A coalition of pro-Israel organizations last week voted unanimously to retain the membership of a dovish Zionist student group accused of hosting Israel bashers on American campuses.
On January 19, the steering committee of the Israel on Campus Coalition, which seeks to bolster Israel’s image at colleges and at universities, roundly rejected a move by the Zionist Organization of America, a hawkish Jewish group, to unseat the Union of Progressive Zionists from the 31-member alliance. The coalition’s steering committee, which consists of eight groups, also rejected calls to establish a mechanism to monitor the programming of its member organizations and to revisit its membership criteria.
The ZOA demanded the ouster of the UPZ, a 60-campus network of student activists, if it continued to host members of Breaking the Silence, an organization of ex-Israeli soldiers who speak out against alleged Israeli military abuses in the Palestinian territories. A fierce debate followed the ZOA’s call, with one member organization, the American Jewish Congress, sending a letter of resignation to the ICC’s director over the progressive union’s activities.
But the AJCongress’s executive director, Neil Goldstein, told the Forward that his organization had not, in fact, left the coalition. He explained that the letter had been written by a staff member who lacked the authority to make such a decision, and that it was not signed by the director of the Western region, Gary Ratner, whose name was printed at the bottom of the document. Still, Goldstein said, the organization is weighing whether or not to remain in the coalition.
The ZOA has described Breaking the Silence as rabidly anti-Israel because of its outspoken criticism of Israeli policies and the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinians. But, as liberals have pointed out, the ZOA has launched fierce attacks on positions of the Jewish state. During the lead-up to the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the ZOA hosted campus events to show solidarity with the Jewish settlers who refused to evacuate the territory.
Klein defended his organization’s campus events, saying that they were an expression of political opinion and that they did nothing to harm Israel’s image. By contrast, Klein said, speeches by members of the Breaking the Silence were peppered with falsehoods and denigrated the image of the Jewish state.
The acting president of the UPZ, Charney V. Bromberg, wrote a letter to the chairwoman of the coalition’s steering committee, insisting that the UPZ had “reviewed the origins and statements of Breaking the Silence before agreeing to lend our name and endorsement to their outreach program in the United States.”
Bromberg, who also serves as Meretz USA’s executive director, described the controversial group as being started by ex-Israeli soldiers, many of them Orthodox, who reported on what they had seen in the vicinity of Hebron, where extremist Jewish settlers often harass the city’s Palestinian inhabitants.
In a statement released by the coalition’s steering committee, the members wrote that the umbrella group “recommits itself to working collaboratively to promote a proactive, pro-Israel agenda on college campuses across North America, and to encouraging all member organizations to work with and respect all members of the coalition in the spirit of pluralism and cooperation that unites us, as indicated in the ICC membership criteria.”
Tammy Shapiro, executive director of the UPZ, lauded the committee’s decision. The vote, she said, “sends a message that even though some of these well-established older organizations wanted us removed, the younger organizations do have a voice.”