Bintel Blog

First, It Was Tutu — Now Two University Presidents Have Made the ZOA’s Enemies List

By Daniel Treiman

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Last year, it was Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu whom the Zionist Organization of America wanted drummed out of polite society. In that case, the ZOA could at least point (however clumsily) to a number of one-sided and perfervid criticisms of Israel by Tutu. (But does that mean a university should withdraw an invitation for a Nobel laureate to visit campus — an invitation that had nothing to do with Israel? Level heads at the Anti-Defamation League didn’t think so.)

Now, the ZOA seems to be lowering the threshold necessary to qualify for its enemies list.

The right-wing group is criticizing Hillel for inviting two university chiefs — Amy Guttman, president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Michael Drake, chancellor of the University of California at Irvine — to speak at a summit that it’s is holding on universities and the Jewish community. According to the JTA, the ZOA is calling for the pair to be disinvited.

Guttman, the ZOA says, is an inappropriate invitee because in 2006 she posed for a picture at a Halloween party with a student dressed as a suicide bomber. The ZOA’s issue with Drake is that U.C. Irvine has been the site of “anti-Semitic speakers and programs” that have caused “Jewish students to feel threatened, harassed and intimidated.”

Never mind that Guttman has said that she didn’t grasp the nature of the student’s costume as the photo was being taken, and that she later called it “clearly offensive.” Even if one is skeptical about her explanation, only an extremely ungenerous person would assume that she’s guilty of anything worse than a momentary lapse of judgment.

In Drake’s case, it is true that the main Muslim student group at U.C. Irvine has repeatedly held viciously anti-Israel events on campus — events where the rhetoric often crosses the line into antisemitism (not to mention anti-Americanism). And some have argued that U.C. Irvine’s administration could be more sympathetic to Jewish concerns on this matter. But ultimately, there’s also a free speech issue in play, so it’s not as if the university can simply prohibit such events.

The irony is that the ZOA wants Hillel to effectively boycott two individuals who have actually weighed in against campaigns to boycott Israeli universities. Guttman and Drake are both signatories to an American Jewish Committee-sponsored statement strongly condemning anti-Israel academic boycotts.

Hillel, for its part, has declined to follow the ZOA’s advice.

See the JTA’s article for more on the ZOA-Hillel dust-up.

UPDATE: For the record, in its letter to Hillel, the ZOA does not suggest that U.C. Irvine should ban the anti-Israel and antisemitic events sponsored by the campus Muslim student group. Instead, the ZOA says that Chancellor Drake has an obligation to speak out against the hateful and inflammatory speakers who regularly appear on his campus. Incidentally, the latest Muslim student event at U.C. Irvine is titled From Auschwitz to Gaza: The Politics of Genocide”, featuring the radical imam and Khomeini fan Muhammad al-Asi.


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