Thursday, April 10, 2008


Engage, the British academic website that was set up to fight antisemitism and foil boycott attacks against Israeli academics, put up a post yesterday, titled:

Peace Now lecture banned from Hillel in Texas for opposing the occupation.

I read the short message that followed but found no information whatsoever about a lecture being banned due to any reason at all, let alone the ominous anti-democratic motive implied in the title. I left a comment to that effect in the comment thread but my comment was garbaged, (as anticipated).

I googled about for a bit but could find no useful information that could shed light on the mystery. This morning I sent an email to the Hillel Texas organization, asking them why the event was cancelled. A few hours later I received the exact same email message published (later, in the Update section) on the Engage website.

I understood from the email that the event was cancelled due to timing problems. I couldn't figure out why they waited for the last minute to find out about the timing problem, but I would attribute this more to incompetence than to some nefarious motivations. Especially since I know that Hillel is a mainstream organization, supportive of Israel and Jewish students in campuses.

The Hillel Texas response reiterates the organization's position that "Peace Now was not banned from Texas Hillel, and would not be. We are here to serve a diverse group of students with many opinions about how to keep Israel strong and safe."

Why would the Executive Director of Texas Hillel make that statement, if a day earlier he had banned the event for its political message? Why would he emphasize a commitment to diversity of opinion if he did not endorse this diversity? Does it take only a few emails from some anonymous readers and some British blog to change his mind and his organization's policies?

Why was the event represented by Engage as an exercise in silencing anti-settlements policies in Israel, when the majority of Israelis support this position anyway?

BTW, Rabbi Komerovsky's stated position of commitment to a diversity of opinion among pro-Israel advocates tallies with what Martha Nussbaum stipulated when she was "in charge of the "Civility Project", sponsored by [her university's] Hillel, whose purpose is to improve the climate of discourse on issues involving Israel and Palestine. ":

"... it's important, here, to construct fora for respectful public debate that include a wide range of positions, and, preferably, show that this range of positions cuts across the Jewish-Arab divide. The huge differences among Jews on this topic should surely be manifested, so that nobody can equate Jewishness with a particular political position".

It is quite distressing that a website so dedicated to fighting "antisemitism and the demonization of Israel" in all its forms, hues and nuances, should contribute to a baseless denunciation of an organization dedicated to the well being of Israel and to promoting peace with the Palestinians.

Engage's concluding "conciliatory" statement:

'It looks like things will be better at Texas Hillel in the future. It looks like an anti-occupation event will not, again, be cancelled at short notice for political reasons. " stands behind its title thesis in spite of having failed to support it with any kind of evidence. Perhaps such evidence exists, and is concealed from the readers, for whatever reason. In this case, it should be stated that the title draws on verifiable information which for certain reasons cannot be divulged. In absence of such mitigation, it is hard to know what to make of this whole post, why it was put up in the first place, and how it serves to fight antisemitism in Britain, or elsewhere.

Update: Jewcy blog also reported this story in the same way, here.

When I asked in the comments: "What was the reason given for the Hillel's pull out?" I got this reply:

In correspondence forwarded to me a few hours ago from Texas Hillel, they say: "The entire program was scheduled "at the last minute," within only a few weeks of the event. A room was booked at Texas Hillel but not as part of our Israel group. Peace Now was not banned from Texas Hillel, and would not be."

The reason they originally gave, I don't know.

In any case, sounds like the future is bright(er). (My highlight)

So I guess my perplexity is doomed to remain unanswered. No one seems to know what was the reason for the cancellation. And still they speculate. I wonder who first circulated the report.


At 5:06 AM EDT, Anonymous DH said...

Noga, if you do not have all the information it would be better for you not to offer an opinion.

We got this story right and I stand by it 100%.

It would be better if you kept your rather musings to yourself - particularly when they are just wrong.

If you had thought it through, it would have been obvious to you that the explanation offered by Rabbi Komerovsky was not the whole explanation since it made no sense.

I don't know Komerovsky and he seems like a reasonable guy to me - but the fact is that somehow those in authority made a bad decision - a decision to exclude the settlement watch speaker. It is not credible - and neither is it true - that this was simply a matter of timetabling.

Did you think that we at Engage just invented the explanation for the short-notice cancellation? If so you are very patronizing. You have been coming to Engage for long enough to know that we don't invent stories.

More important than hoping that you caught Engage out, is addressing the point. This is an example - and it is not an isolated example - where people and organizations who have legitimate, responsible and measured criticism of Israeli policy have been treated as though they were hostile to Jewish communities and to Israel - and excluded from functioning as part of the Jewish community.

Engage exists to insist that people think about - and recognize the existence of - the boundary between legitimate criticism and demonization.

But then you were the person who saw nothing wrong with an Israeli government minister predicting a Shoah in Gaza. So your judgment is not always so astute on these issues - no matter that you clearly believe that it is.

At 7:04 AM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

DH is the editor in chief of Engage.

His comment continues the sort of irresponsible reporting I found distressing in the Engage post. He still provides no evidence to support his thesis and complains when anybody at all is puzzled by such judgments.

I'm sorry I can't take his word for it, but his concluding flourish is proof that he cannot be taken at his word:

In the Vilnai's "shoah" kerfuffle DH stated, unequivocally, that

" The Hebrew word Shoah is a word for the Holocaust, for the nazi genocide of the Jews of Europe in the middle of the twentieth century. If somebody uses the word Shoah in this context it inevitably refers to the Holocaust."

In the comments I explain how this is a mistranslation, complete with examples and sources.

When Norman Geras published his opinion, in which he says that : "The word in Hebrew means, precisely, disaster, but is now also linked by longstanding usage with the Shoah",

DH pretended that this had been his position all along.

DH has no respect for differing points of view even when backed by solid arguments and evidence.

However, if he corrects his Engage post and backs up his claim that "Peace Now lecture banned from Hillel in Texas for opposing the occupation" I will accordingly correct and update my post, too, with the new information.


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