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VIOLENCE AND LEFT-WING POLITICS: What's Going On At UCLA's Hillel?
by Sharon Hes
A major campus Hillel director's physical attack on a journalist with whom he disagreed politically, has put the organization's national leadership on the defensive.
After an address by Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz last October, UCLA Hillel director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, a renowned left-wing activist, physically assaulted pro-Zionist journalist Rachel Neuwirth. The Los Angeles district attorney chose not to press charges, but rather required Rabbi Seidler-Feller to attend 36 hours of anger management training at his own expense. The rabbi was also ordered to issue Ms. Neuwirth a "heartfelt" apology.
The event was first reported in the UCLA Daily Bruin by Adam Foxman, who explained that, after Mr. Dershowitz's talk, Rabbi Seidler-Feller confronted a group of Muslim demonstrators who were protesting the Harvard law professor's appearance on campus.
Although Rabbi Seidler-Feller initially chastised the Muslim group for holding a poster lauding the late Columbia Professor Edward Said, with whom the rabbi had an acrimonious relationship, he ended his discussion with the Muslims by inviting them to a Hillel function, scheduled for the following evening, featuring Sari Nusseibeh, Palestinian president of Al Quds University and the Palestinian Authority Commissioner for Jerusalem.
Ms. Neuwirth, a freelance journalist who has been published by Israel National News and FrontPageMagazine.com, said she heard Rabbi Seidler-Feller praising Mr. Nusseibeh, and approached the rabbi to remind him that the Palestinian had been in touch with Iraqi forces during the first Gulf War in 1991 to help direct missile attacks into Israel.
According to eyewitnesses, although Rabbi Seidler-Feller and Ms. Neuwirth were standing on a stair landing, he responded by physically confronting her and scratching her arm. He then brutally grabbed her arm and tried to hit her, said the witnesses.
"You liar," the rabbi reportedly yelled at her, reacting to her description of Mr. Nusseibeh.
The witness described the rabbi's attack as "a vicious scratch, a clawing like an animal."
Ms. Neuwirth responded by calling the rabbi "worse than a capo," a Holocaust term reserved for Jews who brutalized other Jewish concentration camp inmates.
At this point, according to David Hakimfar, a UCLA student who attended the lecture, Rabbi Seidler-Feller's anger became uncontrollable.
"He grabbed her arm and out of nowhere snapped and began hitting and kicking her. He missed punching her face by inches because a notebook protected her. He did land two or three kicks to her legs," he said, noting that the rabbi was pushing Ms. Neuwirth towards the edge of the stairs.
Dr. Roberta Seid, an historian who also witnessed the melee, said Rabbi Seidler-Feller dragged Ms. Neuwirth to the steps of the landing and seemed to be trying to push her. Dr. Seid said she feared Ms. Neuwirth was about to be thrown down the steps. Ms. Neuwirth, she said, appeared frozen in shock and was not reacting at all.
At this point, witnesses said, Rabbi Seidler-Feller turned around so that his face could be clearly seen.
"His face was contorted in rage," said Dr. Seid. "He was screaming, 'No one calls me a capo!'"
According to Dr. Seid, Rabbi Seidler-Feller would not relinquish his grip on Ms. Neuwirth's arms.
Witnesses said three students managed to separate the two, and, for a moment, the rabbi seemed calm. But, when he was released, Rabbi Seidler-Feller immediately lurched after Ms. Neuwirth again. Students once again subdued him, but, then, once again, the rabbi charged towards the journalist.
"It was like he couldn't be relieved of his rage," said another witness. "It shouldn't have taken that long for the three boys to keep them separated, but it did. It was very weird. Rachel was just frozen, like Lot's wife, eyes wide open."
Mr. Hakimfar, one of the students who helped restrain the rabbi, seemed convince this was "no brief moment of insanity."
"It was a long and deliberate attack. He was aware of his surroundings. Rabbi Seidler-Feller was belligerently trying to find any means to strike Miss Neuwirth. In light of the gravity of this situation, the Jewish community should not lose sight of the viciousness of this brutal attack," he wrote.
Allyson Rowen Taylor, a Zionist activist member of the community who came to the campus for the lecture, said she witnessed only the last few minutes of the altercation between Rabbi Seidler-Feller and Ms. Neuwirth. She said she called her son on her cell phone to let him know she would be delayed, and, at that moment, Rabbi Seidler-Feller "lunged" at her.
Ms. Taylor said the rabbi "screamed in my face. 'You always bring her here,'" referring to Ms. Neuwirth.
Ms. Taylor said she was shocked by the personal assault, especially since she and Ms. Neuwirth, while acquainted from the community and their work together at the American Jewish Congress, are hardly closely friends.
Ms. Taylor said she tried to make a joke to defuse the tension. "No, we drove in our own cars," she told him.
She said he just continued to scream, and, once again, had to restrained.
"This was not just a man who snapped for a moment. This was a man who appeared to have gone berserk, for an extended period of time," said another witness.
When Ms. Neuwirth left the campus, her hand was bleeding, and the next day her arms were bruised.
For his part, the next day, Rabbi Seidler-Feller apologized on the phone to Ms. Taylor, but, she said, he spent a good part of the 45-minute call trying to justify his behavior.
He also apologized to a number of other people involved in the incident, with the exception of Ms. Neuwirth. Some of them said Rabbi Seidler-Feller tried to justify his rage by explaining that his grandparents, whom he had never met, had been murdered in the Holocaust.
The apologetic phone call to Ms. Taylor was witnessed by her friend, who wrote the words "anger management" on a slip of paper during the call. Two months later, that is just what the Los Angeles District Attorney ordered for the rabbi.
A month after the incident, Ms. Neuwirth filed a complaint in the Los Angeles Superior Court against Rabbi Seidler-Feller and UCLA Hillel, Los Angeles Hillel Council, and Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, seeking undisclosed damages for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent retention.
Ms. Neuwirth and her attorney, Robert Esensten, maintain that the case is not about politics, but battery.
"This case is solely about a man battering a woman," said Mr. Esensten. "This is not about his political views and we are not trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Both parties have extensive political and religious backgrounds. She is traditional in her observance and politically conservative concerning Israel; he is Orthodox, but politically on the far left.
Rabbi Seidler-Feller was ordained in 1971 at Yeshiva University where he also earned a masters degree in Rabbinic Literature. He serves on the governing council of the Progressive Jewish Alliance; on the advisory council of EDAH, a voice of Modern Orthodoxy; and is a founding member of Americans for Peace Now. He is the founder of the Streisand Center for Jewish Cultural Arts at UCLA Hillel, and was a rabbinic consultant to Barbara Streisand during the making of the film "Yentl."
Ms. Neuwirth was born and raised in Israel, where she served in the Israeli Air Force and was a member of the Israeli national basketball team. Presently she is a member of the board of the LA chapter of the American Jewish Congress and a freelance journalist and commentator on the Middle East and radical Islam.
Ironically, Ms. Neuwirth had observed Rabbi Seidler-Feller on a previous occasion when they were on the same side. Although she did not even know his name at the time, she reported on his actions at the Edward Said lecture at UCLA in February 2003.
"A rabbi asked whether [Edward] Said would sign off for peace if the Palestinians were handed all the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and he said 'No!'" wrote Ms. Neuwirth in her article "Professor of Lies, Hate and Terror."
Asking a question after the lecture, Rabbi Seidler-Feller challenged Dr. Said publicly about the accuracy of his claim to 800,000 Arab refugees post-1948. It was an acrimonious exchange, with the rabbi ultimately being shouted down by the crowd when he persisted in making statements instead of asking a question.
One Jewish observer thought if he had asked his question more calmly, it would have been "more effective in front an audience of 1800 people who hate us."
At the hearing held by in the city attorney's office on December 2, the rabbi and Ms. Neuwirth were definitely on opposite sides. Rabbi Seidler-Feller denied losing his temper or kicking Ms. Neuwirth, and he produced several character witnesses who claimed that although they were not at Hillel's Dershowitz event, they had never seen the rabbi lose his cool.
Businessman Jeffrey Levine, who was at the event, testified that he did not see Rabbi Seidler-Feller kick, hit, or grab Ms. Neuwirth.
"At this point, we are contesting all of the facts that are alleged by Ms. Neuwirth," said Donald Etra, Rabbi Seidler-Feller's attorney.
Referring to Mr. Levine's report, which contradicted those of several other eyewitnesses, Ms. Taylor said, "That [testimony] is an outright lie. He is perjuring himself."
According to Ms. Taylor, Ms. Neuwirth has physical bruises that have been photographed.
Sources close to Ms. Neuwirth say that her left calf still has visible bruises and hurts when touched. Her shoulder also may require additional medical treatment.
On December 28, Doreen Seidler-Feller, the rabbi's wife, sent out a provocative email to her mailing list, asking for help in her and her husband's effort to discredit the "monstrous Neuwirth."
"We are interested in establishing a pattern of behavior on her part which is relentless, confrontational, abusive. And which in cases like the one above can be so provocative that it leads to violent counterattack. We are interested in her history dealing with those she disagrees with. We wonder about her mental health history, her affiliation with radical right groups, whether she is funded by any movement on the right to engage in these kinds of confrontation politics or whether it's her own personal crusade. Any of the above or related matters would be of interest and help to us as we try to respond to the utterly ridiculous and extravagant case she is trying to make credible. Thanks so much," Ms. Seidler-Feller wrote.
Mrs. Seidler-Feller also claimed Ms. Neuwirth has approached her husband in the past "to heckle and hound him about his views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict."
Sources close to Ms. Neuwirth contradict that assertion. They said that the few times Ms. Neuwirth and the rabbi had any contact prior to the Dershowitz lecture, it had been thoroughly amicable. They also said that Rabbi Seidler-Feller had placed Ms. Neuwirth on his mailing list, and had told her on a prior occasion, in front of witnesses, that he liked her articles.
On December 23, Rabbi Seidler-Feller agreed to the recommendations of the LA District Attorney, which included his taking an anger management class at his own expense. The rabbi was also required to provide a written apology to Ms. Neuwirth through her attorney. As of early January, that apology had not been received.
Eric Moses, spokesperson for the city attorney's office, said the apology from Rabbi Seidler-Feller to Ms. Neuwirth had to be "heartfelt and genuine," although he offered no specific guidelines. He also did not say what the consequences would be if Rabbi Seidler-Feller did not comply.
Ms. Neuwirth said she would only accept an apology in which the rabbi showed true contrition.
Mr. Etra said the rabbi had accepted the recommendations because it was "the expedient way of resolving the case." He said Rabbi Seidler-Feller would apologize only for "the fact that there was an incident."
Mr. Etra went on to say that Rabbi Seidler-Feller was the aggrieved party in this case, leading some observers to question whether this is consistent with the requirement that the apology be genuine.
According to Avraham Infeld, interim president of Hillel International, after the LA District Attorney decided not to press charges, Rabbi Seidler-Feller asked to be placed on 30-day paid administrative leave from his position at UCLA Hillel.
In her letter, Mrs. Seidler-Feller said Hillel had asked him to take a leave of only two weeks. During this period, according to Mr. Infeld, Hillel will be conducting its own investigation of the incident, particularly because it has been named in Ms. Neuwirth's lawsuit.
Speaking at a Hillel function in Englewood last month, Mr. Infeld noted an "upsurge of support" for Rabbi Seidler-Feller. His supporters have written to Hillel encouraging the organization "not to be too strict" in disciplining him.
A letter supporting the rabbi signed by 49 UCLA professors was printed in the Los Angeles-based Jewish Journal. Rabbi Seidler-Feller has had a long term friendship with the Rob Eshman, editor of the Journal. Mr. Eshman is a past president of American Friends of Peace Now, and Rabbi Seidler-Feller was a founder of the organization.
The letter of support from the professors called Rabbi Seidler-Feller "a passionate, devoted, and caring Jewish leader, as well as a dear colleague and friend."
"He has been the anchor of Jewish life at UCLA for nearly 30 years, teaching thousands of students, staff, and faculty, and instilling a love for Jewish learning and the State of Israel that is unsurpassed," said the professors.
Other letters printed by the Journal condemn the rabbi for inexcusable behavior.
Gary P. Ratner, executive director of the western region of the American Jewish Congress wrote that the incident has nothing to do with politics or one's view on Israel.
"Seidler-Feller has nothing left to teach, so he should do the honorable thing and resign before his students learn that it is acceptable to use violence. Maybe then some of his so-called legacy will remain intact," he wrote.
Referring to the letters of support for the rabbi, Mr. Ratner wrote, "What you have are liberal people who I know have been at the forefront of defending women's rights, gay rights, anybody's rights, who abhor violence, but are defending someone who committed violence against women."
One woman who was at the event and witnessed Rabbi Seidler-Feller's attack wrote that she was "sick and tired by all the excuses of community supporters, leaders, and the media to excuse Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller's behavior.
"He has tarnished his profession, lost his credibility and, in my eyes, his authority. In the real world, this is what happens when one speaks slanderously, let alone aggressively," wrote Hallie Lerman.
Some of those who witnessed Rabbi Seidler-Feller's attack on Ms. Neuwirth, expressed curiosity over her complaints about Mr. Nusseibeh, who the rabbi had invited to address the Hillel students. Those who know Mr. Nusseibeh's history said he was an odd choice for a Hillel event.
Among the quotes attributed to him are: "Israelis are not human" and Israel is a "racist Zionist entity, which was "born in sin."
Appearing on Qatari television in June 2002, Mr. Nusseibeh sat on a panel with Hamas official Khaled Mashal and Mrs. Umm Nidal, the mother of a suicide bomber, who encouraged her son to carry out the attack.
According to Palestine Media Watch, Mr. Nusseibeh praised "jihad fighters" in general and Mrs. Nidal in particular.
"All respect is due to this mother. It is due to every Palestinian mother and every female Palestinian who is a jihad fighter on this land," he said.
In August 1993 Mr. Nusseibeh told the Jerusalem-Arab newspaper Al Fajr that he supports "the use of force against Israelis as a means of support of our negotiating position."
In 1989, Mr. Nusseibeh was indicted by the government of Israel in Lod Military court for helping to finance the first intifada and being responsible for "drawing up reports and leaflets for intifada purposes such as instructing intifada activists."
Less than a month after appearing on the Qatari broadcast with Mrs. Nidal, Mr. Nusseibeh worked with former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon on a "peace" plan that bears their name. Known as the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement, it delineates a path towards ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Observers note that he and Mr. Ayalon were working on their plan even while Mr. Nusseibeh was praising the mother of a suicide bomber.
Messrs Nusseibeh and Ayalon have formed an organization known as The People's Voice whose aim is to urge Israelis and Palestinians to sign a petition asking their governments to accept the Nusseibeh-Ayalon plan. The plan calls on Israel to relinquish "every grain of sand" in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, including eastern Jerusalem. According to the agreement, the Palestinians, in exchange, will relinquish their so-called "right of return," which calls for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their homes in Israel proper.
Because Mr. Nusseibeh relinquished the right of return, the Nusseibeh-Ayalon agreement has been rejected by virtually all Palestinian groups and organizations. It has also been ignored by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
When Rabbi Seidler-Feller invited the Muslims who had been protesting at the Dershowitz lecture to attend the event with Mr. Nusseibeh, it was in the context of a speaking tour in the US by Messrs. Nusseibeh and Ayalon to promote their agreement.
When asked why Hillel would support the appearance of Mr. Nusseibeh, given the fact that he had publicly praised suicide bombers and jihad fighters, Mr. Infeld said the accusations against Mr. Nusseibeh were "non-proven, biased, and the sources need to be questioned."
He also indicated that he would be proud to have Mr. Nusseibeh speak anywhere, and that the Israeli Consulate had sponsored the Nusseibeh-Ayalon event.
That assertion is incorrect. Sources at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles said that they had nothing to do with the Nusseibeh event at Hillel, and, in fact, do not get involved in politics beyond supporting Israel.
According to the Consulate, some weeks prior to the Nusseibeh event, Mr. Ayalon's office contacted them, requesting assistance in setting up meetings for his impending visit. This is a normal courtesy the Consulate extends to visiting Israeli dignitaries. At the time, no mention was made of Mr. Nusseibeh's accompanying him.
Closer to the actual travel date, Mr. Ayalon's office informed the consulate that he would be bringing his partner. The Consulate then informed all those who had meetings scheduled with Mr. Ayalon that Mr. Nusseibeh would be included, giving all groups the opportunity to opt out.
"In no way did we indicate sponsorship or support of the Nusseibeh-Ayalon event," said the source at the Consulate.
People who know Rabbi Seidler-Feller said they were not surprised at his welcoming Mr. Nusseibeh. The rabbi has repeatedly stated the importance of dialogue with moderate Muslims. The problem is, he has seemed to find very few.
In this he is not alone. Palestinian Media Watch, a website that monitors and translates the Arabic messages of Palestinian leaders, has noted that for years these leaders have reserved moderate language for diplomatic encounters in English while supporting terrorism and anticipating Israel's destruction in Arabic.
The Muslims with whom Rabbi Seidler-Feller has chosen to associate publicly follow a similar duplicitous route.
On November 21, 2000, the rabbi engaged in a public discussion before an audience of over 200 with Salam Al-Marayati, director of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Sponsored by several UCLA groups (not including Hillel), the topic was "A Dialogue on The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: In Pursuit of Civil Discourse."
According to the UCLA Daily Bruin, Rabbi Seidler-Feller and Mr. Marayati have known each other for 20 years.
"We've grown up arguing with each other," said the rabbi. "But we are working together to view the world through different lenses."
In fact, according to Steven Pomerantz, former chief of the counter-terrorism section of the FBI, Mr. Marayati is known to have justified and defended the activities of terrorist organizations such as Hamas. He has also categorized the Hizbollah terrorist attack which killed 241 US Marines as "a military operation."
"This type of comparison gives legitimacy to terrorism," said Mr. Pomerantz in an interview with the Journal of Counterterrorism.
"While Mr. Marayati is free to say whatever he chooses, he should accept the logical consequences of his actions. These include the right of others to refuse to legitimize his extreme views by association with him," concluded Mr. Pomerantz.
Rabbi Seidler-Feller, identifying himself in the publicity as the director of UCLA Hillel, seemed to have no problem appearing in a public forum with this well-known Muslim supporter of terrorism.
On September 11, 2001, less than a year after his public discussion with Rabbi Seidler-Feller, Mr. Maryati, told a public radio interviewer in Los Angeles that Israel should be considered a suspect in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
Rabbi Seidler-Feller seems to have trouble finding Muslims who will support Israel. He recently co-taught a sociology course about the Middle East conflict called "Voices of Peace" with Shawki El-Zatmah, a 32-year-old doctoral student in Middle Eastern history who grew up in a Gaza refugee camp and is a vociferous advocate for his people.
"Whilst they're [Israelis] celebrating their Independence Day they should remember our story, how they victimized us and how their illegal occupation continues to victimize us. We can congratulate them for their independence but we want to emphasize our story as Palestinians that have been victimized by the state of Israel," Mr. El-Zatmah told the Daily Bruin.
Nor did Mr. El-Zatmah's admiration for the late Dr. Edward Said diminish Rabbi Seidler-Feller's desire to work with him. At a memorial tribute for Dr. Said held at UCLA in November, Mr. El-Zatmah read some poetry to the gathering of 600. Although Rabbi Seidler-Feller has publicly deplored what Dr. Said represented, he did not sever his relationship with his co-teacher who honored a prominent enemy of Israel.
Although Rabbi Seidler-Feller claims to be a Zionist, according to one observer, he is "equivocal in his support of the Jewish State."
Last year, Ben Shapiro, a student at UCLA and syndicated columnist, summed up the UCLA Hillel problem this way in the Yeshiva University Commentator:
"I go to UCLA, so I am most familiar with the situation there. The rabbi at UCLA Hillel is Chaim Seidler-Feller, a rabidly leftist Jew who openly sympathizes with the Palestinians. In the past he has compared Jewish treatment of Palestinians to Nazi treatment of Jews. Chaim Seidler-Feller offers virtually no support to the pro-Israel wing on campus," wrote Mr. Shapiro.
One observer noted the irony that, in his skirmish with Ms. Neuwirth, the rabbi objected to being called a "capo," but, at the same time, he has no trouble comparing Israelis to Nazis.
Because of the Hillel director's perceived lack of support for Israel, UCLA students formed a group in 1999 called the Bruins for Israel. Its mission, they say, is to "present an accurate image of Israel in order to help the campus community understand the complexity of today's events by providing proper historical perspective and accurate current information."
"The Bruins for Israel exist because of a vacuum formed by Rabbi Seidler-Feller," said one of the group's members, adding that before the Bruins for Israel became active, few pro-Israel speakers were brought to the campus.
Recently, Hillel has begun providing tentative support to the Bruins for Israel, giving them some funding and offering a link on their website.
In May 2003, the Bruins for Israel sponsored a forum called United 4 Freedom. The panel included a Muslim, a Mormon, a Jew, and a Latino Christian. They presented different issues affecting the road to peace in the Middle East. All participants, including the Muslim, were pro-Israel and generally supportive of conservative policies.
Rabbi Seidler-Feller made his displeasure clear. Several witnesses recall his interrupting the program by loudly proclaiming "This is not helpful."
It is tokenistic," the rabbi further complained privately to a member of the audience. The member recalled the event as providing a balance to the numerous forums Rabbi Seidler-Feller has hosted, where all the participants, including the Jews, tend to be pro-Palestinian.
Witnesses said the rabbi publicly stormed out of the program in front of an audience of 100.
Even on the most holy day of the Jewish year, students at UCLA are not spared Rabbi Seidler-Feller's political agenda. During a sermon at a Yom Kippur service attended by one student and his Persian mother, Rabbi Seidler-Feller talked about Muslims being peaceful. The mother, having endured and witnessed extensive Muslim brutality in Iran, began to cry.
But Rabbi Seidler-Feller does not always wait for an invitation to make his left-wing views known. Last year, he crashed a by-invitation-only meeting, held in a private home, to discuss Muslim antisemitism at UCLA.
According to participants at the meeting, Rabbi Seidler-Feller had asked for permission to attend, but he was told to stay away because the organizers felt he was part of the problem.
"Seidler-Feller has repeatedly denied or minimized the presence of on-campus antisemitism by Muslims, so his presence was expressly unwelcome," said one of the meeting's organizers.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Seidler-Feller showed up, and the organizers, it seems, were too polite to turn him away.
The featured speaker at the meeting was Mr. Shapiro, who discussed problems such as physical assaults and vile language directed toward Jewish students wearing yarmulkes on campus.
This proved too much for Rabbi Seidler-Feller. According to Mr. Shapiro and several other witnesses, the rabbi continuously interrupted Mr. Shapiro, haranguing him and preventing him from speaking.
Witnesses claimed the rabbi angrily asserted that Mr. Shapiro was lying, that Arabs were "good citizens," and that "this was a hoax."
The rabbi, identifying himself as the Hillel director, warned Mr. Shapiro that he could "get into trouble for this kind of activity."
One participant then turned to Rabbi Seidler-Feller and said, "I don't know who you are. We came to hear the kid. Shut up and wait your turn."
But the rabbi would not be quieted. The crowd of over 30 people urged him to behave himself, but the rabbi was undeterred in his effort to silence the speaker.
One participant described Rabbi Seidler-Feller as "obstreperous, threatening, interrupting, scaring the kid."
Several participants said the rabbi's turmoil broke up the meeting, and in fact, Mr. Shapiro acknowledged that he left shortly afterward to "avoid confrontation."
No one denies that the UCLA Hillel has in recent years become extremely left-wing with the ascendance on campus of the Progressive Jewish Student Alliance (PJSA), an offshoot of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) founded in 1999. Rabbi Seidler-Feller currently serves on the board of the PJA, along with actor activist Ed Asner, Rabbi Michael Lerner (publisher of Tikkun), and Stanley Sheinbaum (who hosted a private reception for Mr. Said in February, met with Yasir Arafat in 1988, and Syrian President Assad in 1992 and 1995.)
In April 2002, in association with the UCLA PJSA, and Americans for Peace Now, Hillel hosted a forum entitled "A Progressive Jewish Response to the Current Crisis in the Middle East." Other PJA events include an evening with a leader of Yesh Gvul, an organization which supports Israelis who refuse to serve in the military.
"It appears that the rabbi prefers the company of Israeli traitors to Israeli patriots," said one former Hillel member who felt driven away by the preponderance of left-wing events.
That is not to say there are no students who favor such politics, and they are among the vocal supporters of Rabbi Seidler-Feller. No one dismisses the rabbi's prodigious fundraising ability, which allowed Hillel to open a new $6 million facility last year.
But students who do not share the rabbi's political view are often alienated from Hillel. In some cases, they have been openly intimidated or humiliated by Rabbi Seidler-Feller.
One former student who had been prominently involved in UCLA Hillel said that while at one time he was close with the rabbi, he grew distant as he became aware of the nature of the events the rabbi supported.
"Seidler-Feller tries to censor the students who express views contrary to his, and this is really odd, considering that he claims to be liberal and open-minded and wants to promote dialogue," said the former student.
Not only students have faced the difficulty of persuading the rabbi to grant a platform to a variety of speakers. UCLA Hillel board members are normally given the prerogative to select one of the weekly Shabbat dinner speakers. One such scheduled pro-Israel speaker was actually disinvited by the rabbi.
The speaker had taught a course in Middle East studies at a local synagogue, and had won an award from the ADL. When asked why the man was being rejected, Rabbi Seidler-Feller replied, "He is not an intellectual... he is not the kind of person the students need to hear from."
Other Shabbat dinner speakers have included non-Jews discussing the need for raising the minimum wage (a pet project of the PJSA,) local labor union representatives, environmental activists, the coach of the UCLA basketball team, and Camryn Manheim, a left-wing Jewish actress.
"Obviously, the rabbi's definition of an intellectual remains unclear," said the board member whose choice was rejected.
Acting as Cover
Some of the young people said that many more students would become involved with Hillel if the rabbi were more tolerant of views that do not match his own.
"Rabbi Seidler-Feller promotes a liberal organization, not a pluralistic one," said the former student. "He permits a few prominent right-wing speakers on campus as cover for the constant promotion of his extreme left-wing agenda."
That agenda is a broad one. It ranges from films glorifying homosexuality in the IDF to speakers who enjoy good intermarriages. Last year, UCLA Hillel hosted the annual conference of National Union of Jewish Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender Students.
It appears that primarily one kind of interfaith dialogue is welcome by Rabbi Seidler-Feller. When Mr. Shapiro urged closer ties with religious Christians who are also pro-Zionist, the rabbi rejected it as a bad idea. No such reticence exists for him, however, when it comes to joining Muslim religious rituals.
Last year, Jewish students were invited to join with Muslims at the second annual Ramadan break-the-fast, co-sponsored by Hillel, the Progressive Jewish Student Alliance, and the Muslim Student Association (MSA). About 80 Muslims and 50 Jewish students attended the kosher-Hall meal.
The MSA, particularly the chapter at UCLA, has been known to support Islamic terrorists and terrorism. In April 2003, FrontPageMagazine.com published an article called "UCLA Sponsors of Terrorism: The UCLA Muslim Student Association's Ugly Collaborators." The lengthy article provides extensive evidence for the linkage.
UCLA MSA consistently invites radical Muslim speakers who call for the death of Jews and even the death of America.
Prior to 9/11, Al-Taliban, (the newsmagazine of the UCLA MSA) which in the past has referred to Osama bin Laden as a "prominent Muslim activist," featured a cover story on bin Laden titled, "The Spirit of Jihad." The editorial read in part:
"When we hear someone refer to the great mujahideen Osama Bin-Laden as a 'terrorist' we should defend our brother and refer to him as a freedom fighter; someone who has forsaken wealth and power to fight in Allah's cause and speak out against oppressors."
On October 22, 2000, an anti-Israel protest co-sponsored by former UCLA MSA president Ahmed Shama took place at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. At the rally, which quickly degenerated into a vicious antisemitic demonstration, Mr. Shama led an unruly mob in shouts of "Victory to Islam! Death to the Jews!"
"We are not simply anarchists," Mr. Shama said. "Our solution is the establishment of justice by Islamic means. That is the only solution to this Israeli apartheid."
Mr. Shama capped his speech by burning an Israeli flag while an overjoyed crowd chanted, "Khalibar, Khalibar, O Jews, the army of Mohammed is coming for you," and "Death to Israel, victory to Islam!"
Another of the rally's speakers, MSA West president Sohail Shakr, outdid Mr. Shama:
"The biggest impediment to peace [in the Middle East] has been the existence of the Zionist state of Israel. If we really want true peace then we must see that it goes with the elimination of the Zionist entity in the middle of the Muslim world," he said.
Breaking bread (or pita) with members of such a terrorist-supporting Israel-hating group may not be what parents had in mind when then send their children to UCLA Hillel.
Sharon Hes is the managing editor of The Jewish Voice and Opinion, an online and print publication based in Englewood, New Jersey (http://www.jewishvoiceandopinion.com). She writes frequently about issues concerning the Jewish community.
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