- Hillel's troubles
November 19 2009
by Sydney Levy
Hillel has trouble deciding whom to bring to speak at its campus events. It seems that trying to define one-self as pro-Israel is not as simple as one might think.
But for a pro-Israel organization, what are the boundaries? How critical can a speaker be of the Jewish state and still be consistent with Hillel's mission?
Rabbi Howard Alpert, executive director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, insisted that the lines are well-defined.
"While Hillel wants to promote dialogue among Jewish students who have different perspectives on Israel, we are unabashedly supportive of Israel."
This quote refers to the controversy caused by Hillel-Philadelphia's decision not to host a talk by Jeff Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. We would not want a Hillel audience to hear about the Palestinian house demolitions and house evictions taking place in Jerusalem this very month. That is out of bounds for Hillel. For the rest of you, please go here:
Boycotting Halper is only half of the controversy, however. That very same week, Hillel-Philaldelphia invited to speak none other than Effi Eitam, a retired brigadier general and former Knesset member, notorious because of his racist statements. Eitam has called Palestinian citizens of Israel a "ticking bomb" and "a cancer", and has stated on Israeli Army Radio that,
`we cannot be with all these Arabs, we'll have to expel the overwhelming majority of West Bank Arabs from here and remove Israeli Arabs from political system.'
Eitam denied ever calling for violence against Palestinians. Apparently the expulsions he recommends do not qualify as violence, but as a picnic in the park.
None of this worries Hillel.
The Jewish Exponent explains why:
Eitam is now an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on infrastructure and energy issues, and has been chosen by the Jewish National Fund to represent Israel on American campuses. Alpert explained that while he encouraged students to challenge Eitam, "we are not going to reject spokespersons chosen by the government."
JNF is an American organization that is not part of the Israeli government, but Alpert said that Eitam was representing Netanyahu's government because of his current position.
Now you know how Hillel interprets its pro-Israel mandate. Any racist qualifies, as long as it gets the seal of approval from the Israeli government.
Given this standard, maybe Hillel should do a speaking tour for Yitzchak Shapira, the rabbi that wrote a long treatise stating that according to Jewish law it is permitted to kill non-Jews, and even babies. After all, Shapira's yeshiva enjoys Israeli government's funding. Hmmm does this make him pro-Israel?
Only Hillel knows. Its idea of morality bends with the rhythm of the political currents in Israel. Had Eitam wanted to do his tour three years ago, Hillel would have probably refused, since at the time Israel's Attorney General was threatening to press charges against Eitam because of anti-Arab statements.
But now that Eitam is an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, what is Hillel to do?
Here's Hillel's description of Eitam at another talk, this time in Buffalo, NY:
Effie Eitam is an Israeli War Hero, a devout Jew and an unabashed supporter of the right of the Jewish people to their own homeland. He is a former leader of the National Religious Party and more recently the Ahi party, which became a part of Likud in 2009.
His bio goes on and on about how wonderful this man is. The closest you will get to any mention of his racism is this:
He presents a refreshingly different and candid insight into the problems and opportunities facing Israel.
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