Harvard University’s Hillel president was not silent last week after Zionist Organization of America leader Morton Klein attacked his center for hosting Breaking the Silence, a controversial Israeli photo exhibit.
“As a result of your actions, our students are receiving hate e-mails,” fumed Dr. Bernie Steinberg in an open letter to Klein posted last weekend. “If you intended to injure and hurt young Jews, you recent actions and words are a success.”
The target of Klein’s original ire, is a photo exhibit by Israeli Army combat veterans depicting Israeli soldiers’ mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. Assembled from a trove of informal pictures, videos and personal testimonies collected from comrades, Breaking the Silence shows what the vets say is common day-to-day behavior by soldiers in the West Bank. They say they seek to increase awareness of the Israeli occupation’s moral costs.
Klein denounced Harvard Hillel for providing a venue for the exhibit, which ran from March 2 to March 16. “Harvard Hillel should be ashamed of itself,” Klein told The Jewish Week earlier this month. In a widely distributed opinion piece published since, Klein dismissed the photos as depictions of “isolated harsh acts” and “an anti-Israel lie.”
Harvard Hillel initially balked at hosting the exhibit, brought to campus by the Hillel-affiliated Progressive Jewish Alliance, but changed its mind at the 11th hour. The Hillel student board, led by the main pro-Israel advocacy group on campus, acted after the alliance found willing hosts at a much more open and widely visited alternative site. The exhibit at Hillel was set up so as to incorporate expression of dissenting views.
“The situation is not black and white,” Steinberg lectured Klein. The exhibit faced much strong criticism, he said. But “some feel that it humanizes the soldiers, and they come away with a more positive feeling about Israel. I myself did not anticipate this response. It is more widespread than I would have thought.”
Klein remained unswayed. “They would not put Holocaust denial on their walls,” he said. “It’s not equivalent, but it makes the point: You don’t resort to the lesser evil. You fight all evils.”