Opinion: American Jewish academic center smears Israel

Is this the kind of programming that the donors to the Feinstein Center want their money used for?

By Moshe Phillips, Herut USA

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 what a strong supporter of Israel he was. 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 be hosting a public program called The Weaponization of Discourse: Israel/Palestine, Antisemitism, and Free Speech on Campus

The Feinstein Center’s advertisements for the event declare that it will explore, among other things, what it calls “increased state violence against Palestinians.” The phrase “state violence against Palestinians” means that Israel, as a state, is carrying out a policy of committing war crimes 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 context of the April 20 program is the ongoing debate over the definition of anti-Semitism 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 Kenneth S. Stern of Bard College, object to the IHRA definition because it includes demonization of Israel as an example of anti-Semitism.

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 such a controversy, both sides of the argument should be represented. Instead, the April 20 discussion is going to feature only two speakers, both representing the same point of view.

Aside from Stern, the only other panelist will be Joyce Ajlouny, head of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). That’s the foreign policy arm of the Quakers. Articles on the AFSC’s website openly compare Israel to the 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. Evidently that’s what Ajlouny thinks of Israel’s leaders, from David Ben-Gurion to Yitzhak Rabin. And of course Ajlouny is entitled to her point of view. But should the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History be the one to give her a platform?

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?

Before coming to Philadelphia four years ago, Ajlouny was the head (for 13 years) of a school in Ramallah which ran a summer program called “Go Palestine” for teenagers from around the world.

According to the itinerary for the Ajlouny 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, Ajlouny came close to rationalizing Palestinian violence, when she claimed that many young Palestinians harbor “feelings of revenge and retaliation,” and “It’s very difficult to manage these emotions.”

U.S. 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 U.S. government funds are being used, directly or indirectly, to support a camp that promotes BDS or other anti-Israel extremism.”

I am not saying that Joan Ajlouny should be prevented from expressing her extremist views. She has the same right to free speech as everyone else.

Rather, I am questioning the outrageous imbalance of having only one point of view represented in a Temple University program on a controversial topic.

I am also questioning the lie about Israel’s supposed “state violence” that is included in the publicity for the program.

I am asking whether the Feinstein Center’s hosting of such a program is what its founder and longtime leader would have wanted.

And most of all, I am wondering: Is this the kind of programming that the donors to the Feinstein Center want their money used for?

Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s U.S. division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education.