Jewish student sacked for having mind of her own
Alberta Arab News
June 10, 2004

As I’ve previously argued, the real battle between the Palestinians and zionists is a propaganda war being waged in North America. The domestic Israel Lobby works to ensure that nothing interrupts the flow of armaments and billions of U.S. tax dollars to the zionist entity. Without the Lobby’s legions of extortionists, influence peddlers, inquisitors and dissemblers, Israel would take its rightful place on the ash heap of history.\

It stands to reason, then, that enforcement of Israeli dogma and intimidation of Israel’s critics should be more ruthless here than in the Middle East, where the reality of the Occupation is too obvious to be denied.

For all of its power, though, propping up Israel has become a lost cause. Too many people know about the home demolitions and systematic destruction of the Palestinians, which means they can recognize Israeli explanations as vile propaganda. Among these enlightened people are increasing numbers of Jews. Those who support Israel and toe the Zionist line, but criticize the repression of the Palestinians, can expect to pay dearly for their sense of human decency. To be a good Jew in the eyes of the Lobby, one must not only support Israel and the zionist cause, but also endorse hatred, bigotry and wanton cruelty, or at least tolerate them in silence. This is something Jilian Redford would not do.

Redford, a Southern Baptist who converted to Judaism, is a student at the University of Richmond in Virginia and until recently was the president of its Hillel Chapter. By all accounts she was effective and respected. In February, she was fired because of an e-mail she sent to the Israeli Embassy:

“Could you please stop sending me e-mail after e-mail about radical Zionist propaganda. I don’t know if you realize that Hillel’s mission statement is based on fostering religious life on college campuses and not organizing marches, protests or listening to speakers who encourage us to hate our Palestinian neighbors in Israel.”* Hillel International proceeded to contact the university’s adviser Lisa Looney, who had been forwarded a copy of the e-mail by the embassy.

According to Hillel’s Assistant Executive Director Eric Koehler, Redford was dismissed for “correspond[ing] in a manner that was disrespectful and inappropriate,” but this argument is rubbish. As Redford stated in her statement of defence: “Nowhere in Hillel’s Statement of Principles on Israel does it say that a student leader must maintain a working relationship with the embassy of a foreign country, nor can I find anything else on Hillel’s website stating such a policy…. Since Hillel’s mission statement mentions nothing of my responsibility to have programming contact with anyone except Hillel, I’ll respond to any e-mail I receive in a way I see fit.”†

Redford was also chastised for not paying sufficient attention to the purpose of Hillel and was instructed to visit its website for a refresher. “Hillel’s mission is to help Jewish students connect with their Jewishness and their community,” wrote Kohler. “That mission includes educating students in the art and the responsibility of leadership.”

This is exactly what Redford was doing, but at the time she had no idea that the Israeli Embassy could dictate what Hillel Jews may or may not say. Hillel admits to having a strong pro-Israel stance, as does Redford, but that stance is not defined. She cites Hillel’s own rules in defence of her right to hold her own views:

“Many believe that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the disregard of basic human rights of the Palestinians are actually detrimental to Israel’s security and do not exemplify Jewish values and beliefs. Despite our differences in political opinion on this issue, I have still done my job and endured other viewpoints that do no coincide with my own. I stand by my decision to condemn racism against our Palestinian neighbors in Israel.”†

The imperious conduct of Hillel appalled Robert Blecher, a professor of history who wrote an open letter castigating Hillel for firing Redford:

“As Jewish faculty, we are appalled that the Hillel Foundation is alienating Jews instead of welcoming them; enforcing an institutional orthodoxy that tramples student autonomy; and serving a foreign government instead of its student members. The coupling of political intimidation with disrespect for student democracy ought to alarm not only those who seek justice and peace, but also those who would defend student prerogatives against high-handed bureaucrats…It is a sad day for Judaism when standing up for one’s beliefs is deemed ‘inappropriate’; when the state of Israel exerts an overwhelming influence over the agenda and institutions of American Jewry…”§

What Blecher found most outrageous was the fact that an outside body, the Weinstein Jewish Community Centre, could fire a duly elected student president. Because of this incident, the JCC has amended its bylaws, but that’s little comfort for Jews who don’t follow the embassy line. Since she was dismissed as president, Redford said the University of Richmond chapter created two Israel advocacy chairs to go along with its single religious chair. Any question about the real purpose of Hillel and who it speaks for? Bear in mind that Hillel is a branch of B’nai Brith, and we all know what champions of liberty those people are.

The Lobby’s attack on Redford’s freedom of expression indeed represents “a sad day for Judaism,” as Blecher said, but he could have gone further. What the Lobby has done to Redford and other freethinking Jews it does to untold numbers of American journalists politicians and ordinary citizens who question the U.S.’s pro-Israel sycophancy. If the “war on terrorism” is to have any meaning, it should be directed at Israel.

* “The Jewsweek Q&A: Jilian Redford,” Jewsweek, May 11, 2004.
† Jilian Redford, Letter to Hillel, Feb. 19, 2004.
§ Robert Blecher, “An open letter to Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life,” Jewish Voice for Peace.