On April 11, the Ramapo Hillel club, in conjunction with Hillel of Northern New Jersey hosted a visit from Israeli soldiers to discuss their experiences in the Israeli Defense Force. This event opened with an introduction from an organizer from StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization that funds the Israeli Soldiers’ Stories Tour. The main speakers, two IDF soldiers, shared their personal histories, how their families each came to Israel, what motivated them to continue their service after their mandatory two years and what their service entailed.
On the surface, to anyone who is not well versed in the Israel/Palestine conflict and the history of tension in the region, the event seemed informational and included stories from veterans passionate about the sacrifice and commitment they made for their country. However, when you dig a little deeper, another point of view can be found.
A brief perusal of the StandWithUs website reveals its disapproval of any persons or groups that are openly critical of the Israeli government and its military actions. They are staunchly against the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which began in 2005 as a campaign to publically shame and punish Israel economically “until it complies with International law and Palestinian rights.” According to one of its pamphlets, StandWithUs has characterized the BDS movement as dangerous, racist propaganda “designed to erode support for Israel…and eventually eliminate the Jewish state by persuading the international community that Israel has no right to exist or defend itself.” StandWithUs appears to consider any critiques of Israel’s domestic policies or accusations of excessive force as attempts to delegitimize Israel.
The issue of defense is something that is touted across many Zionist platforms, and it is certainly a contentious one. The legitimacy of defense vs. violence is inextricably tied to the complicated history of the conflict, and whether it is viewed as saving the homeland or maintaining the occupation.
Zionist propaganda can easily be found on the Internet, but it can also find its way onto college campuses. Hillel, which is committed to supporting Israel, as well as promoting Jewish identity, must be mindful of promoting events that jeopardize any meaningful conversation around the rights of Palestinians.
Regardless of where you fall on the Israel/Palestine issue, we should be able to agree that excluding, marginalizing or silencing anyone’s views is not going to further the conversation or promote peace. Therefore, inviting organizations and holding events that have a particular agenda may create an environment that is uncomfortable for those who fall on the other side of the issue.