NOAH SLOR AS SOCIAL COORDINATOR FOR MAPMES AT BEN-GURION UNIVERSITY
BY RACHEL AVRAHAM*
Noah Slor, who is known for her connections with Dr. Neve Gordon and Dr. Oren Yiftachel, and who waved a provocative poster over a building at Ben-Gurion University at an anti-Israel demonstration after the Flotilla incident, served last year as the social coordinator for the MAPMES program. The MAPMES program is a masters program taught in English at Ben-Gurion University for international students that seek to study the Middle East here in the Holy Land. This past year, the program was dominated by students from the US, Canada, and Germany.
As social coordinator for the MAPMES program, Noah Slor had the responsibility to expose international students to Israel. She was supposed to show them natural beauty in Israel, share Israeli culture and history with them, and in general, enrich their experience in Israel. Instead, Slor focused almost exclusively on taking them to student parties and Arab areas in Jerusalem and to the West Bank. Other than mildly contributing to helping the MAPMES students celebrate Hanukkah, arranging for a Purim Party at a local bar, hosting a few students for the Passover Seder, and running a program where international students were paired with Israeli students, she did virtually nothing to expose international students to Israeli culture. All of the Israeli history that she shared with the international students was slanted in a left wing pro-Palestinian direction. She did not take the international students of MAPMES to a single Jewish historical site except for the Mount of Olives. Other than a beach party in Ashkelon, she did not expose international students to natural beauty in Israel. Thus, in sum, she did not do much to enrich the experiences of the international students in the MAPMES program. As a result, it should come as no surprise that Noah Slor, combined with the existence in the MAPMES program of personalities such as Dr. Oren Yiftachel, has resulted this past year in teaching international students from the US, Canada, and Germany to be more pro-Palestinian and less pro-Israel.
For the first major trip, which was held on January 20, 2010, Slor decided to take the MAPMES on a tour of East Jerusalem. According to her e-mail, the tour included “Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Mount of Olives observation point, Mount Scopus observation point, and the separation wall in the area of Abu Dis.” The e-mail claimed that the tour would be given from “two different perspectives: that of a Palestinian who lives in one of the neighborhoods that we will visit in, and that of a Jewish settler.” In reality, the tour guide, who was Daniel Seideiman from Ir Amim, was a left wing Israeli Jew, who only demonstrated that perspective during the tour, while the settler, Arieh King of the Israel Land Fund, was given only a couple of hours to share his perspective inside of a café in the Jewish Quarter and was not given the opportunity to show us different sites in East Jerusalem from his perspective. By the time that he was given the chance to speak, Seideiman basically had already convinced the audience of a certain perspective, which was the left wing perspective. Central aspects of the tour included condemning the Simon Wiesenthal Center for building the Museum of Tolerance in the Mammilla Muslim Cemetery; ridiculing Jewish settlers for wanting to reclaim Jewish-owned homes in the Shimon Ha-Tzadik and Silwan neighborhoods, where he felt it was obscene that Jews waved huge Israeli flags; opposing the tearing down of Shephard’s Hotel and building four residential Jewish homes in its place despite the fact that the building was owned by the Grand Mufti, who was a Nazi sympathizer; standing in opposition to E-1 being transformed into a passageway that would connect Maale Adumim to Jerusalem; and condemning the route of the Security Barrier, which Seideiman emphasized made it difficult for children in certain East Jerusalem neighborhoods to walk to school and has been an inconvenience for Arab traffic, even though he recognized as a side-note after I mentioned the subject that the Security Barrier has significantly reduced terrorism. Through out the entire tour, Seideiman never mentioned the context under which Israel gained control and continues to control East Jerusalem. He did an effective job of convincing most of the international students on the tour that Israel had no justification for holding onto all of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s suburbs that fall over the green line.
According to a students blog, during the Passover holiday, an Israeli “who has helped us foreign students to feel welcome” that is a passionate left wing female activist took three MAPMES students and an Arab Israeli student home for the Passover Seder and then on the following day, took the international students and the Arab Israeli student to Land Day in the West Bank. At this particular demonstration, this MAPMES student reports in their blog Palestinians started to throw stones at the IDF. While the Israeli host and the Arab Israeli student departed after the stone throwing, the Israeli host evidently did not force all of the international students to leave with them. As a result of this irresponsible decision, two international students had their eyes stung with tear gas.
The second major trip, which was held on April 23, 2010, was even less balanced than the East Jerusalem tour. During this particular trip, Noah Slor arranged for the MAPMES students to visit Hebron with Breaking the Silence, which NGO Monitor has highlighted to be a very politicized non-governmental organization with a left wing extremist political agenda that often provokes riots amongst Israeli settlers and has a raison d’être of criticizing the IDF’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the original e-mail, the goals of the tour was to “witness the harsh situation in the region and to learn more about the power relations between Palestinians and Jews in Hebron in the context of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The tour will include a walking tour of the Old City of Hebron and a visit to a Palestinian family in Tel Rumeida.” After this e-mail, I sent out a string of e-mails criticizing this tour for not even trying to create balance. Only after a long exchange of e-mails amongst me and other classmates did Noah Slor decide to make the trip more balanced by including a Jewish settler for one hour, and even still, the balance was still tipped in favor of Breaking the Silence and Slor justified her initial position in an e-mail sent to the entire class of not wanting initially to include any thing but pro-Palestinian positions in the tour. Slor’s reasoning’s for this position in the e-mail I decided to quote in full:
1) I believe that by living in Israel (the Israel that’s outside of university) you are exposed to a very one-sided reality that is constructed by different agents of socialization: the Israeli media (radio, TV, newspapers), Israelis you meet and engage in political discussions with (and most of whom, at least the 90% who supported the war on Gaza, do not challenge Israel’s raison d’être, meaning its Jewish character), political messages that surrounds you (stickers on cars, big political signs in the road and in big squares), security procedures (opening bags in the entrance to public places or seeing soldiers caring weapons everywhere, all around you). Within this context, I saw the Hebron tour as an experience that can “balance” (if balance even exists) what I perceive as a one-sided reality. The way I see it, a meeting with Hebron’s settlers is again being expose to the same discourse that dominates Israeli society (although they are much more extreme then the average Israeli). I see the tour in Hebron as an opportunity for you to experience something completely different.
2) The settlers in Hebron are known as an extremely violent group that have routinely abused the city's Palestinian resident. Throughout the second intifada, settlers have committed physical assaults, including beatings, fruit trees chopping, shops destroying and thefts committing. Many of them, dance on Baruch Goldstein’s grave regularly. (You will of course not find this information in official sources, but try to go on YouTube and write settlers in Hebron and you will see it in your own eyes). I have to admit that I had (and still have) a hard time to give a legitimacy to such a violent group, by enabling them to speak up and to express their opinions. I had (and still have) a hard time to include such a group in the “political legitimate game” or in any “balanced’ picture. Breaking the silence, is a legitimate NGO that does have an agenda (that you don’t have to agree with by the way), but that has never indorsed violence or racism as part of its discourse or strategy. I think that in striving for so-called “balance” (or objectivity or neutrality-which I don’t think that even exists) not all means are always acceptable, and that was the reason Avi and I had a hard time to consider such an option.
3) Related to my second argument, I think that striving for balance is actually pointless and impossible. There will always be another argument that can be made, another opinion to express and another idea to vocalize. The meaning of balance itself is subjected to interpretation. That is to say, who decides what “balance” is, and how it can be kept? Does an organization such as women against abuse, that provides services to victims of domestic violence and tries to raise awareness to domestic violence among teenagers, needs to organize sessions not only with the victims themselves (that will tell their story) but also with the rapists or the attackers in order to hear their story so that a “balance” will be kept? I personally don't think so.
Obviously, in writing this, Slor was not taking into consideration that most of the group was not fluent in Hebrew, and thus, did not listen to Israeli television or radio or any news source written in Hebrew, and thus, was not really exposed to the Israeli media. The language barrier also ensured that most MAPMES students were not exposed to signs and other Israeli political slogans. While it is true that the MAPMES students were exposed to Israeli students by living in the dorms and participating in the MAP-MATE program and other activities, it is wrong for her to assume that ninety percent of the Israelis that MAPMES students exposed to were hard-core right wingers, given that there is a sizable Arab community at Ben-Gurion University and most of the MAP-MATE Israelis that I met were actually left-wingers. Also, opening up bags for security can hardly be considered exposure to a discourse. In addition, in contrast to Noah’s false accusation that MAPMES students were disproportionately exposed to a right wing perspective, most of the professors in the MAPMES program are left wing, and some MAPMES professors, like Dr. Oren Yiftachel, are actually famous for their extreme left wing views.
But as if these arguments were not problematic enough, the fact that Slor pretended that Jewish settlers were the only ones who engaged in violence, and that the Palestinians were innocent angels who deserved to get their voices heard more than the settlers, is a major distortion of reality. While some members of the settler community of Hebron are violent, for every community out there in the world has violent members, one would be hard pressed to not realize that the Palestinians are far more violent than the settlers could ever dream to be. But aside from that fundamental distortion, in academia, every one should have a right to get their voices heard, and Noah Slor herself admitted in her own way that she has a hard time accepting opposing viewpoints. And one simply cannot compare a political movement that has legitimate positions to rapists and people who commit domestic violence. The fact that she told the entire MAPMES program that to support the settlers is like supporting rapists is really over-the-top, unprofessional, and displays bias.
Given Slor’s proven bias, it should come as no surprise that the whole Hebron trip was slanted in a left wing extremist direction, even though Noah Slor did include thanks to my protests a one hour lecture at the end by Noam Amon. As Noah Slor mentioned in another e-mail, this hardly could be considered balance, given that Noam Amon was given only one hour to counter an entire one-day tour by Breaking the Silence, but I grant that it was still better than nothing. According to my blog, Breaking the Silence succeeded in making Israel look very bad in the eyes of Ben-Gurion University students on this tour. Right after the tour, I wrote:
Our tour guide, Ilan, kept on speaking constantly about how there is a different system of law for Palestinians than there is for Israelis. He spoke of how the only law that gets enforced is the ones related to terrorism. He asserted that while he was in the service, he used to steal Palestinian car keys at checkpoints and how he forced a bunch of Palestinians from their homes in central Hebron in order to create a security buffer zone between the Jewish settlement of Hebron and the rest of the city. What bothered me about Ilan was that instead of protesting the thievery of car keys while he was in the service and going all the way up the command chain, he obeyed the orders from his lower commanders without protest, and only after the service started to create a huge stink about it. In my opinion, unless he had the balls to protest while in the service and saw that the highest of commanders continued to sanction this practice, then he had no right to blame the entire state for this practice after he got out of the service. He can't hold the commander in chief responsible for something that he did not know about and what lower level officials did, after all. But aside from that issue, the fact that the IDF prevented us from speaking with a Palestinian family that Ilan wanted us to speak with made Israel look bad in the eyes of the people in the group. It seemed like Ilan knew that this was going to happen beforehand, but wanted internationals to view Israel as someone that prevents freedom of speech. Unfortunately, none of these internationals took into consideration the fact that they would have been allowed to speak with Palestinians if they went with another group other than Breaking the Silence, which does not have a good working relationship with the Israeli authorities. The second part I liked better. Noam Amon, the leader of the Jewish community in Hebron, spoke about Jewish history in the city. He also took us on a tour of the Hadassah building, which had a room dedicated to each period of Jewish history in Hebron. I rather liked him and felt that he had a valid point in arguing that Jews, given their history, have a right to live in Hebron, even if it means that they live there as Palestinian citizens. No one should expel these Jews from their homes.
Unfortunately, it appears that most of the other students in our group were influenced more by Breaking the Silence than they were influenced by Noam Amon. In order to fully grasp the negative effect that this trip had upon how international students in my group viewed Israel, one has to look no further than the blog of the same MAPMES student who wrote about Land Day. This student wrote in their blog after the Hebron trip:
In the past, whenever I heard Israeli heads of state proclaim that they supported the two-state solution, I took that at face value. Now, however, I find it hard to believe. How can they speak of a two-state solution when there are now nearly 500,000 Israelis living in the territory that is destined to be the Palestinian state, not because they are religious radicals who view the true Jewish state as stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, but because their government has encouraged them to live there? When Israel pulled the settlers out of Gaza in 2005 it took 30,000 soldiers to remove 7,000 settlers! That makes a pullout from the West Bank seem to be an impossible task. The trip to Hebron was, to myself and to many of my classmates who want to see Israel as the benevolent Jewish motherland, a real eye-opening experience.
Due to the issues mentioned in this article, I am glad that Noah Slor is no longer the social coordinator for the MAPMES program and I hope that she is not given a position of influence over international students ever again.
*Rachel Avraham is an MA student at Ben-Gurion University and an intern for Israel Academia Monitor.