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Israel-Bashers Headline Jewish Center’s Speaker Series At Temple University

I wonder what historian Murray Friedman would think of what his center has become in the hands of his successors.

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Eric Alterman at 2012 Brooklyn Book Festival in New York City. (Photo: editrrix via Wikimedia Commons)

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While attention has been focused on the anti-Israel literary festival at the University of Pennsylvania, harsh critics of Israel are also being featured just across town—at Temple University’s American Jewish Studies Center, also in Philadelphia.

The line-up of speakers during the 2023-24 academic year at Temple University’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History features one critic of Israel after another. It seems that you have to be angry at the Jewish state in order to qualify to be part of the series.

One of the speakers who already delivered their talk was Eric Alterman, whose latest book, We Are Not One, depicts Israel as an oppressor and derides American Jews for supporting it.

Speaking at Tel Aviv University last year, Alterman announced his personal break with Israel. “I’m sorry; I’m abandoning you and your colleagues,” he declared. “I’m going to devote my attention to rejuvenating American Judaism. Those are my people. I used to have in my will Israeli peace groups, I’m changing my will and I’m funding American Jewish scholarly and charitable institutions.”

In a recent issue of the Jewish Review of Books, a prominent Jewish scholar questioned some of the distortions in Alterman’s book. Alterman responded by denouncing the reviewer as “chief of [the magazine’s] pro-Israel thought police.” That kind of slur gives you a sense of his temperament.

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To discuss the current judicial reform debate in Israel, the Feinstein Center chose Gilat Bachar. She’s one of the leaders of a legal initiative to reclassify Israeli anti-terror actions as “policing” (rather than combat) so that more Palestinian Arabs can sue the Israeli government.

It’s interesting to note that nine years ago, Bachar chose to serve as an intern at the extremist HaMoked center, which defends Palestinian Arab terrorists. Does that disqualify her from speaking about Israeli affairs at the Feinstein Center? No. But it does give you a sense of her orientation when she talks about Israeli legal controversies.

Another Feinstein speaker is Talia Lavin. She was forced to resign from the staff of The New Yorker after she falsely accused an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent of having a Nazi tattoo. It was actually the symbol of his platoon in Afghanistan, where he risked his life to keep terrorists from coming to the United States to maim and kill innocent people like Lavin.

Five years ago, she wrote an essay in The New Republic titled “A Memoir of Disillusionment.” It was another one of those wearisome “I used to love Israel, but Israel’s sins forced me to hate it” confessionals. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t speak at the Feinstein Center. But it does suggest that only a certain kind of partisan seems to be welcome there.

And then there’s Sigal Ben-Porath. She has written about what she calls the “belligerent citizenship” of Israelis. Ben-Porath says she is troubled by all the “patriotic unity” that she has seen among Americans and Israelis in the face of terrorist attacks—the sentiments of “We are all in it together,” “United we stand” or in the Israeli version, “We are all Jews.” Such patriotism is “exclusionary and therefore cultivates intolerance toward various subgroups,” she claims.

Ben-Porath was also a signatory on a petition declaring solidarity with Israeli extremists “who refuse to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories” and calling for “an Israeli declaration of an end to the occupation …. beyond the Green Line.” In other words, Israel should go back to being nine miles wide in the middle, and the Western Wall should return under Arab rule.

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The Feinstein Center will also host museum curator Daniel Greene, creator of an exhibit claiming that President Franklin D. Roosevelt really did his best to save Jews from the Holocaust. Greene’s extreme position flies in the face of what mainstream historians have fully documented. Is he motivated by politics or just unfamiliarity with the historical record? Does it matter?

Sadly, the partisanship of Feinstein Center speakers is not new. I have written previously about the center hosting a talk by Joyce Ajlouny, general-secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers). She used her platform to accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid,” and suggested that Israel should be replaced by “one secular democratic state” of Palestine.

One comment that Ajlouny made stands out as tragically comical. “Constant accusations against Palestinians of anti-Semitism are like the boy who cried wolf,” she declared. How does that sound in the wake of the speech by Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, claiming that “Jewish usurers” provoked the Holocaust?

The Feinstein Center was founded, and for many years directed, by the late Dr. Murray Friedman, a distinguished historian and longtime leader of the American Jewish Committee in Philadelphia. I had the privilege of attending his presentations, and I remember what a strong supporter of Israel he was. I wonder what he would think of what his center has become in the hands of his successors.

America is a free country, and everybody is entitled to bash Israel or vocalize extreme positions. But the principle of truth in advertising requires the Feinstein Center to be upfront about those it invites. It should not be asking for donations from the Jewish community on the grounds that its programs are somehow advancing Jewish life. Giving platforms to harsh critics of Israel is certainly not the best way to do that.

Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a U.S. delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020. His views are his own. 

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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