hillel tactics at G-dub

the forward is reporting on some sketchy tactics adopted by george washington university's hillel to prevent a discussion on israeli apartheid. this took place during a talk at the university by former president jimmy carter, who was speaking on the subject. robert fishman, GW hillel's director, admitted that he and a group of jewish students made a plan to sit near the microphone and rush to it at the end of the talk, ensuring that mostly critical questions from a pre-scripted sheet were asked. this was accomplished, with four students reading questions directly from the sheet - none of which directly addressed the issue of israeli apartheid.

is there anything wrong with this? according to one way of looking at it, not much. as a hillel activist pointed out, nobody stopped anyone from asking questions. at worst, the associated press got the false impression that the audience was mostly critical, and people who had honest questions in response to the talk didn't get to ask them because they didn't act quickly enough.

i bring up this story because it illustrates an unfortunate tendency in the "pro-israel" crowd* to want to stifle and/or avoid debate of substantive issues. this is true in general, and especially true of discussions of israeli apartheid. documentation of apartheid is generally met with substanceless attacks rather than substantive response. in fact, i don't know of any attempt to seriously reckon with the arguments of uri davis, edward herman, jeff halper, the national lawyers guild, or anyone else who has analyzed israeli apartheid**.

it's especially unfortunate that a chapter of hillel was involved in this. i'm not saying that hillel is always neutral when it comes to israel***, but it generally tries to preserve the appearance, at least, of openness to a range of political views, in keeping with its mission of increasing jewish involvement on campus in a nonsectarian way. having been involved with several hillels, i've known many jews who've been interested in "doing jewish", as hillel calls it, but were put off by its reputation as a predominantly right-wing institution. the kind of theatrics that the forward article describes doesn't help hillel overcome this reputation.

* i use scare quotes around "pro-israel" because i don't believe that supporters of/apologists for israeli violence, racism and political intransigence are genuinely pro-israel. i'll blog about it sometime.

** i'm leaving out jimmy carter because i haven't read his book. i've also seen false statements
about israeli apartheid attributed to him by the mainstream U.S. media, such as the claim that there is no racial discrimination in israel proper (i.e. israel within the 1949 armistice lines). such claims, which run contrary to the unrebutted research of some of the authors i've mentioned, cast doubts on his credibility.

*** at some point, god willing, i'll tell the story of hillel's deplorable conduct at a panel featuring jewish and israeli members of the international solidarity movement, which i helped to organize.

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