I believe that all of Israel is responsible for each other. We are responsible for helping each other, for making sure that the future of Am Israel is preserved and protected.
When what is supposed to be the Center for Jewish Life on campus is infiltrated by those who oppose the world’s only Jewish state, or who don’t care enough to fight for it and stand up to its detractors, it undermines all of us.
Yesterday, I found an article in the Algemeiner painting Eric Fingerhut as a superhero who saved the day when an event by Students Supporting Israel at UC Irvine was disrupted by SJP.
First of all, this is obviously the work of Hillel’s genius PR guy, to distract donors who were aghast at their cover-up of the Brown/RISD incident.
Their strategy is to ignore it in hopes that it will go away, as well as coerce students into publishing an article in the Forward basically denying what many students witnessed – that Marshall Einhorn, its executive director, was serving food for the event and that the staff were covering it up. They also called me a hostile with dubious credibility who is out to get Hillel.
Let’s get back to the UC Irvine story. I am the founder of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Columbia. When we incorporated, Hillel did whatever it could to bring us down, smearing us as a “radical right-wing organization.” When I organized a silent protest of the BDS 101 event at Columbia, with a group standing outside the building quietly with Israeli flags to show we have a presence, Hillel leaders told students I had planned to go inside and shout them down with a megaphone, something that I as a proponent of free speech would never do. They did whatever they could to paint me and SSI as extremist, and because there is nothing extremist about me or SSI, they had to make up lies. And they made up many.
I complained about it in a chat with several SSI Leaders and presidents, and to my surprise, several echoed my sentiments. “It’s a normal part of the process,” I was told. “We are proactive, so we threaten Hillel’s donations by exposing them as a group that does nothing in the way of advocacy, relatively speaking.”
Eventually, when these SSI Chapters gain enough popularity on campus, Hillel extends an olive branch. They start co-sponsoring and funding events, which the nascent SSI begins to rely on and appreciate because the already-established Hillel lends them legitimacy. Moreover, SSI leaders are petrified of burning bridges, and they know Hillel’s time-honored tactics of ostracism and smearing to bring down students they are threatened by (I wish they did that with JVP and SJP, but they sadly legitimize them and are constantly trying to make peace with them).
Many SSI Chapters continuously experience hostility from Hillel, and that olive branch is never extended. These students don’t come out about it because they are desperate for Hillel’s approval, as they are considered the home of many Jewish students who care about issues that affect Jews, those who have the most potential to really contribute to SSI.
In my experience, the students who are the most gushy about how amazing Hillel is talk the most behind its back about how petrified they are of them and how Hillel has tried to sabotage SSI. They are the most desperate to win their approval, because SSI is always better off when it is seen as mainstream, and Hillel’s stamp of approval is the most surefire way to get there.
The advice I was given is, whatever you do, don’t alienate Hillel. Given that we alienated them already from simply existing, we had a lot of sucking up to do to gain their approval. So we sucked up to them incessantly until they quietened down the smearing of us. We never gained their approval, as they continue to release statements about not supporting our activities, and to tell the press we are not a recognized group on campus, that we are fringe radicals, at a time when we should be standing together.
A week before Israel Apartheid Week, SSI President Rudy Rochman received a call from Hillel urging them not to do anything in opposition, as no Hillel groups had planned to. “The louder we scream, the louder they scream back! If we ignore them they will go away!” Aryeh’s president, Daniella Greenbaum, told him. This was the exact same line I got when I asked by a Hillel staff member at McGill why their Israel advocacy was practically nonexistent.
Hillel is lying to donors about what they do. They are allowing groups whose goals are to subvert students against Israel, such as B’tselem, who Bassem Eid, one of the group’s founders, chastised for having an agenda. I also include J Street, Breaking the Silence, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Zochrot among the many groups welcomed by Hillel to peddle one-sided anti-Israel narratives to students.
I do not know why they do this. Maybe they believe pleasing everyone across the spectrum will get them the most donations? Maybe they truly are ashamed of Israel? Maybe they want to follow the trends of students becoming anti-Israel? Maybe they see anti-Israel Jews, who I see as going directly against the entire premise of the Torah in doing what they’re doing, so assimilated that they are lacking that yearning for Zion that characterizes a Jewish neshama, as worthy of being included under their tent by virtue of their bloodline and future donation potential. Regardless, we have a big problem on our hands and if we ignore it, the Hillel PR Machine wins: students will continue to be subverted and ostracized, and donors will continue to be misled about where their money is going.
We should slowly create an environment where groups like JVP are ostracized – not considered as our brothers and sisters, but rather as the ultimate traitors and blasphemers that they are.