During the UCLA student elections, there were two factions vying for positions. The progressive group had the support of the Palestine peace activists and the conservative one had the support of the pro-Israel students. Two of the pro-Israel candidates had participated in free Israel junkets hosted by Aipac and the AJC. They had not reported the trip as required under campaign disclosure rules. So the progressive faction asked all the candidates to pledge that they would not participate in free Israel trips. Several agreed. The pro-Israel candidates largely refused.
Into this brouhaha stepped the UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to say that he detested such litmus tests and that students should be free to travel where they wish under anyone’s auspices:
“I am troubled that the pledge sought to delegitimize educational trips offered by some organizations but not others,” Chancellor Gene Block said, in an email to students, faculty, and staff.
“I am troubled that the pledge can reasonably be seen as trying to eliminate selected viewpoints from the discussion. “If we shut out perspectives, if we silence voices, if we allow innuendo to substitute for reasoned exchange of ideas, if we listen only to those who already share our assumptions, truth gets lost, our intellectual climate is impoverished and our community is diminished,” he said.
As someone who attended UC campuses for years as a grad student, I can tell you that many chancellors are somewhat dim, remote figures whom students never meet or see. Bloch seems perfect for the part. It should be noted that the pledge doesn’t seek to delegitimize “educational trips.” It seeks to delegitimize free trips offered by ideologically partisan groups.
If Chancellor Block could show me Palestinian education missions he and other UCLA students took to Palestine, then I might accept his odd claim that the pledge seeks to eliminate viewpoints from discussion. Because these pro-Israel trips don’t include the Palestinian perspective. If they do at all it’s in tiny increments. When Project Interchange takes Bloch to Palestine, then I’ll be mollified. Till then, not so much.
It didn’t hurt the cause to note the UC system raises tens of millions of dollars from pro-Israel Jewish donors. But there’s an even more salient fact that Bloch concealed: in fact, most UC chancellors, provosts and deans have been invited on, and joined such free junkets through the AJC’s Project Interchange (h/t Rania Khalek). This non-profit spends tens of millions sending thousands of journalists, academics, business leaders, politicians and ethnic minority leaders to Israel on its dime. There they are “sold” the Israeli story. Despite claims that they meet Israeli Palestinians, this is not the point of the trip, nor do they spend much time pondering any issues or questions related to Israel’s Palestinian citizens and its Occupation of millions of other Palestinians.
Speaking of narrow-minded campus insularity, Brandeis student Daniel Mael is spearheading a counter-Open Hillel group he calls Safe Hillel. You might think this was an effort to ensure physical safety for vulnerable campus populations. But what it really is is an attempt to make the campus safe for pro-Israelism. Mael’s object is to rid campuses of any discussions that threaten his pro-Israel equanimity. Because such dangerous, scary talk is bad for the health of Jewish kids on campus. They can’t take it.
Thank God, Open Hillel is willing to hear all points of view, including those outlawed from Hillels for the past few years as being anti-Israel.
I didn’t know till today (h/t to reader Oui) that Mael had smeared me in the pages of the Jerusalem Post in an “Open Letter” he wrote to Open Hillel (why you’d write an open letter to a progressive Jewish group in the neocon Jerusalem Post is a mystery):
There is a further danger here. Who will you open up Hillel to? You may know that Richard Silverstein, a likely candidate for an Open Hillel event, recently wrote, in reference to a published work of Chloe Valdary, an African-American Zionist, a “negro” an “Uncle Tom” and a “house slave.” What would be your policy about Silverstein? If “openness” is your first principle, one that trumps loyalty to truth and to the Jewish people, then you are obligated in principle to let anyone speak. If Open Hillel succeeds, then Hillel, the center of Jewish life on campus, needs to welcome into our tent those who call for the murder our people and the destruction of the Jewish state – because you think “talking” leads to reconciliation.
Mael, in his description of Valdary conveniently omits that she’s a Christian evangelical fundamentalist funded by Israel Lobby groups like CAMERA. She herself has gone on two free Israel junkets with Aipac and another Israel Lobby group. Further, she’s not just a “Zionist,” but a settler Zionist. Someone might want to tell Mael and Jerusalem Post editors that Negro spelled with a small “n” is indeed racist much like spelling Palestinian with a small “p” or Jew with a small “j” is. A race is spelled with a capital letter.
But that’s not the most important point: note that he proceeds to speak of those who support the “murder of our people” and Israel’s destruction–in the same paragraph. So there you have it. In the eyes of this misguided Zio-punk I’ve become a Jew-killer. Isn’t it interesting how this goes. Wasn’t it Goebbels who said don’t create a small lie because no one will believe it. But create a big lie and say it often enough and people will start believing it. Mael is the proponent of the big lie. Perhaps, being young and intellectually immature, he doesn’t even realize what he’s doing. He may have well-intentioned motives. But the end result is noxious toxins injected into the American Jewish body politic.
The irony in all this is that when I was a grad student at two UC campuses I was intensely active in campus Hillels. I considered the rabbis there my spiritual advisors. At UCLA, I organized the first ever Jewish culture festival which included lots of Israel-related activities. At UC Berkeley, I taught Hebrew language at Lehrhaus Judaica and attended High Holiday services where my brother was the hazan and baal tefilah. Hillel was at one time my Jewish home on campus. It was where I felt comfortable as a Jew. Back then Hillel was an open place. It entertained a multiplicity of voices. Speaking of which, the very first New Jewish Agenda meeting I attended in 1980 was at UC Berkeley. New Jewish Agenda could not hold a meeting at a Hillel today, if it existed. It couldn’t even hold a funeral there.
There’s another ex-Brandeis student Mael reminds me of: Jack Abramoff. Brandeis alumni who knew Abramoff described him as the Ever-Ready bunny of the campus Republicans. He was the power, the passion, and even the brutish violence behind campus Young Republicanism during his days on campus. Mael is taking up the Abramoff mantel. Hopefully, he won’t become a lobbyist and pocket big bucks from unsavory clients as Abramoff did. With any luck, when he graduates he can make aliyah and become a gofer for Avi Mayer and Natan Sharansky at the Jewish Agency. It seems to be the sinecure for Diaspora Zionists in search of a nice cushy job and salary. Or alternatively, he could become a writer for Commentary like Noah Pollak. As of now, he’s published at Meir Kahane’s former shmateh, the Jewish Press and David Horowitz smear-sheet Frontpagemagazine. He’s definitely got a future in the pro-Israel industry.
By the way, no one from Open Hillel has ever invited me to any event, though I’d love it if they did. Because of Mael’s well-timed smear, Open Hillel will be afraid of doing so. And that’s the way this works. Good job, Dan. You’ve earned your Zio-stripes.