I'm a Jew Who Was Asked to Make a Political Statement on Israel Before Being Allowed into a Jewish Building (in America)
Crossposted on Tikkun Daily
By David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)
Recently, due to my writing on the issue of boycotts and Israel, I was asked by a prominent Jewish organization to make a public, political statement before being allowed into its building to speak about my book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?
This request, as well as its troubling implications, are part of a sudden controversy which has arisen in the American Jewish community over what can, and cannot, be discussed regarding Israel.
I recently had the honor of being invited by the Israel Committee of Santa Barbara to be a keynote speaker at its annual, signature event this spring. The event is physically housed by Santa Barbara Hillel, which describes itself as a home for Jews open to all political and religious stripes, stating, “We are as diverse as the human race.”
At first, it was going to be my temporary home – a place in which I was to tell the narrative of my reconciliation with a Palestinian family. However, when a member of the Hillel staff found a political post of mine in which I attempted to argue that boycotts and sanctions against Israel are legitimate forms of nonviolent protest – and which understandably was misunderstood as my joining the BDS movement – I was no longer welcome.
Which is when the request, or pre-condition, came from Santa Barbara Hillel after it viewed my post as a violation of Hillel’s guidelines:
Make a political statement clarifying your position on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, and you may enter our building. Otherwise, you are not allowed within our walls.
As a former Hillel employee, a current Jewish educator, and an author who has been touring the country and doing events for my book in diverse Jewish communities, the request from Hillel was surprising.
However, when one considers what has concurrently been happening in America these past few weeks, the request isn’t surprising at all. Rather, it’s part of a larger controversy in which some Jewish institutions, instead of fostering open debates on difficult, critical issues, are censoring dialogue on Israel by deciding who is, and is not, a sanctioned member of the Jewish community.
Swarthmore College’s Story
Hillel International is an enormous Jewish institution – the umbrella organization for Hillel centers on college campuses across North America (and beyond). And while it advertises itself as being a pluralistic home for diverse political views on Israel, it has created guidelines which exclude anyone who supports BDS or who might “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel.”
Meaning: anyone who harshly critiques Israel’s geo-political policies – or does so without similarly critiquing all other nations worthy of rebuke – can be locked out of the building. Literally.
This means some prominent progressive Zionists – those, like myself, who share Hillel’s vision of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders” – have been blacklisted. Peter Beinart comes to mind. So too does Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli army veterans who speak about the military’s abuses and their effect on Israeli society.
This blacklisting held true for all Hillel chapters until three weeks ago, when something important happened: Swarthmore Hillel became the first local center to defy Hillel International’s guidelines, declaring itself as an “open” Hillel willing to host anyone for debate or dialogue, regardless of their political views.
Its statement made clear that it no longer wanted to censor who could and could not speak within its walls, thus constraining the open dialogue on Israel its students wished to have: