Jews love a good argument, and I am no exception, so when I saw the “Open Hillel” petition, I quickly signed it. The appeal, begun by the Progressive Jewish Alliance, would allow Hillel-affiliated groups to co-sponsor events on site with all campus organizations, provided they are not anti-Semitic or racist. According to Hillel International’s current Israel guidelines, Hillel will not “partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that ... deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; ... delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; ... or support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against (BDS) the State of Israel.”
Here, those regulations have been interpreted loosely. Last year, Harvard Hillel sponsored an event with Peter A. Beinart, a liberal Zionist supportive of a West Bank settlement boycott. In 2010, a former member of Fatah spoke here. Two years earlier, Hillel hosted an anti-occupation art exhibit. Other Hillels, unfortunately, have not been so generous.
Judaism is a big-tent religion, and we should be open to reasonable dissenting voices. Anti-Zionism is not inherently anti-Semitic. Classical Reform ideology, universalist and assimilationist, rejected the construction of Jewishness as an ethnic identity. In keeping with Marxist thought, Hadash, Israel’s Communist party, believes the country should be a state of its citizens rather than of the Jews. Harvard Hillel should bear this in mind as it crafts its own co-sponsorship policy. In the name of free and open discourse, it should discard Hillel International’s rules, save one: the ban on speakers and organizations that support BDS, a movement whose golemish Jew-hatred would be apparent to anyone, even the schlemiels of Chelm.
BDS is rejectionism repackaged as anti-occupation activism. Like Arafat and Nasser, the movement denies a Jewish right to self-determination. BDS, however, avoids “drive them into the sea” declamation, seeking to destroy Israel by delegitimizing its cultural, commercial, and intellectual life. Not that it takes a tzadik to find explicit anti-Semitism within the movement. Just visit its website, like I did. One prominently featured item was titled, “Zionism and Antisemitism: Racist Political Twins,” and it accused Zionists of Nazi collaboration. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of BDS’s leading lights, said that by continuing the occupation of the West Bank, Jews “refused to listen” to God, as in times past when they “disobeye[d]” him, a poorly veiled reference to the crucifixion of Christ, the basis of Christian anti-Semitism.
One could argue that the international BDS movement and its Harvard affiliate, the Palestine Solidarity Committee, are not closely associated. But that’s not true. I attended—and walked out of—the event P.J.A. was prevented from hosting at Hillel, the spark of this entire controversy. Called “Jewish Voices Against the Occupation” and co-sponsored with P.S.C., the discussion quickly degenerated into a tirade against the Jewish state, which was charged with accusations of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. The first two claims are inaccurate. The third invokes the specter of the Holocaust, a vile comparison with anti-Semitic undertones.
The materials on P.S.C.’s website are more troubling, specifically the organization’s Veritas Handbook. Billed as “a guide to understanding the struggle for Palestinian human rights,” its 347 pages, each stamped with the international BDS logo, are ahistorical propaganda filled with glib dismissals of Muslim and Arab anti-Semitism. The handbook also indulges in conspiracy theories, alleging that Mossad operatives, not government-sanctioned campaigns of violence and terror, were responsible for the exodus of Jews from Arab lands.
Since the handbook was published in 2010, it’s possible that many members of the P.S.C. are not even aware of its existence, and I do not think they are anti-Semitic. However, the BDS watermark’s presence in the handbook suggests that the P.S.C. supports a Jew-bashing organization and subscribes to a narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shot through with anti-Semitism. As P.J.A. has observed, many Palestinian groups support international BDS, which means that Hillel’s guidelines effectively exclude the Palestinian perspective.
That’s not our fault. Pluralism has limits, and Hillel should not accommodate hate. If P.S.C. truly values dialogue, it must reject the anti-Semitism in its midst.
Daniel J. Solomon ’16 is a Crimson editorial writer in Matthews Hall. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.