The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and the University of Pennsylvania's Middle East Center plan to meet in late 2018 in the wake of the latter hosting an event co-sponsored by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli military veterans dedicated to opposing the Jewish state's military and civilian presence in Judea and Samaria.
Morton Klein, national president of ZOA, denounced Breaking the Silence and accused the organization of "demonizing Israel."
"Breaking the Silence goes around blackening the eye of the IDF," Klein said. "They want Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the state, give Palestinians the state and throw 100,000 Jews out of their homes. I've gone to their rallies, and that's what they want. They have horrific policy proposals which would endanger Israel terribly."
On Oct. 8, the Middle East Center hosted Frima Bubis, a 24-year-old veteran of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank. The event was organized by Ian Lustick, a political science professor at Penn who, ZOA Philadelphia Executive Director Steven Feldman said, has long been involved in "anti-Israel events on campus."
For his part, Lustick defended the event in an email.
"The Israeli soldiers from Breaking the Silence who speak about their experiences and what they have observed offer members of the Penn community direct exposure to important claims about the nature of the occupation and about the predicaments Israeli soldiers find themselves in," Lustick said. "The focus of this presentation was on difficulties Israeli soldiers in the West Bank face when they are confronted with Jewish settler violence against Arabs and Arab property. They have orders to protect Jews from Arab violence, but are not allowed to protect Arabs from Jewish violence. They can call the police, but that seldom works."
An opposing view was not presented.
The proposed meeting between the ZOA and the Middle East Center would provide an opportunity for representatives from each group to discuss the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Middle East Center is non-partisan and does not take stands on political issues. It instead provides a platform, say organizers, for which different views and opinions can be discussed.
On April 19, the Middle East Center hosted Israeli photojournalist Gil Cohen-Magen, who is known to channel a different tone from Breaking the Silence when discussing the Israel component of his work.
In a letter addressed to Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet, director of the Middle East Center, Klein and ZOA's Director of the Center for Law and Justice Susan Tuchman accused the Oct. 8 event of raising "serious legal concerns."
"The Middle East Center receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education pursuant to Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunities Act. As you surely know, the law requires that Title VI programs 'reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions and international affairs,'" Tuchman and Klein wrote.
Bubis made another appearance at Penn on Oct. 9, visiting Penn Hillel at a Breaking the Silence event hosted by J Street.
Bubis grew up Orthodox and pushed to serve in the IDF, according to nif.org. She spoke about her experience in a video posted to the New Israeli Fund's YouTube Channel.
"What moved me most coming from my background," she said, "was the violence of the settlers. It could be young children from one of the settlements going out after Friday night dinner to throw stones at Palestinian cars, or a settler with a chainsaw cutting down olive trees."
"Every society, and every group of people, [has] extremists, including IDF soldiers," Klein said. "They don't volunteer to become IDF soldiers. They're drafted. I've spoken to these soldiers; they have extremist and very dangerous views about Israel."