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Last week I travelled to Chapel Hill North Carolina at the invitation of Christians United for Israel and the Committee for a Better Carolina, a conservative student group whose leaders are not Jewish. I mention this otherwise irrelevant fact because they asked me specifically to speak about the war against Israel in the Middle East and when I asked their leader Brandon Hartness why, he said to me, “because there is no one making a strong argument for Israel on this campus.”
As on most campuses, there is a large and active campus Jewish group at Chapel Hill, namely Hillel. But UNC Hillel was not about to invite me or to sponsor this speech. In fact UNC Hillel had attacked me last spring when these same students, again led by Brandon Hartness, put up my “Wall of Lies” – a banner created by my Freedom Center to refute the genocidal lies that make up the Palestinian case against Israel. The most fundamental of these lies is that Israel “occupies” Arab land and that this occupation is the source of the conflict.
This lie effectively delegitimizes the Jewish state and underpins the claim that Palestine extends “from the river to the sea” – obliterating Israel all together. Members of the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine chant on campuses across the country: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The Jordan River is Israel’s eastern border, the Mediterranean Sea is its border to the west. In other words, Palestine is Israel, and therefore Israel must be obliterated.
The truth is that Israel — like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan — was created on land that belonged to the Turks for 400 years prior to the establishment of the mandates from which Israel and those Arab states were carved. The Arabs have less of a claim on the West Bank, let alone on Israel proper, than American Indians have on the United States.
When the “Wall of Lies” banner was erected on the UNC campus last spring, two directors of Hillel – Ari Gauss and Sheila Katz — wrote a letter to the Daily Tar Heel dissociating themselves from the Wall and defending the Muslim Students Association which was identified on it as a group that was making the false claim that Israel occupies Palestine on campuses across the country. This was not the first or only attack on the Wall by liberal Jews active in the university community, and was in fact mild compared to others, which denounced me as an “Islamophobe” and “racist” for stating the essential truths about the war against the Jewish state.
Hillel students at the University of Pennsylvania, who voiced these specific slanders did so in a joint letter signed by members of the Hamas-supporting group “Penn for Palestine” (formerly Students for Justice in Palestine) and the Muslim Students Association, which, as has been documented in publications of my Freedom Center, is a Muslim Brotherhood front. Elisheva Goldberg who was one of the leaders of the Penn attack is now working for Peter Beinart, the proponent of the view that the Palestinian Authority-Hamas coalition wants peace with Israel and that the obstacle to peace is Israel itself.
In an attempt to understand these reactions, I contacted Hillel officials and attempted to explore ways to work with them. At a bare minimum I hoped to avoid being attacked by Jews for my efforts to defend the Jewish state. I went to Philadelphia and met with the regional director of Hillel, Rabbi Howard Alpert, and more than a dozen Jewish student leaders. Our discussions revealed that alongside the Elisheva Goldbergs, Hillel had genuine defenders of Israel and was doing important work in supporting the Jewish state. Hillel’s national office had issued policy guidelines forbidding its local chapters from entering working partnerships with organizations that did not defend the existence of the Jewish state, specifically Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association. Unfortunately, this was a policy not always observed by the local chapters, which were independently funded and run. But my contacts with Hillel directors who shared my views of the conflict made me want to work with them to change that.
From my discussions in Philadelphia, I made two observations. The first was that I had made a mistake in not discussing the ads we placed in college papers with members of Hillel in advance. The appearance of the ads inevitably created a local firestorm, thanks to the aggressive organizations of the Muslim Brotherhood and the political left, which attacked them as “Islamophobic” and “racist” at every turn. This is a standard operating procedure of the left generally, whose goal is never to engage an opinion that challenges its core beliefs but to demonize and suppress it. In pursuit of this goal, leftists have no qualms about implicating others in its smears, making any group on campus that is Jewish or “pro-Israel” a party to the crime.
The second observation was that my approach to the defense of Israel was different from that of most Hillel chapters. I believed that the way to combat genocidal claims and intentions (i.e., that Israel’s existence is illegitimate and the Jewish state should be obliterated) was by identifying them for what they were. By contrast, members of Hillel – even those who understood these malevolent agendas – felt that the defense of Israel should be positive, stressing the tolerance, creativity and generosity of the Jewish state, as well as its legitimacy, while refraining from identifying its enemies and their supporters with the genocidal intentions they held.
It was — and is — my view that the refusal to identify Israel’s enemies with their malignant goals weakens the case for Israel’s defense. The left understands that demonizing one’s adversary as a “colonial occupier” is the most effective argument, even though this requires inventing the facts. But supporters of Israel give their most important asset away at the outset. This forces them to play defense, which is always the weaker position. The left understands that intimidation through name-calling works – no one wants to be called a “racist” — which is why so many Jewish students are reluctant to “offend” them by speaking the blunt truths that are contained in my ads.
In accord with the policy I had adopted after my discussions in Philadelphia, I submitted an ad I wanted to run in the UNC student paper — the Daily Tar Heel — to the UNC Hillel director, Ari Gauss. The ad I wanted to run was headlined “Where Are They Now?” and featured nine former presidents of the Muslim Students Association who had gone on to leadership positions in al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The most famous among them was Anwar Awlaki, mentor of the Christmas bomber and the Ft. Hood assassin, who had previously been president of the Muslim Students Association at Colorado State University.
Also featured in the ad was a pamphlet we had produced, which was written by Daniel Greenfield, and titled “Muslim Hate Groups On Campus.” The pamphlet documented the anti-Jewish hate weeks and other outrages committed by the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine. Greenfield also traced the groups’ lineage back to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Gauss responded to my email with the proposed ad in this reply:
While it’s unspeakably upsetting and problematic that our campuses are supporting individuals that become leaders in terrorist organizations, my chief concern about the ad is that it’s not clear to me 1) how connected one campus MSA may be to another and 2) specifically, how connected UNC’s MSA chapter is to the national entity or other campus MSA chapters. To run this ad in UNC’s paper suggests that UNC’s MSA is connected to the others in some meaningful way and part of the problem. I’m not convinced that this is the case.
I have heard this argument from more than one Hillel director, but it always puzzles me. First, why would an organization take on the same name as an already existing national organization like MSA, which has chapters on virtually every campus, if it was not related to it? Wouldn’t the national MSA sue any organization appropriating its name and recruiting members using that name as infringing its copyright? Of course it would. But secondly, a quick search of the national MSA website shows that the UNC chapter is indeed one of the national MSA affiliates. Yet Ari didn’t bother to look.
Because I wanted to work with Ari, I let this go and agreed not to run the ad. In a phone conversation Ari explained to me that in his view the Muslim Students Association at UNC was “not political.” Hillel in fact worked closely with the UNC MSA chapter and had established a joint “Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue Committee” with its members. He was very proud of the dialogue. I asked him if this Committee was based on a public commitment by the MSA that the Jewish state had a right to exist on the land now called Israel. I got no satisfactory response but again chose to continue our dialogue. Since I had withdrawn the ad, I asked Ari if he would distribute our pamphlet, Muslim Hate Groups on Campus to his Hillel students, because they (and he) needed to be informed as to what was actually taking place on campuses across the country. He said he would do this, so I sent him 50 copies.
When the speaking date was set, my office called Ari to arrange a meeting with him and also with some Hillel students. Jeffrey Wienir who runs our campus programs informed me that he was having trouble setting up such a meeting because the Hillel students were “to the left” (and didn’t want to be in the same room with me). It would require Ari’s intervention to get any of them to agree. When I arrived at Ari’s office a few hours before my speech, we had a brief chat in which he reiterated that he had good working relationships with the Muslim Students Association. Then he introduced me to the two students who were willing to meet with me, whose names were Jacob and Josh.
Josh Orol was the co-president of the campus Hillel. But it was his partner, Jacob, who was visibly agitated. “Why did you run that ad last year?” he asked, referring to an ad containing the Wall of Lies I had placed in the Tar Heel. I asked him what he objected to, and he said its references to the Koran were wrong and it was an attack on a religion. Neither of us could remember what the ad actually said (in fact the only reference to the Koran was that Jerusalem, which the Palestinians now claim is a Muslim holy city, was never mentioned in the holy book), but I jumped right in.
“The ad doesn’t attack Muslims,” I said, but then asked whether he didn’t agree that Islam was problematic in a way that Christianity and Judaism were not. I pointed out that Christians worshipped a carpenter who preached non-violence and never committed a violent act in his life. By contrast Muslims worshipped a prophet who was a warrior who spread his religion by force, killed those he considered infidels and in fact committed a genocide against an entire community of Jews – the Qurayza tribe — because they were Jews. To which Jacob responded, “Well, in the Torah, Joshua conducted a war of extermination against the Amalekites.”
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