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Session R4861 (Navigating Jewish Campus and Community Debates on Israel/Palestine in the Age of Trump), 2017
I participate in this roundtable neither as a scholar of the Middle East in general nor as a scholar of Israel/Palestine in particular, but as a director of a Jewish Studies program—specifically a Jewish Studies program that understands its mission as including a responsibility to teach about Israel/Palestine in a way that does not function as advocacy or PR. In this role, I have had a front-row seat on, and have had to contend with, Hillel International’s increasing hubris vis-à-vis Israel on campus. In fact, Hillel’s Israel strategy has become increasingly bald, even as it continues to trade in a superficial claim that it promotes a diversity of views on Israel. The first step is to simplify discourse on Israel by dividing it into two relatively self-evident positions: one that’s relatively opposed to the occupation and one that’s relatively defensive of it. The second step is to overlay onto this ostensive difference of opinion another seemingly obvious opposition, but one of identity: between being “anti-Israel” and “Israel-friendly,” an identitarian opposition that draws persuasive power from the ostensible self-evidence of the term “anti-Semitic.” This superposition reinscribes the reductive divide between opposition to and support of Israeli policies, rearticulating it as one between illegitimate and legitimate speech—a Manichean alternative between pro- and anti-Israel people, which for Hillel is really one between pro- and anti-Jewish people. In our current ideological climate the term “anti-Israel” is reckless more than simply meaningless. Part of what’s going on is that we’re living through a significant shift in the regime of knowing, specifically in regards to identity. Claims of position are increasingly legible as—and only as—claims of identity. It’s getting too easy to see in a scene of discursive antagonism conflicting kinds of irreconcilable people rather than conflicting sets of arguable claims. Such a shift is not without consequence in the new university with its existential reliance on donor support. What’s really dangerous is Hillel’s effort to redeploy an intellectually specious opposition as an institutional cudgel to suppress some arguments and the academics who voice them.