Opinion |

McCarthy Called Us 'unAmerican.' Now, Israel Says We're 'anti-Jewish'

American Jewish students don’t want Trumpism, whether it originates in the U.S. or Israel. So why is Hillel taking money from Israel’s pro-Trump hard right religious nationalists?

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Naftali Bennett, January 16, 2017.
Naftali Bennett, January 16, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett recently launched a $66 million Jewish diaspora-focused initiative, Mosaic United, which will work to implement Bennett’s own vision for the Jewish people. 

Bennett heads the right-wing Orthodox religious nationalist Habayit Hayehudi party and welcomed Donald Trump's election victory as signaling "the era of a Palestinian state is over." 

Mosaic United’s website says that this initiative is building “a thriving Jewish people and state that illuminate the world.” This statement bears the same relationship to truth as Trump’s statement that he will make America great again. 

Trump wants to take us back to a time when segregation was law, when women’s rights were limited, and when people needed to watch what they said because the McCarthyites could throw you in jail.

Mosaic United wants to recreate such a time now.

It’s sad to see that Hillel International has lowered its “standards of partnership” so far that it will accept money from Mosaic United, which in reality is not dedicated to helping the Jewish people thrive, but rather to cutting the Jewish people off from the rest of the world, imposing a dictatorship of silence on the Jewish people, and turning Jewish people against each other.

Mosaic United and its leaders oppose LGBTQ rights, oppose giving women full equality under the law (by opposing civil marriage), and oppose freedom of speech and thought. How can Hillel serve college students if it follows Mosaic United’s dictums? How can it serve college students without creating a space that allows them to examine issues and to think critically?

That’s what college students do. That’s what Jewish college students do. Critical thinking and diversity of views is rooted in the deepest parts of our tradition.

For example, the Talmud includes a variety of views on every issue, no matter how minute. And furthermore, dedication to justice and freedom for all is at the very heart of Jewish values.

Maybe that’s why the last time the U.S. government imposed censorship of thought on the American people, so many Jews were made to suffer -- in the union movement, in the arts and in the academies. Ninety percent of all public school teachers who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era were Jewish.

When the FBI hounded Martin Luther King, it also targeted the many Jews who were working for civil rights. I was one of them.

When I was an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi, that state’s Senator, James O. Eastland, gave a speech in the Senate saying that I and other civil rights organizers – who were all Jewish -- were Communists out to destroy the Southern way of life.

Eastland was trying to kill the civil rights movement by instilling fear in both the white and black communities that we were Un-American.

Today, Mosaic United is calling us anti-Jewish because we’re part of the movement that is growing against Trumpism among Jews in the U.S., in Israel, and around the world.

Eastland could not kill the Civil Rights movement, and Naftali Bennett won’t be able to kill our movement either, for the same reason: people are uniting to fight back.

Students and Jewish community members are uniting to bring back into the Jewish community people who have been turned off by the Naftali Bennetts, the David Friedmans, and the Jared Kushners of the world.

By working to open Hillel, students and community organizers have put themselves on the frontlines of the movement to stop those who want to stop progress. As one of my mentors, Ella Baker, said, at times like these we all must “keep on keeping on.”

Larry Rubin has been a speechwriter, an editor of union publications, and a community and union organizer. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and has been a Jewish community activist for decades.

This is an adaptation of a speech that Larry Rubin gave at Open Hillel’s rally calling on Hillel International to end its partnership with Mosaic United.