Feud Over Israel Erupts at Jewish Institutions

Museums and Schools Scrap Speeches by Perceived Critics

3 Battles: Rashid Khalidi, Judith Butler and John Judis hold divergent views on Israel. But their perceived criticism led all three to be shunned by major Jewish institutions.
3 Battles: Rashid Khalidi, Judith Butler and John Judis hold divergent views on Israel. But their perceived criticism led all three to be shunned by major Jewish institutions.

By Hody Nemes

Published February 26, 2014, issue of February 28, 2014.
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A senior editor of The New Republic is invited, disinvited and — after protests — re-invited to discuss his widely reviewed new book on U.S. policy toward Israel at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage.

A renowned literature and philosophy professor is forced to withdraw from giving a presentation on Franz Kafka, one of her areas of specialty, by New York’s Jewish Museum after complaints flood in protesting her anti-Zionism.

America’s leading scholar of Palestinian history is vetoed from addressing high school students at New York’s Ramaz School, one of the country’s leading Jewish day schools, causing students to petition the administration in protest.

A debate is raging in the Jewish world about what constitutes acceptable discourse on Israel. And these events, occurring within days of each other in mid-February, seemed to underline the urgency of an issue coming to a head as never before: What speakers are appropriate at Jewish institutions that purport to be devoted to serious intellectual inquiry?

“I think there have been lots of incidents because the level of virulence in the debate about Israel has increased,” said Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic’s longtime literary editor. “It’s caused [Jewish institutions] to hunker down. It’s caused them to get reflexive and defensive.”

Meanwhile, debate intensifies over guidelines that Hillel International, American Jewry’s campus outreach arm, requires of its campus affiliates concerning what kind of individuals and groups they may sponsor or partner with on Israel-related events.

Steven M. Cohen, a prominent sociologist and demographer who specializes in contemporary American Jewish life, warns that the disputes will only get worse as demographic change brings in a new generation.

“[There is] a general shift among young people away from support for the policies of the Israeli government, albeit with support for Israel,” said Cohen, a professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of New York University’s Berman Jewish Policy Archive.


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