Opinion | Op-eds

Hillel must engage in Israel security debate

When John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, addressed Columbia on Sunday, Nov. 14, everyone seemed to be watching. J Street, the national progressive Zionist organization who sponsored John Ging’s visit to Columbia, drew local crowds of all ages to campus for the event. Members of co-sponsors Columbia University College Democrats, Institute for the Study of Human Rights, School of International and Public Affairs Arab Student Association, and Columbia International Relations Council and Association were there. Media representatives from the Spectator and the Eye—along with local Jewish publications—were present. A preeminent voice on both human rights in Gaza and their on-the-ground implications for Israeli security, John Ging drew attention from all sides.

One important voice, however, was not present. At an event whose content could not have been more applicable, perhaps the most relevant party failed to comment. When a United Nations official spoke about an issue fundamentally integral to Israel’s security, where was the Jewish community? To everyone’s detriment, it chose to fall silent rather than engage in the debate.

The John Ging event was originally planned under the auspices of Israel advocacy. Just Peace, a Hillel-sponsored group, coordinated Sunday’s event but was strongly encouraged by Hillel to distance itself from Ging. Though the event happened nonetheless and served as a provocative and inspirational platform for the type of dialogue that is needed to move forward, it occurred without the involvement of the most prominent Jewish organization on campus. Why?

Hillel is an organization that will not endorse those who seek to defame the state of Israel. John Ging, however, did not suggest last Sunday that he would speak out against the Israeli state—in fact, never has he has indicated such defamation as his intent. Instead, he provided facts based on his experiences in the Gaza Strip, citing his efforts to counter terrorism on a grassroots level through education and calling the blockade “counterproductive.” Which part of John Ging’s vision does the Columbia/Barnard Hillel find so threatening? Does it view humanitarian needs for Palestinians as antithetical to Jewish values? If so, this is embarrassing for anyone who considers himself or herself Jewish, as humanitarianism and social justice are central tenants of a Jewish life. If not, then why was this conversation pushed outside of the Jewish community? Is the Columbia Jewish community an inappropriate venue for a discussion of human rights in tandem with a discussion of Israel’s national security?

John Ging’s visit to Columbia challenged all who sat in his audience. Pro-Palestinian listeners were challenged by Ging’s condemnation of Hamas and by his request that they visit Israel and interact with Israelis whose lives are embittered by the conflict. Pro-Israel listeners were challenged by Ging’s depiction of the Gazan plight and by his criticism of specific Israeli policy, a critique he made without delegitimizing Israel’s right to protect its borders. Apathetic listeners were challenged with the information that 80 percent of Gazans depend on aid to survive. Cynics were challenged to hear that, according to a recent poll, 73 percent of Palestinians want peace—as do the overwhelming majority of Israelis. This kind of conversation, which disregards political rhetoric and refocuses us on the human condition, should be happening everywhere—particularly in the Jewish community to which it is so linked.

Hillel’s decision to disassociate itself from John Ging and his vision created a missed opportunity. As Columbia students and as people, we cannot afford to miss any more opportunities to engage with issues as important as this one. Going forward, it is our responsibility to enter the conversation—even if we may not like all of the words.

The author is a first-year student in the joint General Studies and Jewish Theological Seminary program. She is a member of the board of Just Peace.

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Anonymous posted on

John Ging and his fellow UNRWA associates are doing work that Israel should be doing, (does anyone think that the Marshall plan created new enemies for the United States). He is an honest, hard working humanitarian in the best tradition.
If Hillel is going the way of AIPAC, we Israelis will not be well served.

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Anonymous posted on

The assertion that 72% of Palestinians want peace - as do a majority of Israelis - has no meaning whatsoever. The question is under what circumstances would the two sides accept peace.

Only a third of Palestinians would accept a peace that did not include their right of return. Another third would also accept peace with Israel - but only if some right of return were included. The final third won't accept any direct peace with Israel whatsoever; hence, the idea behind alternative approaches to all this - like the Bermigo Plan.

As far as the Israeli public is concerned, all want peace - and a majority doesn't see why Israel should give up the West Bank to attain it.

So Israel will only exit the West Bank under the threat of sanctions, athough even then, she will not remove the Israeli army unless she is convinced that Palestinians will no longer attack her.

In short, Ging, like everyone else, is engaging in hopeful nonsense when he asserts the conventional model for peace would work.

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Anonymous posted on

Great article; Too Gordon M: Sources?! (Don't cite yourself, because you are obviously biased.) And also when you state "a majority doesn't see why Israel should give up the West Bank to attain it." what are you inferring? That only Palestinians need to change their behaviors in order for peace on BOTH sides to be attained. Of course Israel needs to cede over the West Bank, or else Israel will occupy land who's inhabitants do not desire nor agree with the control in place.. That does not seem fair in the least. Why should only Israel benefit from a peace accord? Don't both stand to benefit from this petty dispute, over land that a minority of Israeli's inhabit and yet a large portion of financial, security and developmental resources are sucked into. It's high time Israel packed up, cut its losses and drives the loonies out of their Judean and Samarian hill tops. They don't serve in the army, contribute to economy or culture and they expect to be treated as equals or even more for their "piousness".

-From a worried Israeli.

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Anonymous posted on

All settlers serve in the army? You are clearly an idiot... Fewer than 1/3 do.

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Anonymous posted on

There are a few reasons. Mr. Ging is the head of an organization that compromises with the devil. The hamas decides on the allocation of UNRWA's services, they are operating in their premises, and went native throughout the years. Mr. Ging is the head of an organization that wishes to survive, although the alleged deportation of these refugees took place seven decades ago (and all 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who were also a target population in this organization's mandate, rehabilitated and prospering). This organization want to stick around, so it has an imminent interest to describe the situation in catastrophic terms, as to show how needed it is. Mr. Ging provides moral grounds for mosques in gaza, inciting to the indiscriminate murder of kuffars (i.e. non muslims), treats women like beasts, and facilitates radical islam and terrorism.

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