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Debating campus strategy

Ben Harris reported earlier this week on Hillel’s upcoming conference and the related debate over how to deal with anti-Israel activities on campus. In a related exchange…

The ZOA’s president, Morton Klein, has posted an opinion piece criticizing the Harvard Hillel for hosting an exhibition of photographs and testimony by Israeli soldiers who served in the Palestinian territories:

If an exhibit about Babe Ruth’s baseball career showed only his 100 worst games, one would be led to believe – erroneously – that Ruth was an awful player. The same is true with Harvard Hillel’s exhibit, showcasing a fraction of Israelis’ conduct not remotely reflecting their typical behavior.

Indeed, the exhibit promotes an anti-Israel lie. Human rights activist Natan Sharansky praised “Israel’s willingness to endanger the lives of its own soldiers in order to save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian civilians.” Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz proclaimed, “No country in history ever complied with a higher standard of human rights.”

There is nothing about the Harvard Hillel exhibit that would bring Jewish students closer to their heritage or cultivate their love and advocacy for Israel – goals that Hillel says it is dedicated to achieving. The exhibit could cause students to disassociate from their heritage, and feel shame or disgust about Israel, which is unwarranted and disastrous for our Jewish future.

The president of Harvard Hillel issued an open letter in response:

I write to clarify our situation because your press release and letters of condemnation do not in any way reflect the reality of Harvard Hillel or the Harvard campus. In fact, what you have said and not said is confusing and damaging. For instance, much of your condemnation confuses International Hillel and Harvard Hillel. International Hillel is not responsible for programming at Harvard Hillel. Why do you attack them page after page? And why do your attributions of blame to them apply to us in this situation?

Truth from a skyscraper in New York City looks different than on the ground of a campus in Cambridge. Every campus and every Hillel has its own unique culture. …

Harvard Hillel neither sponsors nor supports “Breaking the Silence”. We have indeed provided a venue for the exhibit. We have provided space in response to the request of two important student groups. Both groups are explicitly Zionist, although each group has a different function and self-understanding. The Harvard Students for Israel, our Israel advocacy group, one of the largest in the country, requested after consulting with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a sponsor of the exhibit, to move “Breaking the Silence” from a prominent location on campus into the Hillel building. Their concerns were serious. First, they felt that the exhibit needed to be housed where it could be thoroughly and responsibly contextualized – not open to an ongoing heavy flow of traffic with little written or oral explanation. Second, they wanted to ensure that the exhibit not function as a discrete free-standing program but be a component of a larger educational program that could provide alternative perspectives, including a critique of the exhibit. Third, they wanted to avoid ugly, divisive, public displays that, while a delight to the media and outsiders, would be destructive to the Harvard Jewish community and to the reputation of Israel.

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