Who’s shutting down the debate on Israel?

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. Credit: Arielinson via Wikimedia Commons.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. Credit: Arielinson via Wikimedia Commons.

By Jonathan S. Tobin/JNS.org

One of the complaints about the organized Jewish community is that it is silencing criticism of Israel. Left-wingers paint a dismal picture of a Jewish community in denial about Israel’s sins and determined to squelch debate about the peace process or controversial issues like settlements.

So it probably came as quite a shock to many American Jews to read what happened at Princeton University this past week when the Center for Jewish Life—as the campus Hillel is called—cancelled a speech by Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister.

The Alliance for Jewish Progressives—a campus left-wing group—objected to the presence of Hotovely, an outspoken member of the Likud party and a key figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. They ginned up an indictment of her as some sort of extremist because she had dared to call out the Palestinian Authority for its attempt to erase Jewish history and ties to Jerusalem. They claim anyone who supports the Jewish presence across the Green Line or in parts of Jerusalem is, by definition, a racist. They were also upset that the Hillel chapter had refused to sponsor appearances by anti-Zionists or those whose presentation consisted of slanders of the IDF for its efforts to halt Palestinian terror.

Yet rather than dismissing this complaint, the Princeton Hillel branch cancelled Hotovely’s appearance. Princeton’s Hillel Director Rabbi Julie Roth—who eight years ago shut down plans to host a critic of radical Islam—defended the move by disingenuously claiming that although the event had been planned some time ago and was part of a tour of U.S. campuses, Hotovely’s speech had not been properly approved.

To its credit, the campus Chabad House stepped in and hosted Hotovely instead. But Roth didn’t count on the storm of criticism that followed. Eric Fingerhut, the president of Hillel International, personally apologized to Hotovely for the slight and then wrote an op-ed admitting the group’s error published in The Jerusalem Post. Roth was listed as a co-author, though it’s doubtful that she did so willingly.

Let’s hope other Hillel chapters heed Fingerhut’s charge and never repeat this fiasco. But there’s more to this than an Ivy League kerfuffle. The lesson here is that the conventional wisdom about the plight of critics of Zionism is a myth. On campuses, it is those who speak up for the Jewish state who are often the ones being shut up.

The atmosphere at many, if not most institutions of higher learning is one of intense hostility to pro-Israel advocates. Part of it may be ascribed to intolerance for all who are opposed by any group that can pose as a downtrodden minority. The notion of intersectionality—in which various causes like Black Lives Matter are seen as connected with Palestinian opposition to Israel’s existence—has allowed leftist demagogues to label any conservative a racist or a white supremacist. Under this banner, groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, which is funded by pro-Hamas sources and which promotes the BDS movement against Israel, are welcomed and even liberals, like legal expert Alan Dershowitz, are attacked with anti-Semitic invective, simply for supporting Israel. In this way, American campuses have become beachheads for the kind of Jew-hatred that has become commonplace in Europe.

In this climate in which any expression of support for Israel is slammed as racist, Jewish students are finding it increasingly difficult to openly express their identity. They look to places like Hillel houses as safe havens from verbal and sometimes even physical attacks. The notion that Jewish institutions should be providing platforms for those like the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) group, which not only supports efforts to eradicate the Jewish state but also is now promoting anti-Semitic blood libels, while denying a platform to a representative of the democratically elected government of Israel, is a product of this kind of upside-down thinking.

As in the case in Israel’s lively democracy, where settlements and other topics are hotly debated, there needs to be room for a discussion of the issues. But the legitimacy of the campaign to deny the right of the Jewish people to their homeland is not something decent people should agree to disagree about. Yet that is what many on the left are demanding as defenders of Israel are treated like pariahs and groups like JVP are lauded. Instead of crying crocodile tears about Israel-haters being silenced, it’s time for Jews to face up to the way the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping across the globe has spread to our shores. That is a grim reality about which we dare not be silent.

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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