Forgetting Jerusalem: Columbia/Barnard Hillel Disengages from Zionism
Jordan Hirsch, Winter 2009

–Letter from Student Executive Board, Columbia/Barnard Hillel
–etter from Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman, National President of the Zionist Organization of America (Klein) and Director of the Center for Law and Justice, Zionist Organization of America (Tuchman)
–Letter from Josh Rosner, Columbia College ‘08, Columbia/ Barnard Hillel President, 2007-2008

Gunning for Citizenship
Learned Foote, Winter 2008

–Letter by John McClelland, General Studies Sophomore, combat veteran and ROTC cadet

The Politics of Engagement
Philip Petrov, Fall 2008

–Letter by Nick Kelly, Columbia College Senior

–Response by Philip Petrov, author

Forgetting Jerusalem: Columbia/Barnard Hillel Disengages from Zionism
Jordan Hirsch, Winter 2008

To the Editor:

Hillel, by refusing to take one politically specific avenue, becomes a “meek” or “spineless” organization, a social club that is afraid to enter the fray of politics and prefers instead to shelter its members. Again, we strongly disagree. We believe that providing a forum where various strands of political opinion may be expressed is a courageous and strengthening endeavor. Such a forum will force individuals to confront ideas that may upset them but will also rightly include the entire spectrum of Jewish opinion surrounding Israel.

That being said, when Zionism—the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland—or any fundamental tenets of our organization are attacked, we see it as our duty to respond swiftly and accordingly. Most recently, in February 2009, when a number of campus individuals demonized Israel as an apartheid state and called for divestment, acts which we believed had the intent of endangering Israel’s existence, Hillel responded immediately and rebuked these assertions in various pointed modes.

Lastly, we take particular issue with Mr. Hirsch’s assertion that, “Hillel’s executive board tries to have it both ways. To pro– Israel students, Hillel claims that it actively supports Israel through LionPAC. Yet to Jews uncomfortable with Israel, Hillel’s executive board argues that it merely provides a space for pro–Israel activity through LionPAC, and does not officially endorse any political activity itself.” We have never told Mr. Hirsch, or any other student for that matter, that Hillel uses LionPAC as some sort of protective agent, while simultaneously disengaging from politics. Such claims are completely unfounded and journalistically inaccurate. Quite the contrary, Hillel fully supports and endorses LionPAC. LionPAC is Hillel, just as every Hillel group is Hillel. As with all Hillel groups, LionPAC receives programmatic guidance, support, advice and funding from the student executive board. Regardless of semantics, LionPAC had the support of this student executive board at the rally this past January. By the same token, we support those Hillel groups whose opinions towards Israel differ from that of LionPAC. And there are several. Realizing this is a challenging, nuanced, and frustrating position to some, we ultimately adopt this organizational position in the hopes that this openness to diverse political opinion will allow students to engage honestly with their own Jewish identity and with one another.

This is what it means to be a fully encompassing and engaged Jewish community. While Mr. Hirsch may be secure in his brand of Zionism, he has much to learn about Jewish community.

Student Executive Board of Columbia/Barnard Hillel.

The Columbia/Barnard Hillel is the largest organization for Jewish student life on campus. We offer cultural, religious, inter–faith, social justice, Israel and general social communal programming for all students. For more information visit us at www.hillel.columbia. edu or

To the Editor:

Kudos to Jordan Hirsch for calling on Columbia’s Hillel to start embracing Zionism and organizing events that foster love and support for Israel (“Forgetting Jerusalem: Columbia’s Hillel Disengages from Zionism,” Winter 2008). The fact that so many people attended a solidarity–with–Israel rally on campus in January attests to the interest in, and maybe even the hunger for, pro–Israel programming. Hillel is exactly the organization to sponsor such programming at Columbia.

Indeed, as Hillel says on its website, it wants Jewish students “to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity,” and it recognizes that part of students’ Jewish identity is tied to their historical connection to the land of Israel. Regardless of how religious each of us is, regardless of how engaged each of us is in the dialogue about the Arab–Israeli conflict, we are all Jews. We are part of a collective, a nation of people who share a history whose roots are in Israel. If Hillel—the largest Jewish campus organization in the world—does not embrace and encourage that connection, then how can we expect Jewish students to make that connection themselves?

The ZOA has a long and proud history of promoting bold and unapologetic Israel advocacy on campus. We believe that this is the responsibility of the larger Jewish community, including Hillel.

Hillel, more than any other Jewish student organization, has the means and the resources to provide programming that will connect students to Israel. That means sponsoring speakers and events that encourage Jewish students to recognize their link to their homeland in Israel, a link that transcends their religious views or their political persuasions. Hillel should also build students’ pride in Israel, sponsoring programs that show that Israel is comprised of people of different races and ethnicities, from all corners of the world, both Jewish and non–Jewish. Hillel should show students that Israel is a democracy, where Jews and non–Jews, women, gays and other minorities, have equal rights. Hillel should show students that despite the enormous hardships and challenges Israel has faced, it is a world leader in medical, technological and other areas of research and development. And Hillel should show students that since its establishment in 1948, Israel has sought to live in peace.

For Jewish students who are already connected to Israel, that connection will be strengthened by these efforts. For those students who lack any attachment, Hillel will be helping them to see themselves as part of the Jewish People who share a common ancestry and homeland rich with history and modernday accomplishments. For any students feeling marginalized on campus because of the anti– Israel rhetoric, Hillel will be empowering them. Armed with facts and information, they will be able to speak out effectively and with confidence against the anti–Israel rhetoric on campus and in support of Israel. In the process, their connection to their homeland and pride in its actions will grow.

Hillel should rethink the direction it has taken at Columbia. It will not build Jewish identity by deliberately distancing itself from pro–Israel activism. If it truly wishes to succeed in its mission, Hillel must lead the way in sending the message to students that their links to their Jewishness include a strong connection to Israel.

Morton Klein is the National President of the Zionist Organization of America

Susan Tuchman is the Director of the Center for Law and Justice, Zionist Organization of America

To the Editor:

Jordan Hirsch’s editorial raises a fundamental question concerning Hillel: What is the Executive Board of Hillel’s responsibility to Israel. As a former president of Hillel, I was shocked to read about the misguided response from Hillel’s Israel Va’ad (committee) that it “does not take political positions” in regard to Israel, and that furthermore supporting a rally would “implicitly endorse all actions taken in the Gaza strip.” An honest response would have been: “I will not support a rally for Israel.” As Mr. Hirsch cited, one of Hillel’s task is to support Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state. The structure of Hillel’s Executive board is designed to meet this stated goal. There are several groups related to Israel, some that focus upon the arts such as the Israel Culture Club and others that concentrate upon the political aspects concerning Israel such as LionPac and PeaceNow. The Israel Va’ad (committee) Coordinator is charged with overseeing and providing guidance to all groups related to Israel, and he or she is supposed to ensure that Israel related programming and Israel groups flourish on campus. Often, the Israel Va’ad Coordinator need not take “political stands” because political groups within Hillel such as LionPac are incredibly effective at supporting Israel on campus as both a “Jewish and Democratic” state, thereby fulfilling Hillel’s role on campus. However, the activism and success of the Israel groups within Hillel does not relinquish its basic responsibility of defending and supporting Israel.

The Executive Board of Hillel’s role vis–à– vis Israel is a complex relationship that is constantly evolving as the groups themselves within Hillel change. However, an important goal of Israel Va’ad is to support Israel, whether it is within the group structure or outside of it. Whether a rally in the middle campus is the most effective way to further that end is up for debate. The responsibility of Hillel’s executive to support Israel and its supporters is not.

Hillel claims that it will uncatagorically defend Israel’s right to exist and right to self defense. What E–board failed to realize is that Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated to destroying Israel, posed a direct threat to Israel’s sovereignty and its right to exist in peace when it fired 5,500 rockets and 400 mortars in the past four years onto Israel proper. One million people in Israel were threatened by rockets on a daily basis, at random, in the days and months leading up to the operation in Gaza. President Shimon Peres noted at the United Nations World Economic Forum that both President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt both unequivocally blamed Hamas for the recent violence in Gaza. Why wasn’t Hillel’s Israel Va’ad prepared to take a stand, and support students to do same?

Josh Rosner, Columbia College ‘08, Columbia/ Barnard Hillel President, 2007–2008.

Gunning for Citizenship
Learned Foote, Winter 2008

To the Editor:

Learned Foote’s article “Gunning for Citizenship” was thoughtful and informative. He succeeded in framing the debate over “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) and Columbia’s Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) within the greater context of history, that the march towards freedom, equality, and citizenship requires participation over exclusion. However, much of the student body has grown weary of the constant infighting amongst students on an issue that is contentious and divisive. I want more emphasis on action rather than on debate.

As a student, combat veteran, and ROTC cadet, I observe both opponents and advocates of NROTC engaging in a debate that is meaningful and informative; but, the debate does little to effect real change with DADT and NROTC. Last semester a survey sponsored by the student council showed the campus in an ideological split. A majority of students agree that DADT is outdated and discriminatory, but the actions taken by both sides reflect widely differing approaches to activism.

Opponents of ROTC recruitment at Columbia try to see the world as it actually is: they want maintain the status quo and keep NROTC elsewhere. This is problematic, especially since it promotes a “bunker mentality.” There is no incentive to devote time and resources towards the repeal i of DADT beyond fighting for ROTC to remain off the campus; thus, opponents stay in the “bunker.”

Advocates of ROTC try to see the world as it should be: its goal is to have healthy civil–military interaction and to infuse the military with intuitive leaders. To reach that goal, ROTC advocacy must be dynamic, open, and mobile; it must choose the path of least resistance. The reality, however, is that NROTC will not be on campus until DADT is repealed.

Both sides have reduced DADT as a means to an end, either to keep ROTC off campus or to bring it back.

What worries me most is the lack of campus activism against DADT after the ROTC debate, especially considering the movement is gaining momentum. Last month Representative Ellen Tauscher (D–CA) introduced H.R. 1283, or the “Military Readiness Enhancement Act,” which would replace DADT with a non–discriminatory policy, reconciling the federal government with Columbia’s anti–discrimination policy. It was immediately referred to the Armed Service Committee and waits there still.

Thought proceeds action—we need to get the debate off the steps of Low Library and into the halls of Congress.

I call on Columbia’s administration to extend an invitation to bring NROTC back on campus with the condition that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” be replaced. Columbia is a potent symbol in this debate and would do much to bring a renewed focus in the effort to get H.R. 1283 out of committee and into law. The administration can have it both ways— make a principled stand against DADT while demonstrating its commitment to educating future leaders of the Armed forces.

I call on the Columbia Queer Alliance, Democrats, Republicans, the Military Veterans, and the Hamilton Society to work together and recognize the sacrifices made by the tens of thousands of LBGT service–members and veterans, and honor them by actively working to bring H.R. 1283 onto the floor of the House of Representatives. We must stop treating the repeal of DADT as a means to an agenda, but as an end in itself.

As Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

This is a war—but not against any enemy except our own prejudices and misconceptions. When I think of my fellow soldiers serving in the military, I am deeply humbled by their resolve to continue serving our country in spite of DADT.

No matter the outcome of the ROTC debate, the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is a cause worth fighting for. Sign me up.

John Mcclelland is a General Studies sophomore. He can be reached at

i When I say “repeal,” I mean “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”’s replacement with a non–discriminatory policy and greater protection for homosexual soldiers outlined in H.R. 1283.

The Politics of Engagement
Philip Petrov, Fall 2008

To the Editor:

Philip Petrov’s “The Politics of Engagement” is not only a fascinating, thought–provoking piece, it is also timely. Petrov seems to write out of a deep revulsion at the politically obsessed culture that swept America during the 2008 election, a revulsion shared by what might be deemed the “silent minority” of apathetic Americans. He is right to question the notsotacit presumption in America that political apathy is a sin. Yet Petrov misrepresents politics as a vacuous, fear–driven attempt to preserve the status quo only in order to hastily dismiss it. That dismissal represents both an unacceptable escapism and an alarming unwillingness to engage with the problems of our politics.

Let’s be clear about the problem Petrov identifies. He writes that “in our society, there’s nothing less apathetic . . . than the decision to abstain from politics.” This is only true to a limited extent. Not only did almost half the country deftly avoid the ballot box on Election Day, but by most indications many citizens will loose their enthusiasm for politics now that the presidential election is over. For many, apathy isn’t a deliberate choice at all; it’s a default way of life.

Even with his argument suitably qualified, Petrov’s article is a caricature of the political activist’s view of art. Few people—and very few serious ones—argue that art must be political. More than that, apolitical art does not imply the apolitical artist. Artists, I would argue, should engage in politics because they are citizens. Work can remain outside the realm of politics, but as citizens we have (to use the phrase Petrov so disparages) a “civic duty” to engage in the political decisions that shape our lives.

Of course Petrov thinks that engaging in American political discussion, with its “utter ridiculousness,” isn’t worth the effort. And no matter how much the result of the 2008 election reinvigorated your faith in our democracy, it’s hard to argue with that fact that American politics remains childish and simplistic. But while Petrov seems so critical of political participation, he uncritically accepts the (admittedly dismal) political situation. Why not, instead, change it? In abandoning politics, Petrov ironically accepts the Hobbesian model he derides: that politics can only be “boring,” that it can never be “profound” or “unpredictable.” Underlying Petrov’s essay, it seems, is an unjustified pessimism about the possibilities of reinvigorating our political debate. If anything, our new president should give us hope that rational, creative political discourse will emerge once again.

Most puzzling of all are Petrov’s thoughts on the functionality of politics. He argues that advocating political participation is really just an excuse to get our kids to obey the law. But participation and the rule of law are not necessarily linked; think of the numerous states with a strong rule of law but no democracy (such as China). More, the modern bureaucratic state would proceed undeterred even with widespread political apathy. We don’t advocate political participation, then, because we are worried about undermining the “rule of law”; rather, participation is so important because we know that politicians, unchecked by a competent, alert citizenry, will not only lack the incentive to work for our interests, but are also likely to be prone to corruption—or worse.

Petrov is right to question a blind endorsement of our current political situation, a knee–jerk dismissal of apathy as an intellectually indefensible position. It is defensible, and Petrov does as good a job as any. But we should help realize our ideals— the “profound” and “unpredictable” political debate Petrov wants—instead of resigning in defeat, instead of conveniently dismissing the current pettiness of our politics from the cozy confines of political apathy.

Nick Kelly is a Columbia College senior. He can be reached at

Petrov in Response:

I’m very grateful for Kelly’s rich and thoughtful letter. I have little right to accuse Kelly of misreading my work, for I made the choice to write my essay in a rhetorical, metaphorical, and allegorical mode. I must say, though, that Kelly’s interpretation of my essay is different from my own. In an irony of sorts, I don’t happen to agree with some of the conclusions that Kelly extracted from my article.

In my piece, I tried to suggest that there’s something unhealthy, something pathological, about the ways in which our society approaches the question of politics. There’s a tendency, I argued, to see the political process as the primary avenue for the improvement of human life. Associated with this tendency is a compulsive desire to get everyone—that is, all American citizens—involved in politics.

I don’t object to political participation; on the contrary, I believe that Americans need to be conscious of the institutions and procedures that determine the distribution of power in this country. I do object, however, to the widespread belief that there’s something wrong with choosing to avert one’s eyes from the political sphere. Politics is only one of the venues through which a person can transform the world around him, and it’s useless to pretend—as many of our social scientists do—that the opposite of political engagement is utter apathy.

It is obvious, I think, that the quality of human life depends as much on the condition of one’s mind as it does on political realities. For those who seek to make this world a better place, then, there’s plenty of psychological work to be done. Embedded in the minds of many individuals are fears, obsessions, and anxieties that make it difficult for them to lead rewarding lives—one doesn’t need Freud to figure this out. And what’s just as unfortunate is that—with terrifying consistency—people tend to bring their psycho–emotional problems with them to the ballot box. Like voters everywhere, we inevitably graft our psychoses onto politics. Mrs. Robertson’s dread of everyday life transforms into a fear of criminals, so she votes for the candidate who backs the harshest penal measures. Mr. Robertson’s propensity to worry about mundane problems morphs into a suspicion that his country will be bombed, so he casts his vote with a sense of paranoia in his heart.

My point is simply that the form and content of our political process is determined in large part by the mental states of our citizens. And as long as we insist on influencing the political process without properly considering the impulses at play within our minds, we’ll continue to project our fears, compulsions, and apprehensions onto the political realm. It’s as simple as Winnie the Pooh, and I tend to think that the simplicity of this point of view is what renders it unpalatable to so many “intellectuals.”

All of this suggests that, while there’s certainly no need to abandon politics, there is a need to examine the psycho–emotional impulses that affect the behavior of voters, activists, and policymakers. Neurotic people give birth to neurotic policies—if this little slogan reflects even a degree of truth, then we can begin to build a more attractive political process by taking a closer look at the psychological stimuli hidden beneath the political realm. And should we choose to dismiss the study of psycho–emotional impulses as an “unscientific” farce, we can continue to be surprised every time our political process yields a result we deem perverse.

In the end, Kelly—and I say this with respect and admiration—drew the wrong conclusion from my article. I didn’t argue for a “dismissal” of politics; on the contrary, I tried to show (indirectly, I admit) that we can enrich our political discourse by working to defeat the fears, phobias, and compulsions that plague so many of us. My essay, then, was a plea for political engagement. Kelly—who rightly believes that we need to reinvigorate our political process—didn’t seem to notice that I’m on his side.

Philip Petrov is a Columbia College senior. He can be reached at

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