Conversation Hasbara (Israel on Campus)


This bit from the Times of Israel, which you can read here, gives an indication about the future of the discourse about Israel on campus to be served up by Hillel International and the Jewish Agency. There’s a related blog linked at the site which you can read as well to give you a sense of the flavor. In name only, the form of the talking points is a liberal one. Embracing “complexity,” the strategy is to open up space for conversation, the purpose of which is nothing more than more conversation. The article makes no mention regarding content, about the kinds of status-quo problems that make Israel a “challenging” place, things like inequality, racism, the occupation, discrimination, wars, or what the future of Israel might look like in the very near future, i.e. a “Jewish” a “democratic” state, an apartheid pariah state, a one-state, or two-state, It’s hard to tell how American Jewish undergraduate students are supposed to develop the critical tools with which to talk about Israel in a substantive way, much less “defend” Israel against its critics on campus. Well meaning and friendly Israeli “reservists” are organized to drop into a local university Hillel to engage students with Israel, to ply them with Israeli food  like felafel and shakshuka, before moving on to the next campus to have another conversation. A bit of a hot mess in a cheap tin, these are not real relations.

These at least are my cynical first responses, to which a colleague-FB-friend provided this critical pushback. She commented on my FB page describing one of the Israeli emissaries who came to her campus, the impact she made in a short time. These included attempts to reach out to Muslim students and Palestine-activist students. But I’m still wondering about what the content of those conversations would have looked like. And I remain concerned, in principle, about the impact of people coming from outside the university community to push a given political concern within the parameters of university life –no mater what the political agenda. In this case, the whole setup feels alien and artificial. The posts at the Miluim Fellows 2014 blogsite, which you can see here, leave a very bad taste. There seems to be not much there there. I remain unconvinced that this program is the best way to help students talk about Israel.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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