How One Hillel Managed to Set Pro-Israel Advocacy Back
[The following is cross-posted with the author's permission]
Rivka S. Rothschild
Whoever said, “the older you get the faster time flies”, was correct. Time flies and we develop perspective, with age, and under pressure. When it comes to survival, to self expression, to taking the kind of risks in which we show the world who we truly are, there is urgency. There must be urgency. What are we waiting for then? Why do we take the leap in life sometimes, but not others?
Often, we take that leap because we stop caring what others think, because we become connected to ourselves and to the truth; because we cannot care what others think anymore. Why do you think the underdog suddenly rises up and wins the battle? Why do you think the Jews rose up and won in 1948? In 1967? Because we were under immense pressure; because we couldn’t afford to care about blending in, in order to avoid upsetting murderous racists, because we were so very connected to ourselves, and the truth that this world must not turn silently on its axis while evil drives systematic torture, brutalization and the theft of precious human lives. Because we simply had no choice.
It was Israel basically, or annihilation. In short, because we had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Beaten. Traumatized. Tortured. And still, no perhaps because, we persevered. We were lean and starving. Israel was re-born and saved, and the raw energy going into this extraordinary endeavor has continued with such momentum that pure human intellect, wit, tenacity, and sweat have built this beautiful nation in a mere 67 years- rich with art, science, technology, human rights and a passion for life.
That was then, and when it comes to Israel activism today, that very drive seems to have gone subterranean. Is it fear, comfort, or sheer exhaustion which has apparently rendered some of us Israel supporters so passive? Quiet and waiting. Waiting for what? Is it that we now have something tremendous to lose and we are rendered paralyzed? What are we waiting for?
I ask that very question to on campus Jewish organizations, because one of the major fronts in this battle to stand up for Israel, is in the minds of the younger generations who are the custodians of the world to come. I ask that very question to one of the largest pro Israel organizations on college campuses tasked with fighting BDS and its false history narrative – Hillel. While some Hillels are passionately outspoken in their support for Israel, honestly and earnestly examining her strengths and weaknesses, some seem more interested in scrutiny of Israel. The kind of unfair, one-sided scrutiny which can lead to seeming sympathy for BDS. Innocents who play with fire? It is admittedly the nature of tadpole college activists – just as much as honest research is admittedly a part of growing up.
Enter Ryan Bellerose. I first discovered Ryan when I read one of his articles on Jewish indigenous status. When interviewing him for this piece, I asked him what made him interested in Israel in the first place- after all, he isn’t Jewish. He isn’t even Middle Eastern. I expected the deliverance of some dry, political science abstraction. What I got was a story about two friends attending University in 1999. Ryan and Diane. One day, while walking to class together, they came upon an “Israel Apartheid Wall”, constructed with the intent to place fear and guilt into the hearts of non-believers and provide sanctimonious pleasure for the supporters of those “oppressed” by Israeli “brutality”. In short, Ryan was stopped, argued with, nastily confronted by the anti Israel, antisemitic, pro BDS students, “got fed up”, “moved” their wall in a show of strength and confidence, and fearlessly strode on to class. The end? Well, no. Because once he arrived at class, Ryan realized he’d lost Diane. Nothing more than mild confusion came over him when he bumped into her in class and casually asked, “hey, what happened? Where’d you go?”
Her answer is at the heart of this story, at the heart of Ryan’s dedication to the nation of Israel, and what ought to be driving every single on-campus Jewish organization to be openly fighting antisemitism and antizionism. “Ryan, I’m not big and strong like you. I know those people and they could get very mad with me. Ryan, I’m Jewish.” It was at that moment, he described, that it fully dawned on him – Diane’s pain as a Jew, and the profound similarity between the struggles of the Metis and the Jews. Two sets of indigenous peoples who had not only had their homelands violently ripped from them, and been stripped of rights any reasonable man would consider basic, but who, each in their own ways have been historically bullied into the shadows and made to live with chronic pain and fear. Some just get quiet. Some harden their resolve and speak up.
In the end, I was left feeling the pain of Diane’s struggle, of Ryan’s struggle, and, as I continued to digest the story, every Jew, every Metis, and every single, solitary human being on this planet who has been bullied into the shadows and denied what is rightfully theirs – even if it’s just a safe, dignified walk to class. (If you’re reading this and thinking about the Palestinians’ losses and predicament, to clarify, I’m with you. Their pain is as real as any Jew’s, but in the name of honesty, they are, first and foremost, the victims of their own Arab brethren and corrupt leadership.)
The intersecting paths of Concordia University Hillel in Montreal and Ryan Bellerose brings us back to the core questions asked above, and the impetus for this article. In a nutshell, Ryan was added to a group of so-called Zionist Concordia students on FaceBook for debate and discussion. When confronted with their explicit and tacit approval of BDS, conception of Israel as a racist, apartheid state and overall endorsement of the destruction of Israel as a Jewish nation, he was astounded by their lack of knowledge, attachment to falsehoods, and the racism du jour – anti-Zionism.
Ryan reportedly proceeded to debate with these students, and, simply put, they did not like to be so challenged that they literally had no answers. Prior to his arrival in this group, it likely was a veritable echo chamber of complaints about Israel, founded on false, rewritten history – and lies. Basically, these students were disturbed to find out that their arguments were flimsy, and that for all their bloviating about fairness and liberty, they had unwittingly been cheer-leading for terrorists, colonizers and murderers. Simply put, Ryan apparently held the mirror up and ruined the party. So much so, that when some of these students discovered that Ryan Bellerose was slated to speak at Concordia Hillel in order to educate and expose students to the factual basis for Jews’ indigenous rights and the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they took the time and energy to have his talk cancelled.
This seeming over sensitivity to being proven wrong, coupled with their devotion to the emotionally appealing, false narrative they’d apparently been fed at this fine institution, drove their desire to prevent his presence on their campus. What, however, drove Concordia Hillel’s administration to not only enact his cancellation, but to misrepresent his character on their public, Facebook wall? THAT is the bigger question.
“On the eve of our event hosting Ryan Bellerose, I have no choice but to cancel the event. Although much of what Ryan espouses with respect to indigenous people and Israel resonates with our community, some of his messages are clearly not inline (sic) with Hillel or Concordia. Both institutions value different Races and Cultures, and both recognize the equality of genders.” As if Ryan Bellerose does not “value different Races and Cultures” or the “equality of genders”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing.
In fact here is how Ryan expressed his stance on indigenous peoples of the world and what is just, “The right of the Jewish people is to have self-determination on their ancestral lands. If we let them delegitimize that, if we let them do that, they delegitimize all indigenous rights, and by doing that, they delegitimize all human rights. This is a man who is devoted to the support of those, worldwide, with no voice. This is a man who is devoted to true history and peace. This is a man who did not deserve to be treated like a fraud, and have his good name dragged through the mud on social media- no less by an organization whose mission is to support enduring commitment to Jewish life, and Israel! Something went very wrong here.
Not only was this damaging to Ryan, this was damaging to our cause as pro Israel advocates, and it was damaging to the good work being done by Ryan and other activsts for the North American indigenous population. Well done.
According to a board member at Hilllel International, who initially, disbelievingly asked if Concordia Hillel actually cancelled a pro-Israel speaker, it was a matter only of “civil discourse.” When a Concordia Hillel administrator was emailed in an attempt to better understand the situation, his reply seemed somewhat evasive, and turned the subject to a Shabbat dinner they had organized. According to Ryan, when he was asked to delete comments on Facebook in an attempt to appease the students, he willingly and quickly did so, in an attempt at good faith resolution – to no avail.
Who ever said, “the older you get the faster time flies”, was correct. That, and the notion that today’s college students are falling prey to the de rigueur, kind of humanitarian cloaked racism, which wrongfully trumpets Israel as a colonial and oppressive power, is enough to make clear that there is precious little time left when it comes to pro-Israel advocacy. Precious little time left to enlighten everyone as to the indigenous rights of Jews, as to Israel as a true democracy and seeker of peace, and the true plight of the Palestinians at the hands of their own Arab brethren and corrupt leaders. “What are we waiting for?”, is a question for those pro Israel on campus organizations, which seem to be quiet and passive. “Why on earth, would you not only cater to students who would apparently facilitate the delegitimization of Israel, but fold to the pressure to block such a valuable supporter as Ryan Bellerose?” Now that is one question we should all ask.