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August 8, 2003

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PAGE 32 HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS ears up Q By Joanne Palmer The Jewish Standard TEANECK, N.J.--As the debate over free speech ver- sus hate speech rages, Rutgers Hillel has decided to accept the inevitability of the planned pro-Palestinian con- ference on the New Brunswick campus in early October. Instead of protest- ing, the group is working on ways to respond construc- tively, and local Hiilel groups have promised their support. The Oct. 10-13 conference, to be hosted by New Jersey Solidarity, a virulently anti- Israel group, was announced in early July. It is the third annual National Student Conference held by the Pal- estine Solidarity Movement; the other two were at UC Ber- keley i~California and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. New Jersey Solidarity's Website talks about"Israeli apartheid" and demands, among other things, a full right of return for Palestinian refugees and that American institutions divest from Israel. When Jewish organiza- tions first learned about the conference, the reaction was divided. Some acknowledged that Americans' constitu- tionally protected right to free speech clearly allows the gathering, while others tried to stop it, saying that hate speech is not protected. On July 11, Gov. James McGreevey met with Rutgers' president, Richard L. McCormick, to examine their options. They concluded that the conference had to be al- lowed. In an open letter dated July 14, McCormick ex- plained why. "Intrinsic to Rutgers' own mission is the free exchange of ideas and discourse on a variety of is- sues, including those that are controversial," he wrote. "This university must remain a model of debate, dialogue and education. I believe this is an appropriate and power- ful role for our institution." lie came to this conclusion, he wrote, despite finding "ab- horrent some elements of NJ Solidarity's mission." The group's views, including its "opposition to Israel's right to exist," the statement said, "are in conflict with my own and, I believe, with the ma- jority of the university com- munity." "We're not fighting the conference," said Andrew Getraer, Rutgers Hillei's ex- ecutive director. "The presi= dent of the university and the governor of New Jersey have met, and they've an- nounced twice that the con- ference is going on. It's not a relevant issue, and it's only futile to fight it. We've ex- pressed our concerns about the extremism of the mes- sage that this conference is bringing to campus, and about our security concerns. They're well aware of them. "Our major effort should be on providing our campus and our Jewish students with the truth about Israel and with truthful positive celebratory images and edu- cation. "We've received an incred- ible response," he added, "not just from the Jewish com- munity but from Jews and non-Jews from around the country. It's been gratifying; it shows that there is a deep well of support for Israel, and against the kind of extremist hatred that New Jersey Soli- darity has been spewing." Benjamin Berger is Hiilel's program director at the Uni- versity of Michigan, and he supervises the Israel group there. Recalling the Solidar- ity conference on that cam- pus last fall, he said, in a telephone interview with The Jewish Standard, "It cer- tainly was not fun. It was stressful -- but it was very motivating for the students. It brought together a larger group of students from dif- ferent perspectives, all sup- porting Israel. "We had students from the left to the far right who came out against the destructive message of the conference. From the left, it helped strengthen a movement that started on campus the year before, called the Progres- sive Israel Alliance. They came together looking to find away to show and share their love of Israel from a progres- sive perspective." Some of the results of the conference, he said, "were absolutely posi- tive. We had a rally on cam- pus three days before the con- ference began. We had about 1,000 students -- there are about 6,0.00 Jewish students on campus -- and many speakers from across the po- litical spectrum, including the presidents of the college Democratic and Republican clubs, a member of the board of trustees, a professor, and a local city council person. We received great press cover- age, and a great response from the campus. The cam- pus generally felt it was a positive message, a message of construction, not destruc- tion. "We felt that the Solidar- ity conference was about blame; they talked about the destruction of the state of Israel but not about the con- struction of the state of Pal- estine." The effects of the conference were felt for the rest of the year, according to Berger. "This year was one of strong agtivism and a lot of student involvement and pas- sion in supporting Israel," he said. On the other hand, "by the time the conference ended, the campus was tired of the divestment issue." A difference between the con- ference at Michigan and the one planned for Rutgers, however, is timing. Michigan's meeting was held during a vacation week, when most of the school's students were off-campus. Rutgers' is set for the week- end of Sukkot, when most students will be on campus and the religiously observant among them will be con- strained by the halacha of the holiday and of Shabbat. Berger had some hard-won advice for his counterparts at Rutgers. "I think it's very important that Rutgers stu- dents show that they loved Israel and they were Zionists long before the conference came to campus, and will be long after the conference leaves campus," he said. Wayne Firestone is the di- rector of the Center for Is- rael Affairs at Hillei Interna- tional in Washington, D.C. He also is director of a group of 26 national Jewish organizations called the Campus Coalition, a partner- ship between Hillel and the Schusterman Foundation. "We learned a lot of lessons from Michigan,'.' Firestone said in a telephone interview. "One is that it's preferable to work cooperatively with the university and the local offi- cials. It's certainly good to have the community come to- gether. At Michigan, we were able to spend most of our time working cooperatively with the president of the uni- versity; we demanded some very specific barometers for how the conference would take place. We didn't fight over the legal issue that was thrown out of court -- whether they'd be able to meet. We focused our energy and our time strategically, in a way likely to produce re- suits. "I think the governor is a friend to our community," Firestone said of McGreevey. "I think we should continue to seek his support. And we're working closely with Andrew Getraer at Rutgers. We have a great deal of confidence and support for his effort in get- ting local support for the Rutgers program in general, and in how he's planning the year strategically. We've seen a groundswell of support from students from all over the mid-Atlantic region who have expressed an interest in sharing their support with Rutgers students." Local stu- dents are directly affected in two ways by the conference at Rutgers. About 600 Jewish students from Bergen County are enrolled at Rutgers, ac- cording to Getraer. Beyond that, Hilleis in local colleges will help at Rutgers, accord- ing to Rabbi Ely Allen, who directs Campus Youth Ser- vices for UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson and is the Hillel rep- resentative for three local colleges. "We're very much aware of what's going on. There's going to be a group effort; we're all going to work together to do whatever we have to do," he said. Shanee Heifer of Paramus will be a sophomore at Rutgers in the fall. She re- membered the tension on campus last year. "There was an Israel support rally in front of the student center at the beginning of the fall semes- ter," she said. "There was a big Palestinian rally across the street, in front of the cafete- ria, and a lot of the pro-Pales- tinian people came across the street to the Israel side and started arguing. There was no fighting, though. We were surprised by the size of the pro-Palestinian group; we didn't think it would be that big. Some of them looked like students, but there were also a lot who looked older. Maybe they were grad students, or they already graduated -- I was just a fresh- man then, so it.was hard for me to tell, but they looked older to me. "After that I remember walking down the street, and I saw there was writing all over the sidewalk. It said things like Israel=War, things that seemed to be supporting terrorism. I was with a friend; we were like, 'It's kind of weird. What is that?' "I worked on putting up banners and signs for Hillel and Chabad; I was told that when people put them up in the morning they were torn down by midday. If they lasted that long. "Then," Shanee con- tinued,"there was the banner at the student center, some- thing about Palestine being free, from the river to the sea. This was weird; I don't know where it's going. I think that if I have the right to support Israel, they have the right to support a Palestinian state. If there's no terrorism, there should be a Palestinian state. But this is weird. "I understand that Rutgers is a university, and there's free speech, but it's a college campus in New Brunswick, near Jersey City, near New York City. The whole place was affected by Sept. 11. How can they stand there and say it's okay to support suicide bombing after Sept. 117 "I want to be there to put together a rally against them, but I'm also scared," she said. "It's not just open to Rutgers students. It's open to the pub- lic. Anyone can come, and if there's a large group of Israel supporters you don't know what's going to happen. It's a safety issue. What if some- thing happens? When I was in Israel last summer I felt a little safer because I knew that the police are trained. But in New Brunswick the police aren't trained for this kind of situation, where's the safety?" Gillian Howard, who just graduated from Rutgers, now lives in Passaic; she grew up in Emerson. She echoed Shanee's concerns. "I'm very worried about the situation," she said. "I'm sure that there are going to be a lot more protests. There's been a lot of tension all along between the two groups. "I'm upset that it's happen- ing," she said. "It's not giving Rutgers a good name. I think it's going to get real chaotic there." Ashley Winter of Glen Rock, a sophomore who will be Hillel treasurer in the fall, is less worried. "I think it's definitely going to be a chal- lenge, but I think it's the type of issue that Rutgers students have had to deal with before," she said. "I think we'll give a strong showing. "I think something posi- tive could come out of this," Ashley added. "Not only can it bring people together, but it can bring out spirit. It can bring people's awareness of the situation to the forefront, and make a lot of students at Rutgers more concerned about the needs of their com- munity. "When something some- one is associated with is at- tacked, I think it makes people more aware of the con- victions they really hold, even if they don't think about these issues on a regular ba- sis." She said that she found the incidents last year more irritating than scary. "Some groups tried to be threaten- ing," she said. "But when you realize that their specific aim was to be inflammatory, and you're with other students, you don't take it as a threat. You look at the attacks and don't see any substance be- hind it. You don't find that undermining, because you know what you know, and you feel strong .and confi- dent in that." Meanwhile, some Jewish organizations are still fighting the decision to allow the conference. Representative of Amcha- "Also," he The Coalition for Jewish Con- cerns demonstrated outside incite to hatred McGreevey's office in Tren- Last year, I was at! ton earlier this month, and ence at Michigan. they confronted him duringa rounded by press conference. -- not students "We held a rally in Tren- out of the ton, and we called the gover- There were noracowardbecausehe'stak- us, and the ing the easy way out," said al yahoud' -- Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Jews.That's Amcha's vice president, in a ingthin telephone interview from his pus. office at the Hebrew Institute "If of Riverdale in the Bronx. "Our position is that he's ernor support taken the cowardly way out. ence?" He can choose to hide behind a i legalisms, butit'snotthecou- day to demand rageous thing to do. It's cer- ence be canceled. tainly not the way I view lead- ate r ership. Amcha is planning a will join the phone-fax-writing campaign Israeli victims of to the governor to urge him terroris to do everything in his power to try to stop the conference." the state Senate Herzfeld acknowledges New trict 37 now Jersey Solidarity's First- Baer, spoke at Amendment right to free conference, i: speech, bur"it's complicated," Shai he said. "As an activist, I be- directorofthe iieve very strongly in the First tion Lea Amendment. Often I've put- gion, believes sued my First Amendment ence should be rights in court. I've wanted to nonetheless he hold rallies in New York, and by it. "It might I was told I couldn't. My argu- that the merit is that it's peaceful." He to allow it~ hasn't always won those fights, he said. "We've work- ing in consultation with the filled conference police, but we haven't always priate, as is any been able to hold it where we filled with this wanted to hold it. It's protected by "That's the point,"Herzfeid Amendment ~- continued. "There is a First doesn't mean Amendment right, but it's not it," he said. Still clear that it guarantees them now will be the opportunity to use the whatever su Rutgers campus conference wants. center. They have the right to The students speech -- but why the impri- matur of the university? Let ideas. We them hold their conference job in f on the street. Let them hold it battle on the sidewalk, port their lead." The truth is on By Joanne Palmer The Jewish Standard TEANECK, N.J.--Alan Dershowit, z, the Harvard Law School professor and pro-Israel told the The Jewish Standard on Wednesday, he wants to help the fight against New Jersey "I think Hil tunity to present the pro-Israel case," he would be happy to help out. And I want to assistance in any way I can to help participate in a teach-in or whatever else ful." Dershowitz said that his new book, Israel" (New York: John Wiley & Sons), due to ( in August, "answers all the charges that are made at this conference and at other try. This is just one of many such efforts at and the good news is that the truth is on good news is that if the students j can devastate the arguments on the other side, the arguments presented by an organization lik i ity are simply and demonstrabl' ammunition to rebut them with." He has the right to allow the conference to ahead but it permits it," Dershowitz said. "But present its case as well. tation for mendacity and extremism, and no decent person should want to be m. way with a group of intellectual thugs be used as "an occasion for flooding the truthful material. The best answer to falsehood is truth, and Israel community should never be afraid. fear these falsehoods and should no but they them." Amiri Baraka. Instead of trying to censor him him to be a fool and an ignoramus and a Solidarity is in many ways comparable to