The right-wing group is criticizing Hillel for inviting two university chiefs â Amy Guttman, president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Michael Drake, chancellor of the University of California at Irvine â to speak at a summit that itâs is holding on universities and the Jewish community. According to the JTA, the ZOA is calling for the pair to be disinvited.
Guttman, the ZOA says, is an inappropriate invitee because in 2006 she posed for a picture at a Halloween party with a student dressed as a suicide bomber. The ZOAâs issue with Drake is that U.C. Irvine has been the site of âanti-Semitic speakers and programsâ that have caused âJewish students to feel threatened, harassed and intimidated.â
Never mind that Guttman has said that she didnât grasp the nature of the studentâs costume as the photo was being taken, and that she later called it âclearly offensive.â Even if one is skeptical about her explanation, only an extremely ungenerous person would assume that sheâs guilty of anything worse than a momentary lapse of judgment.
In Drakeâs case, it is true that the main Muslim student group at U.C. Irvine has repeatedly held viciously anti-Israel events on campus â events where the rhetoric often crosses the line into antisemitism (not to mention anti-Americanism). And some have argued that U.C. Irvineâs administration could be more sympathetic to Jewish concerns on this matter. But ultimately, thereâs also a free speech issue in play, so itâs not as if the university can simply prohibit such events.
The irony is that the ZOA wants Hillel to effectively boycott two individuals who have actually weighed in against campaigns to boycott Israeli universities. Guttman and Drake are both signatories to an American Jewish Committee-sponsored statement strongly condemning anti-Israel academic boycotts.
Hillel, for its part, has declined to follow the ZOAâs advice.
I plan on attending the Hillel event. The ZOA letter should make for good conversation with the accused.