Online Exclusive: Letter to the Editor
Below are two responses to an article published exclusively online in Issue 11, entitled, "Israel's Defeat on Campus." An abridged version of the response to the article will appear in the next print edition of The Review.
Back to Reality: Israel, Hillel, and Jewish Life at Stanford
One would think from Daniel Kaganovich’s and Jeremy England’s article (Stanford Review, Online Edition, “Israel’s Defeat on Campus,” January 26, 2007) that the Jewish campus community, student leadership and Hillel professional staff are part of some twisted conspiracy. The article seems to repeatedly use the classic method of simplifying and then demonizing a group to galvanize antipathy towards that group. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth, and we are disappointed that these two students have chosen to place themselves outside the wide and diverse tent of our community, and attack it, rather than join us within it.
The programming policy of Hillel and its affiliated student groups reflects our commitment to a flourishing Jewish and democratic State of Israel within internationally recognized secure borders. Hillel does not promote views outside of that framework. Hillel does support students’ exploration of wide-ranging education and debate within that broad framework. Many of us who are actively engaged in the campus Jewish community hold divergent views on key issues relating to Israel – a reflection not only of the American Jewish community, but also of the diverse views within Israel itself. Our pro-Israel program – which we organize regardless of the level of anti-Israel sentiment on campus at any given time – includes educational, advocacy and cultural events. A small sampling of last quarter’s speaker program included David Horowitz, Editor of the Jerusalem Post, Shavit Matias, Deputy Attorney General of Israel, and historian Michael Oren. Cultural events included our Israeli Beit Café and an Israeli film night. Our Hamagshimim student group and AIPAC student liaisons hold regular discussions and advocacy trainings. And, some of us have traveled with Hillel to Israel either for first-time Taglit-birthright Israel experience or we’ve returned to Israel for leadership missions.
Unfortunately, the authors of the article have chosen to exclude themselves from the debate and discussion within our community and, instead, attack us from the outside. Ironically, their fallacious diatribe against Hillel and against our rich and diverse campus Jewish community was unleashed precisely at the time our Jewish community has become more unified than ever as we have come together to effectively combat anti-Israel sentiment. Students from our numerous Israel groups have come together, along with many students who are usually less active but were angered by SCAI into action. Together, we have implemented a number of strategies and activities to combat the erroneous, simplistic views that SCAI has attempted to bring to Stanford – a campus usually known for its quality discourse on complex issues. We have protested SCAI’s activities and launched a campaign to educate the wider campus community about the evils of divestment; we have met with campus administrators as well as the leaders of SCAI to express our disappointment at this campaign that not only is grossly offensive and inaccurate, but also erodes the usually elevated level of discourse that we have come to expect on Stanford’s campus; we have created a strong pro-Israel presence in the pages of the Stanford Daily; we have gone door-to-door with our petition, and created an online signup option at http://peaceinisrael.iringweb.com/, to gather signatures and combat SCAI’s campaign with a pro-Israel, pro-peace declaration. And, of course, we are continuing, with Hillel’s guidance and support, to plan Israel education and advocacy events as we usually do.
It is truly a pity, and perhaps the most disheartening of all, to see two members of the Jewish community unleash their frustration at the larger Jewish community at this critical time. It is a shame that we must now divert our energies away from combating anti-Israel activity on campus, as we deal with this internecine battle.
While Kaganovich’s and England’s article is filled with too many inaccuracies to address each, we do wish to take issue here with the authors’ claim that, “Coming to Israel’s defense is a daunting task for even the most determined student.” It is true that many students find Israel issues on campus complex and challenging. Often, many students would rather simply focus on their schoolwork. And, in times of quiet on campus, many of our peers are not as active as those of us writing this article would like them to be. But now, more than ever, Stanford students are both defending Israel and actively promoting it. And, frankly, we do not feel daunted. Perhaps it is much less daunting at Stanford than it would be at another campus – as our Jewish community is supported by a Hillel with one of the most dedicated and talented staffs in the country.
Finally, if these students wish to participate in Jewish campus life, rather than criticize from afar, we simply suggest they check the Hillel website. On it, aside from our social justice programming for which our Hillel has been nationally acclaimed, they will find a weekly Beit Midrash (traditional-style learning) program, with two levels of Talmud study taught on Wednesday nights, each taught by observant Talmud scholars. They will find four additional weekly classes on topics ranging from the weekly Torah portion to Maimonides to Hebrew study taught by Hillel’s full-time Reconstructionist rabbi and two Orthodox rabbis who are engaged by Hillel to ensure a broad spectrum of Jewish learning and role modeling. They will see the opportunity to participate in Shabbat services that range from Reform to Orthodox, followed on Friday nights by Shabbat dinner for all. And, had they checked the website last Simchat Torah, they would have seen that our Hillel joined with Chabad in celebration of this holiday. In fact, Stanford boasts one of the most positive Hillel–Chabad relationships in the country. While each organization is distinct and holds many programs of their own, these organizations come together periodically for joint celebrations and programs, and the staffs of Chabad at Stanford and Hillel at Stanford model true “derech eretz” (a Hebrew phrase generally understood to mean “respect”) that is evident by the way the Chabad rabbi, Hillel rabbi and Hillel director interact – which, itself, is a blessing to our community and something we hope these students will learn to emulate. We hope they will choose to join us as we work to maximize support for a Jewish and democratic state of Israel that enjoys safe and secure borders.
Mishan Araujo, Stanford University ’08, President, Stanford Israel Alliance
David Cohen, Stanford University ’07, Vice President, Stanford Israel Alliance
Marissa Cramer, Stanford University ’08, Vice President, Stanford Israel Alliance
Carrie Mlynarczyk , Stanford University ’09, Israel Chair, Jewish Students Association
Cheryl Pruce, Stanford University ’08, President, Jewish Students Association
In response to the article ‘Israel’s Defeat on Campus’, OneVoice answers Back
Daniel Kaganovich and Jeremy England recently wrote a cutting piece about Hillel hosting the OneVoice Movement at Stanford. Shame on them.
When I first came to Stanford I walked into a room with lead representatives of Stanford’s most prominent Israeli, Muslim, Jewish, and Palestinian groups. The first thing that struck me was that they didn’t know each others names.
I was accompanied by a Palestinian and an Israeli who volunteer with OneVoice in the Middle East and were spending just one week speaking on campuses across California.
The event was convened by the Dean of Student Affairs and a couple of Stanford’s finest professors and experts on the subject of conflict resolution. They were worried about the growing animosity at Stanford between these Israeli/Jewish and Arab/Muslim groups - that the conflict in the Middle East was dividing their local community as it has so many others. The group came, listened, aired grievances and when my colleagues and I had to get up to rush to Berkeley for another event, they barely noticed us leave. They remained behind to debate and plan – to understand one another and to do better. A year later, the seeds sown in that meeting helped us bring more Israeli and Palestinian activists to Stanford before a much bigger audience hosted jointly by the major Palestinian and Jewish groups. This program exists to isolate those who want to divide communities and to have futile debates about historical rights; instead, we engage those with more imagination in thinking about what they can do to actually help those in the Region.
OneVoice’s core work happens out of offices in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Gaza. Its mission is to enable the people of the Region to play a role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nothing would be better for both peoples than our achievement of this goal. But what can we do? We have seen negotiations stall and fail; we’ve seen wars and Intifadas. There is massive animosity and mistrust between the populations today, increasing involvement from outside groups who exploit this conflict and the practical problem of actually finding answers to difficult questions – refugees, Jerusalem, holy sites, borders, water and so on.
At OneVoice we attempt to do three things:
Firstly, we attempt to redefine this conflict. It is not a conflict of Jews and Muslims, East and West, though many would use this as an excuse to continue to wage war. It is a conflict fought for the sake of the realization of the national necessities of each people. I use the word ‘necessities’ rather than implausible ‘ideals’ because the situation today is not, for the majority of the populations, a question of ‘Greater Israel’ vs. pre-1948 Palestine. On the contrary, the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians (76% according to our polls, 60-85% according to most mainstream polls) are not working toward these goals at all. Rather, they have accepted that they have to compromise and – for the sake of their children – are desperate to do so. It is a conflict where each side is vying for their part of a two-state solution.
Therefore, it is not a black and white conflict, Israelis vs. Palestinians, but one of those who want to compromise against those who hold absolutist visions. This is a conflict that is yet to be fought, but fight it we must.
Second, we at OneVoice attempt to build internal coalitions to bolster our external goal.
To support compromise is not to abandon our convictions in support of the other side. It is not to admit that their cause is better or more just than your own and it is not to like the other side. It is to find answers to a problem that haunts your life – takes away your security, your freedom, your independence, your right to life.
The relatively right wing Israeli Likud party today supports a two-state solution – its leaders and members have joined OneVoice as board members and activists. MK Yoel Hasson was the leader of the youth wing of Likud and has stayed involved with OneVoice since taking office as a Kadima candidate, having been one of our first graduating volunteer youth leaders. Obviously Mr. Hasson MK, is just not quite as patriotic an Israeli as Jeremy England, even if he did sit in the office next door to Prime Minister Sharon during two years of Intifada.
A range of Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza have joined OneVoice’s leadership program and are actively promoting non-violence and compromise in their communities with great success.
What is needed is an umbrella that will set parameters – non-violence, anti-extremism, two-state solution – and within those parameters bring together the widest possible coalition of people. OneVoice does this.
Thirdly, we give ownership to the people. The people never felt the benefits of Oslo, they never felt connected to Camp David and they were isolated from the Geneva Accords. People do not like to be told that they must sacrifice this or that – that they will be moved here or there, especially when they would only be prepared to do so out of necessity rather than ideals. At OneVoice we are about driving a process to engage the grassroots populations in seeing how much they agree on potential resolutions and giving their feedback to each other and to the leadership. Most Israelis and most Palestinians do not realize that people in their own societies agree with them, let alone across the divide. In the re-defined conflict of absolutists vs. those who want to compromise, we have to organize and coordinate jointly better than before.
Our citizen negotiations platform and the focus groups that go on around it are at the heart of this process – over 250,000 Israelis and Palestinians have taken part at some level and the results are startling. Consensus, consensus, consensus – not on exact answers, but on the willingness to compromise, to find answers. In doing this we are not trying to craft a peace agreement. Too many of them exist already and all are useless in today’s political climate. What we need is a process to push leaders to take steps toward conflict resolution and to empower them to do so by amplifying the voice of their millions of constituents. In doing so, we isolate those who do not want to see compromise and stand directly against those who would use violence to push toward their absolutist visions.
Until now, those who do not want to compromise have organized better than us, and the small sub-group within them who want to use violence to derail this process, better than anyone.
Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian President Abbas shared a stage at the World Economic Forum for the first time to talk about what they could do for the peace process. They were brought together by hundreds of young Israelis and Palestinians who allied through independent OneVoice demonstrations in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to take their message to the leaders. What an incredible piece of diplomacy – so called ‘enemy’ populations, bringing together their leaders to push them to find answers and to vow to support them through the difficult process of finding those answers.
This is bravery and imagination. This is civil society and inspiration. This is OneVoice. Will we succeed? Maybe not, as the factors working against us are great. But we have no option but to try.
OneVoice activists came to Stanford to ask all those who care about the fates of the Israeli and Palestinian people to support their work. The response has been fantastic – Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Christians and Jews standing with us—and we applaud Stanford Hillel for this and other initiatives. Kaganovich, who wrote to my colleague that “I am opposed to dialogue with Palestinian Arab organizations in general, as I would be opposed to dialogue with the SS,” is not only out of step with members of his own community, like Stanford Israel Alliance Amie Barron who brought OneVoice to campus with the conviction that “to affect change on a broad scale, we must first be able to combat intolerance and injustice, and increase understanding, locally.” He also fails to represent those in the Region who recognize the need to propel their leaders towards conflict resolution.
Shame on these angry children who would tell Israelis from Likud, Mafdal, Shas, Kadima and Shinui who support OneVoice that they are not passionate enough about Israel because they want to find a practical way out of the conflict. Shame on them for bringing up and belittling the Holocaust at every possible opportunity to try to give weight to their weak arguments. Shame on them for that.
This is not about demonizing one ‘side,’ it’s about the fact that the situation in the Middle East is hideous. Here, Israeli and Palestinian people are desperately trying to guide themselves out of this intertwined misery. Their fates are shared for better or worse – both will have peace or both will have war.
And what do we do? Do we go back to the same old game, of supporting one side by attacking the other, of hate literature, of divestment? We can, but the world will move backwards, not forwards, if we do. We are asking all of those who care about the fates of the Israeli and Palestinian people to dedicate their energy to improving those fates lest we condemn those we claim to care about to an eternity of misery. We came to Stanford to say exactly that and the response on the whole has been fantastic – Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Jews standing with us. Thank you, Stanford and please don’t lose sight of the fact that you have a role to play, but it is in helping those people in the Middle East, not wasting your time on those unworthy of it on your campus, as I have had to do here.
They say if you can’t write something on the back of a napkin it’s not worth writing at all. In half as many words as Danny and Jeremy used in their article, I hope I have explained a bit more about what we stand for and why we stand for it, and if I haven’t already, let me do so here, as though on the back of a napkin:
Hillel is right to work with others, so long as the aspirations of partner groups are not a threat to Israel or Jews. OneVoice is a pioneer of such aspirations, not a threat to them, just as it is a pioneer of Palestinian aspirations for a permanent, viable, independent state alongside Israel. The vast majority of those who live with the consequences of an expanding, deepening conflict understand that – let us support them however we can.
Jake Hayman is the International Coordinator for the OneVoice Movement. He has spoken at over 50 campuses and communities worldwide about their work after spending time in both 2005 and 2006 with the OneVoice offices in Ramallah and Tel Aviv.