Matthew Wagner, THE JERUSALEM POST Feb. 1, 2007
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Aish Hatorah have called this week to expel the Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ) from the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) for supporting Breaking the Silence, an organization that is hyper-critical of the IDF's treatment of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.
The ZOA said that Breaking the Silence contradicts the ICC mission to "foster support for Israel," "cultivate an Israel-friendly university environment" and "reduce anti-Israel intimidation and harassment on campus."
On January 19, the ICC's steering committee, which is made up of Aish Hatorah, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, the Jewish National Fund, Hillel, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Shusterman Foundation voted unanimously to keep UPZ in the ICC. Aish Hatorah later backtracked and voted to remove UPZ.
In a statement circulated to Jewish organizations, Aish Hatorah apologized for "not clearly stating our position during the official vote on the proposal. We should have known all the facts at that time. But since we didn't, we now are stating that our official viewpoint is that programs and organizations that support such programs that demonize and cause hatred for Israel should not have a place on the Israel on Campus Coalition. For that reason, we vote to remove the UPZ from the Coalition for its support of the 'Breaking the Silence' program."
ZOA's National President Morton Klein hopes to convince the entire steering committee to change its mind.
"I am not denying anyone the right to free speech," said Klein. "As far as I am concerned, let UPZ bring Nazis to college campuses. But there is no way they can continue to be part of a pro-Zionist coalition. Breaking the Silence is precisely the type of program that the ZOA's college campus activities try to combat."
Breaking the Silence (Shovrim Shtika) is a group of former IDF combat soldiers, many of whom continue to do reserve duty, who give personal testimony of purported human rights violations perpetrated by the IDF in Judea and Samaria.
"We try to explain to audiences on college campuses what it feels like to stand for hours at a checkpoint in the territories telling someone twice our age that he cannot go where he wants to because of a decision by some high-ranking official," said Mikhael Manekin, administrative director of Breaking the Silence. "Or what an IDF soldier feels after breaking in to a Palestinian family's house in the middle of the night and arresting the father while his children scream and cry."
Manekin, 27, an IDF lieutenant who still does reserve duty in Judea and Samaria, said that he has testimony from 400 soldiers who have served in Judea and Samaria. "All of them talk of the ethical and moral dilemmas they faced while on duty."
Manekin said that his organization did not offer political solutions, although the vast majority of Breaking the Silence were left-wing. "We just give expression to the price we have to pay for what we do."
Tammy Shapiro, executive director of UPZ, said that her organization facilitated Breaking the Silence's appearance on four college campuses.
"The present generation of Jewish students is turned off by pro-Zionist organizations that present an unblemished picture of Israel," said Shapiro, 24.
"Students read the papers; they know what is happening in the territories as a result of the occupation. That's why it is so important to talk about the really controversial issues in an open way. Otherwise you stifle real debate, real dialogue."
Shapiro said that it is was of utmost importance that the pro-Zionist UPZ, which was created by Ha'Shomer Hatzair, Meretz USA, Habonim-Dror and Amenu, sponsor groups like Breaking the Silence on college campuses.
"It sends out a message that you can be supportive of a Jewish democratic state and at the same time carry a real dialogue over the most pressing ethical issues facing Israeli society," she said.
However, Dalia Lockspeiser, ZOA's campus coordinator, said that Breaking the Silence completely removed IDF acts against Palestinians from the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Yehuda Shaul, the IDF soldier who spoke, told the crowd that by the end of his army service he had completely lost his self-identity because of the horrible things he had done," said Lockspeiser. "But he never explained what these horrible things were.
"Then he went on to tell of how IDF soldiers seemingly arbitrarily take over an innocent Palestinian's house and convert it into a security base. He showed pictures of IDF soldiers who had commandeered one Palestinian's house and were sitting watching the World Cup. He never explained anything about suicide bombings or other terrorist threats, as if everything were done by whim."
Various pro-Palestinian organizations have been very supportive of Breaking the Silence. Electronic Antifada, an Internet site, posted a positive article about the group. An appearance at New York University was facilitated by Students for Justice In Palestine and the Princeton Committee on Palestine did the same at Princeton. The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East co-sponsored them at Stanford and Indybay was involved in a San Jose State University engagement.
Israeli Consul-General in Los Angeles Ehud Danoch and Consul for Media and Public Affairs Gilad Millo sent an internal letter to the Foreign Ministry and all of Israel's representatives in North America warning of the harm caused by Breaking the Silence to Israel's image abroad.
Sources in the Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that the issue would be discussed.