On July 27, 2017, a student at Hunter College, published an article on his denial of entry into Israel. The article is an informative one, as it gives the reader an opportunity to read another’s perspective. Like Ben Zoma says, “who is wise? One who learns from every person” (Pirkei Abot Ch. 4). For me though, the article highlights one of the primary obstacles faced by Israel advocates at Hunter College, and surely, on many other campuses.
The article states:
“At Hunter College where I study, a trip was recently coordinated by the Hillel chapter to bring non-Palestinians to visit the ruins of ethnically-cleansed Palestinian villages.”
I am a student leader at the Hunter College Hillel, and lead many efforts to organize the aforementioned trips to Israel this student refers to. I assisted in planning this trip’s itinerary, recruitment, and preparation. With that I say the description of the above-mentioned trip is humorous and false.
The trip is inaccurately described as catered to non-Palestinians. I can say with a full and clear conscience that the thought of bringing a Palestinian on this trip would have made me ecstatic. I would have advocated strongly for their application to be granted to this trip. It would have broadened the narrative and perspective of this intellectual journey. Application was open to all, and claiming that there was an ethnic restriction is unsubstantiated and false.
Secondly, the way I understand it, I appreciate the perspective presented by implicitly referring to Israel as “ruins of ethnically-cleansed Palestinian villages.” Although I fundamentally disagree with this description, it is important to know that some subscribe to describing Israel as such. But what the author of this article does is simplify a complex matter and assert it as fact. While he may view Israel as ruins of an ethnically-cleansed land, many others, like myself view Israel as beautiful, but not perfect. Some view Israel as a beautiful, vibrant democracy tolerant of dissent and supportive of Western values; a country with a booming culture, economy and role model for technology. It is important to take these complexities into account.
However, regarding the motivation of the Hillel, I propose we ask one question regarding the posed excerpt, why? Why would an organization spend an abundance of funds sending 25 students of all sorts of faiths, ethnicities, religions, areas of study, genders, sexualities etc. on an all-expense-paid trip to the other side of the earth? Surely, there had to have been a pressing reason. As the saying goes, “money does not grow on trees!”
Here is one reason why the Hillel might have done something extraordinary for Hunter students.
On November 14, 2015, a rally hijacked by “justice” and “Palestinian rights” advocates chanted “Zionists out of CUNY,” along with many other anti-Semitic statements at a demonstration initially intended to call for “open admission and free tuition.”
Ever since that rally, silencing, muzzling and oppressing those who dared to be grant some credence to the Zionist case was the campus norm. But, efforts by the Jewish community to remedy the lack of speech toleration were underway. The Jewish and Zionist community did not stand idly by while being under strong ideological assault. (For more on this perspective, see “Why Are Jews the Only Minority We Don’t Protect On College Campuses?”)
As a vocal voice for campus Jews, the Hunter Hillel vociferously promotes free expression of all persons. They welcome all students in their lounge and at their events. In fact, the Hillel even hosted a Palestinian who grew up in Ramallah and visited his homeland in January. Amr gave a truly inspirational presentation where he envisioned a land of peace and coexistence. It is a shame that subscribers to the non-normalization movement, did not accept their invitation to attend and engage in dialogue.
Then, this year, after presenting the situation of anti-Israel and anti-Semitism at Hunter College, the Hillel was granted and blessed with the opportunity to run a free trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The golden opportunity was aimed at showing the students of Hunter the real face of the land some call Israel and others, Palestine. Unlike the excerpt above implies, at the Hillel, they have no pre-meditated agenda besides for free speech and expression. The Hillel tries their hardest to plan these trips with the most balanced and pluralistic narratives available. From visiting Rawabi, to the night life of Tel Aviv, to visiting the border of Gaza, the Hillel exposes these students to whatever they can.
The Hillel clearly and admirably removes themselves from the business of adjudicating complex matters and dictating them as fact. The Hillel recognizes the Israel-Palestine conflict for what it is, a complex issue that needs discussion.
Unlike other clubs at Hunter, the Hillel is interested in promoting dialogue, relationships, and understanding. Figuratively, the Hillel has an open mind, when presented with the Israel-Palestine conflict recognizes the vast complexity of the situation. Opposingly, other clubs seek to incite violence, hate, bigotry and oppression.
Recently, Hillel was featured on campus TV show “The Club Scene.” Myself and former president of the Hillel outlined some of what the Hillel does on campus.
To address my original point, Israel advocates face the challenge of anti-Israel advocates promoting ignorance and over-simplification of a matter that cannot be condensed. This maneuver of over-simplification is what I call getting it twisted. Certain perspectives, myths and facts are used to twist interpretations of Israel to appear in an obvioisly negative light. As a result, my primary goal as an Israel advocate at Hunter is to first open up anti-Zionists to dialogue. Simply talking to the other side and conversing is the initial objective of Israel advocacy.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is not an issue that can be regarded as a “black and white” issue. Conversation is productive, necessary and constructive towards peace. For conversation we shall strive.
Note: None of the above should be construed to represent the views of the Hunter Hillel, or any of its agents and/or affiliates. The views represented above are solely those of the author.