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COLUMN: Hillel sponsored lecture isn’t what it seems



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IU Helene G. Simon Hillel Center, the campus center that provides community for Jewish students, recently announced a lecture occurring this Monday: “A Palestinian Point of View.” It will be delivered by activist and commentator Bassem Eid. IDS file photo Buy Photos

IU Hillel, the campus center that provides community for Jewish students, recently announced a lecture occurring this Monday: “A Palestinian Point of View.” It will be delivered by activist and commentator Bassem Eid.

Bassem Eid is a Palestinian from Jerusalem who began his career as a human rights activist documenting abuses by the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories. He later shifted his attention to documenting abuses by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, two Palestinian groups that rule parts of the occupied territories to the extent Israel permits them.

Hillel’s parent organization defines supporting Israel as part of its mission and maintains an official litmus test for what organizations and speakers can and cannot say if they wish for Hillel to partner with them. 

So one would think a lecture on the Palestinian perspective would be outside of Hillel’s usual practices, but perhaps Hillel is seeking to expose IU students to a side of the story they haven’t heard.

In fact, this event is completely in alignment with Hillel’s tradition of apologia for Israel’s inhumane policies toward the Palestinian people. The only difference is this time, students will be exposed to a token Palestinian voice that happens to agree with said apologia, lending much more credence to the cause than a non-Palestinian speaker would.

A key clue to the actual agenda behind this event is the list of co-sponsoring organizations, which appears on the Facebook event created by Indiana Hillel and the Indiana Israel Public Affairs Committee. Co-sponsors include the Israel on Campus Coalition, Stand With Us, Hasbara, the Zionist Organization of America and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America — all organizations dedicated to defending Israel’s policies, whatever they may be.

Eid’s work documenting abuses by the PA and Hamas is commendable, and his criticisms of their authoritarian tendencies are accepted by much of the Palestinian public. In every other respect, Eid has adopted positions radically out of step with his people. His views could hardly be further from an average “Palestinian point of view.”

Eid’s website lists the organizations he has collaborated with, including over two dozen pro-Israel organizations and right-wing think tanks and not one single Palestinian organization.

He is a virulent opponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to nonviolently pressure Israel to end its oppression of Palestinians. 

While Eid rails against the supposed harms of BDS on Palestinians, a 2015 survey by the highly respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research registered 85 percent support for the movement among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Eid has claimed — without evidence — the ordinary Palestinian’s top three priorities are employment, education and health and that Palestinians don’t care about Israel’s illegal settlements or founding a Palestinian state. In fact, a 2018 PCPSR survey found West Bank and Gaza residents’ top priorities are ending the occupation, establishing a state and obtaining the right of return for Palestinian refugees. 

Eid cheered on the Trump administration for defunding United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. He even praised the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he hopes to participate in the U.S. embassy opening celebration. 

This position is so marginalized in Palestinian society that pollsters don’t even ask about it. Suffice it to say that only 6 percent of West Bank and Gaza residents share Eid’s view that the Trump administration is an honest broker in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Every oppressed group has at least a few members willing to defend the oppressor and blame all of their people’s suffering on the people themselves. By marketing Bassem Eid’s lecture as an authentic “Palestinian perspective,” Hillel and its co-sponsors are capitalizing on that fact to make students believe they’re hearing a genuinely alternative view when they’re not.

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