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Anti-Israel groups step up activity on Pitt campus
by Toby Tabachnick
Staff Writer
Mar 18, 2009 | 5751 views | 6 6 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<i>Hillel staged a pro-Israel rally in response to all of the anti-Israel actions taking place on Pittsburgh's campuses. </i>
Hillel staged a pro-Israel rally in response to all of the anti-Israel actions taking place on Pittsburgh's campuses.
This past Tuesday, Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the online anti-Israel publication “Electronic Intifada,” was welcomed as a speaker on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. His lecture was sponsored by a host of pro-Palestinian groups including the Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CPJME), and the Pittsburgh Palestinian Solidarity Committee.

On March 2 and 3 — also on campus — the CPJME publicly screened two anti-Israel films: “Occupation 101,” a documentary portraying Palestinians as blameless victims persecuted by an apartheid Zionist state; and “Divine Intervention,” a black comedy laying the blame of Palestinian hopelessness squarely on the shoulders of the


The inflammatory, anti-Israel play, “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” will be presented on March 29 at Pitt. The play contends that an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer deliberately ran down Corrie, an American peace activist. The Israel Defense Forces Judge Advocate’s Office, however, after an investigation of the incident, concluded that her death was a tragic accident.

In January, “Hope Under Siege,” an incendiary photo exhibit by the president of Pitt Students for Justice in Palestine was displayed for two weeks, at the William Pitt Union, presenting a one-sided narrative of the Israeli/ Palestinian struggle.

These events are just a few in a long list of constant on-campus anti-Israel programming, which has increased at an alarming rate since late last fall.

“There is a tremendous volume of anti-Israel programming happening on our campuses that we haven’t seen in years,” said Aaron Weil, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Hillel Jewish University Center.

“This started in November,” Weil continued. “It’s a national, well-coordinated, well-organized, well-funded campaign. Some of it borders on anti-Semitic. When an organization calls for the destruction or removal of the Jewish state of Israel, thus denying the Jewish people the U.N.-given right to self-determination, this is anti-Semitism.”

Weil said that anti-Israel groups are targeting college campuses in about 40 cities across the United States.

“This is not just a campus issue,” Weil said, “but a city issue. When anti-Israel comes to town, it starts on college campuses.”

Jewish students at Pitt have been feeling the impact of the barrage of anti-Israel programming, said Carly Adelman, president of Hillel at Pitt.

“We noticed an increase in anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian programming probably in the beginning of December,” Adelman said. “It accelerated in January when we got back from winter break.”

“The first two weeks of January, it was at its worst,” Adelman said. “Coming back from break, I think a lot of Jewish students were not prepared to speak about the issue. So, people were getting a lot of information from the anti-Israel groups.”

So far, the administration of Pitt does not see the influx of anti-Israel activity as a problem. The university gives “student groups the freedom to select the topics of the things they wish to pursue,” said John Fedele, associate director of news, university news and magazines. “They have a wide latitude.”

While the administration is “supporting all students, and not favoring one group over another,” said Adelman, “we have been assured that if even one student were targeted, the administration said it would do something. If anyone’s safety were threatened, it would step in. But they can’t step in with just an exchange of ideas.”

Adelman said that in January, there was a lot of coverage in the campus newspaper about “what both sides were saying. But I think some of the writers of the Pitt News were not educated about the history of Israel, so they were writing opinion, not fact.”

“I would definitely say there is a large concern about what’s going on,” said Naomi Wischnia, president of Panthers for Israel, a Pitt group that promotes Israel’s cultural contributions.

Earlier in the year, protests such as the March of the Dead — where pro-Palestinian activists dressed in black with white masks and marched while carrying coffins — made many Jewish students uncomfortable.

“People were definitely feeling threatened by the protests [against the Gaza incursion] going on at the beginning of the year,” Wischnia said. During the March of the Dead, Jewish students heard someone call out, “we’re going to kill all the Israelis,” Wischnia recounted.

Although Wischnia said that the anti-Israel events have not been particularly well attended, “that doesn’t mean it’s not cause for concern. It’s important that we deal with these issues. We have to definitely do something about it.”

To that end, Hillel and other Jewish organizations on campus have come together to create a plan of action, including Israel advocacy training sessions, re-framing the political discussion, and promoting Israel in a positive way.

“We’re trying to re-form the discussion on campus, so the question is not always Israel’s actions in Gaza, but Hamas’ actions in Gaza, and why hasn’t the U.N. closed the refugee camps,” said Weil. “The occupation ended four years ago. If suffering is happening in Gaza, and the Palestinians are being governed by a democratically elected government, why is that government keeping its people as refugees?”

“We as a staff are working with students to have tools to discuss the issues,” Weil said. “The anti-Israel organizations have blurred the issues so that Israel is the aggressor. When women and children are being used as human shields, they are blaming it on the people firing on them, rather than on those holding them hostages. These nuances are lost on campus. And [the anti-Israel groups] display horrific pictures that define the context.”

While the anti-Israel groups are using “110 percent of their energy,” Adelman said, the Jewish groups are finding it challenging to respond on the same scale. “It’s hard to have that kind of response when Israel is not the only thing we’re doing.”

But, Weil said, Jewish students are stepping up to run the pro-Israel programs on their own, and are responding to the anti-Israel groups with an “informative and positive campaign.” Weil hopes that speakers this spring such as the head of foreign news for ABC in April, and, on Monday, March 23, Yossi Klein Halevi, Israel correspondent and contributing editor of the New Republic, will help present a more accurate account of politics in the Middle East.

Jewish students are trying to respond to the anti-Israel groups’ negative crusade by focusing on the positive, said Weil.

“We’re having cultural events,” said Adelman. “We’re having an Israeli movie night. We’re trying to educate people about what Israel has to offer.”

“While we’re defending Israel on campus, we have to remember to celebrate the very aspects of Israel that make her worth defending in the first place,” Weil said.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.)

Comments-icon Post a Comment
March 30, 2009
This article is full if inaccuracies. It is a lame attempt to impose interpretation on reality, rather than investigate reality in and of itself.

As an Israeli and a Jew I am outraged by the lies in this article.

First, the events are not anti-Israeli - they are pro-palestinian, which is a huge difference. None of these people call for the distraction of Israel. They call for existence of Palestine besides Israel. This is as pro as can be. a win-win situation.

When Weil says that "Some of it borders on anti-Semitic", I feel pity for the need to create disinformation. Me and many of my Jewish friends participated in many of these events. I am an Israeli Jew, and I was one of the few speakers in the March of Death mentioned above.

I can go on and on, but I am not sure there is a point. Those who want to tweak the truth to their beliefs do not read my comment. And those who examine the truth do not need it.

March 28, 2009
To refer to the play 'My Name is Rachel Corrie' as, "inflammatory" and "anti-Israel" is ludicrous. To brand the murder of the American peace activist as a "tragic accident" is tragedy in and of itself. The play is taken from the words of Rachel Corrie. Rachel Corrie went to Rafah to prevent the demolition of Palestinian civilian homes with a non-violent resistance movement. Rachel states in her journals upon first arriving in Jerusalem that, "The scariest thing for non-Jewish Americans in talking about Palestinian self-determination is the fear of being or sounding anti-Semitic. The people of Israel are suffering and Jewish people have a long history of oppression. We still have some responsibility for that, but I think it’s important to draw a firm distinction between the policies of Israel as a state, and Jewish people. That’s kind of a no-brainer, but there is very strong pressure to conflate the two. I try to ask myself, whose interest does it serve to identify Israeli policy with all Jewish people?

Her death was far from an accident, and nothing proves that more than the Israeli government’s refusal to a thorough investigation.

Why are the Jewish peopleallowed the right to self-determination and Palestinians are not? This is in direct violation of UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV)?

As for Adleman's statement, "The first two weeks of January, it was at its worst,"- what was at its worst? The fact that from 27 December to 18 January, 1,434 Palestinians were killed?

As for the March of the Dead, students should have felt uncomfortable, people gathered to commemorate the loss of 288 innocent children brutally slain.

Bravo to the groups bringing about such awareness and to Pitt administration for adhering to freedom of speech in allowing such groups the space to present academic and cultural work.

March 27, 2009
Denouncing George Bush didn't make you anti-American, denouncing Hitler didn't make you anti German,denouncing Mussolini didn't make you anti Italian, denouncing Israel's attack on Gaza didn't make you anti Semitic. Toby Tabachnik's concern about anti semitism is akin to the Mafiosi in the 1970's who cried anti Italian when the FBI (Forever Bothering Italians)came to investigate. It was a smoke screen to hide their own illegal activities. The Israeli attack on Gaza was illegal under international law: proportionality and collective punishment can't be hidden behind a smoke screen.
Rachel C
March 27, 2009
It really stifles democratic debate to conflate any and all criticism of Israel with "bordering" on anti-Semitic, as this author has done.

The spike in protests against Israel this past Dec & Jan can surely be attributed to the siege on Gaza. Even the most cursory review of world news headlines during that time would have enlightened the college students who felt surprised to see Israel questioned so publicly.

Hamas and Israel have been able to negotiate and maintain cease-fires in the past, and both parties should do so again.

Many Americans feel like they have a stake in this debate, not because they are anti-Semites or even anti-Israel, but because the US contributes an enormous amount of weaponry and money to the IDF and it is distressing to see it used on children, universities, and unarmed civilians. The blood is on our hands.


May all humans live in just peace.

March 27, 2009
I had to laugh at Weil's statement that "anti-Israel" efforts in Pittsburgh are well funded. Nothing could be further from the truth. We come from all walks of life and any funding, which is meager, comes from our own pockets. These are legitimate protests highlighting Israeli actions (supported by US tax dollars) against the Palestinian people most notably the recent horrendous invasion of Gaza (which followed a 2 year embargo) The familiar accusation of "anti-Semitism" is designed to intimidate and squelch dissent but doesn't explain the dozens of Israeli and Jewish organizations also protesting the actions of the Israeli government.
March 19, 2009
Please, give me a break ! Gaza has been under siege since before Rachel Corrie was murdered, and still a vast majority of the resistance has been following the principles of non-violent resistance that worked so well for Gandhi almost 100 years ago. It took Gandhi many years before the force of his moral leadership and the justice of his cause finally brought the independence of India from the British colonial rule. Ask yourselves why so many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Jewish Israeli and Jewish American citizens,and even the brilliant novelist Alice Walker, are all standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinian victims of the Israeli pogrom. Read "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine", by Ilan Pappe, an Israeli, and you will discover that Israel was founded on a position of moral bankruptcy and discrimination, death and destruction. Their mission statement has not changed, so no one should be surprised at their government's total disregard for human rights.