Why is a major academic center for the study of American Jewish history, which was founded by a stalwart friend of Israel, falsely accusing Israel of “state violence against Palestinians”?
The Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University was founded — and for many years directed — by the late Dr. Murray Friedman, a distinguished historian and longtime leader of the American Jewish Committee in Philadelphia. I had the privilege of attending presentations by Murray Friedman, and I know he was a strong supporter of Israel. He is surely turning over in his grave at the news that his center is now being used to spread anti-Israel lies.
On April 20, the Feinstein Center will host a public program called “The Weaponization of Discourse: Israel/Palestine, Antisemitism, and Free Speech on Campus,” featuring professor Kenneth Stern of Bard College and Joyce Ajlouny, general-secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The Feinstein Center’s advertisements for the event declare that it will explore, among other things, “increased state violence against Palestinians.”
The phrase “state violence against Palestinians,” means that Israel, as a matter of national policy and in a systemic way, is carrying out violence against Palestinian Arabs. That’s false.
I expect Arab propagandists to spread such lies. I don’t expect the falsehoods to come from an academic center that was founded by a pro-Israel scholar, and is funded in part by donations from pro-Israel members of the Philadelphia-area Jewish community.
The April 20 program is responding to, in part, the ongoing debate over the definition of antisemitism that has been crafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and accepted by numerous governments and Jewish organizations around the world. Some left-wing academics, including Stern, object to the IHRA definition because it includes demonization of Israel as an example of antisemitism.
Obviously Stern and his colleagues have every right to their viewpoint. But when an academic center such as the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History sponsors a program about “the potentials and limitations of a state-sponsored definition of antisemitism,” both sides of the argument should be represented. Instead, the April 20 discussion is has been advertised as featuring only two speakers, both representing the same point of view. The AFSC, for instance, is the foreign policy arm of the Quakers, and articles on the AFSC’s website openly compare Israel to Nazi Germany; Ajlouny herself has publicly accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing.”
Obviously, leaders who engage in “ethnic cleansing” are war criminals and should be in prison. That’s what Ajlouny thinks of Israel’s leaders, from David Ben-Gurion to Yitzhak Rabin. And Aljouny’s activism spreads beyond speech: before coming to Philadelphia four years ago, Ajlouny was the head of a school in Ramallah that ran a summer program called “Go Palestine” for teenagers from around the world.
According to the itinerary for the school’s summer program, the featured speakers included representatives of “the BDS movement,” Nasser Ibrahim of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a terrorist group), and “ex-prisoners [who were in] Israeli occupation jails,” which almost certainly means terrorists. Interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer on November 3, 2017, Ajlouny came close to rationalizing Palestinian violence when she claimed that many young Palestinians harbor “feelings of revenge and retaliation” and that “it’s very difficult to manage these emotions.”
US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the “intolerance” and “extremism” of the “Go Palestine” program was “disturbing.” Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) said the reports of the program’s activities were “quite concerning.” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, “I endorse the calls by Senators Schumer and Cardin for an investigation to make sure that no US government funds are being used, directly or indirectly, to support a camp that promotes BDS or other anti-Israel extremism.”
Ajlouny is entitled to her point of view. In fact, she has the same right to free speech as everyone else. But should the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History be the one to give her a platform — and not even feature a dissenting point of view?
The center’s mission statement reads: “The Feinstein Center for American Jewish History supports innovative approaches to understanding American Jewish life. Its mission is simple: Inspiring Inquiry.”
What is “innovative” about accusing Israel of “state violence” and “ethnic cleansing”? And where is the spirit of “inquiry” in hosting a program where only one side of a controversy is aired?
Donors and supporters of the Feinstein Center need to ask themselves if this is the kind of programming they want their money used for — and then act accordingly.
Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s US division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and its US website is https://herutna.org/