “thousands of Palestinian homes in the West Bank risk demolition”, that is also a fallacy which is typical of the UN staff, who have misled the Secretary General. This is simply not true. And an event more blatant lie is that of Israeli “apartheid”: where Arab citizens vote freely, get elected to parliament, sit in Court as Justices and attorneys, head hospitals and clinics – there is no apartheid, other than in the mind of ignorant hatemongers. Not to say that there is no justification to criticize settlements in the West Bank, for example. But demonization is no criticism, and false claims are no arguments.

      • Yup, back at it. Demonizing the UN Secretary General, pretending there is no apartheid. The usual.

        “In 2003, Haaretz gathered a team of reporters for three months to investigate the spending on settlements by requesting information from the Defense Ministry and treasury, the Jewish Agency which invests heavily in the Occupied Territories both directly and via the World Zionist Organization and other governmental and public organizations.”

        http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/8344

        Sorry, but quit trying to make invent facts around Israeli apartheid.

        • looking out for you says:

          Sharansky repeatedly stated during the talk that JAFI changed their policies five years ago surrounding the funding of settlement construction. Please do your research by actually looking at the JAFI website, their financial information is on their website.

          • The link I provided is dated March 4, 2015, belies the sleight of hand in transferring the funding from the Jewish Agency to the WZO

            “But for decades, the Israeli government, with the tacit consent of Diaspora Jewish leaders, has taken one branch of this group, the Settlement Division, and turned it into a covert cash box for bankrolling settlement activity off the government’s own books.”

            “The reason for shift, explained Gershom Gorenberg, author of “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977,” was to protect American donors from running into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service for sending tax exempt dollars to settlements in territories America viewed as occupied.”

            http://forward.com/news/israel/215543/zionist-groups-vote-could-bare-israels-secret-fund/

            And Sharanksy has his fingers in both.

            All of my posts are backed up by links. Yet another proof that SHARANSKY WAS DISHONEST.

          • “Abolish the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division”

            read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.656008

            And here is the link the WZO leadership with Sharansky as the head of the JA.

            http://www.wzo.org.il/index.php?dir=site&page=pages&op=item&cs=3130

            Ask yourself. What kind of Kangaroo court was this when facts about Sharansky are so well known.

  4. What a wonderfully nuanced, thoughtful and even-handed article. Thank you for taking the time and for sharing.

  5. ” I, for one, am glad to have Hillel as a place to engage so seriously with these topics, to exchange ideas with people who love Israel passionately and are critical of some of the country’s policies, in some cases, and who don’t think Israel should exist at all, in other cases. ”

    Another total fabrication by Benjamin Gladstone. The Hillel’s openly censors speech. Here are Hillel Presidents Eric Fingerhuts own words justifying that censorship. For Gods’ sake the Hillel even kicked out the former speaker of the Israeli Parliament. Yet Benjamin Gladstone, blithely makes up stuff.

    “And we will not, consistent with our guidelines, welcome anti-Zionist speakers or partner with anti-Zionist organizations.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/opinion/hillels-policy-on-campus-speakers.html?_r=0

    At a recent conference the Hillel CEO was mocked by other Jewish students for the Hillel’s double talk (linked in the article below) and yet Benjamin Gladstone is all wonderbar about free speech at the Hillel !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Progressive Except for Palestine ?

    • You have suggested that Israel is engaged in ethnic cleansing. However we know that Hamas is engaged in the murder of Jews and triumphs the death of all Jews and Israel as set forth in their charter. When combined with the chants such as those by SJP “from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea, Palestine will be free” There can be now doubt of the truth that it is Hamas and their supporters, like yourself, not Israel are the supporters and purpetrators of ethnic cleanings.

      • What does Israeli settlements/Apartheid in the West Bank have to do with Hamas ? NOTHING. Just an excuse.

        • Obviously you don’t know what Apartheid means and Hamas has declared war on Israel and Jews wherever they are. I seem to answer your questions but you, not mine. You thus prove you are not interested in a dialogue but a monologue. I will ignore your unintelligent rants, unless you wish to engage.

          • Thanks for not answering my question.

          • I did. Did you not see “wherever they are.” Do you think Hamas is only in Gaza?

          • Again. What does Israeli settlements/Apartheid in the West Bank have to do with Hamas ? Good Karma ?

          • When you answer my questions, too numerous to mention here, I will answer yours. But start by telling me what the country you live in would do if they were attack by rockets as Israel is by Hamas almost weekly?

          • First, I would ask my govt “Why are we on their land?”. Now will you answer ,my question.

          • I didn’t ask what you would do, but what your country would do. So since you didn’t answer my question, I won’t be answer yours and note that is not my only question to you that has gone unanswered.

          • That country would first stop apartheid. It worked in South Africa and in America. And furthermore stop making excuses to entrench apartheid and pretending why people fight back.

    • SJP has not, to my knowledge, welcomed Zionist speakers or partnered with Zionist organizations. I don’t think it counts as censorship when an organization doesn’t actively support a cause that doesn’t reflect its opinions. Everyone has the right to say anything they want about Israel, the settlements, or Palestine in the Hillel, and is encouraged to discuss.

      • That’s like saying the Chickens haven’t invited the Fox. Any private organization is entitled to any form of censorship. And any person like me is entitled to point that out, especially when such organizations propagandize that they’re all from fresh air and free speech.

        If you believe the Hillel is for free speech then you’re directly contradicting the Hillel leadership for which i’ve provided an explicit link.

  6. Well said.

  7. ” At Thursday’s event, in fact, delegates from conservative American organizations took footage of the protesters to use in their promotional materials in support of the Israeli political right. ”

    Do you think an external Muslim organization would be able to use Brown facilities to record for intimidation ? Why are the rules different for the Hillel and its collaboration with such groups ?

    I’ve repeatedly pointed out that Brown plays ostrich when it comes to the Hillel and the Universities own commitment to equal access. Can the university sponsor an organization that openly discriminates and now allows footage of its students ?

    I believe any member of Palestinian origin can initiate a Federal Civil Rights complaint within Brown. You cannot be photographed by a third party at Brown for propaganda purposes.

  8. ShadrachSmith says:

    Can we discuss the SJP agenda?

    I like Jews and I dislike moslems. That is my right, but I don’t try to stop moslems from speaking. Quite the contrary, I can’t find any moslems that will even admit they are moslems. Even when I post on mid-east blogs, moslems simply won’t admit it.

    I challenge Islam, in my small way. Would a moslem kindly identify themselves and discuss some questions I have about Islam? First among those questions: Does Islam reveal a right/duty for moslems to rule the world, by force if necessary? That’s what the Quran says, do you accept or reject that part of your book?

    I may get insults and threats in response, but I am 0 for my career in getting a moslem to address that quandry. All I get is insults and threats, and that makes me like moslems even less.

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