Hillel International responded to growing criticism over a visit by Harvard University students on a Hillel-sponsored tour of Israel to former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s grave near Ramallah.
Blogger Daniel Mael first revealed the visit to Arafat’s grave by the Harvard students as part of the “Harvard College Israel Trek 2014” on TruthRevolt.org. According to the trip’s website, the program “aims to engage a diverse cohort of undergraduate student leaders of all faiths and backgrounds with Israeli history, culture, and politics.” Israel Trek is sponsored by Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) and Harvard Hillel.
In a statement, David Eden, chief administration officer at Hillel International, admitted that the visit to Arafat’s grave is “causing understandable concern,” adding that the image conveyed by that visit is “not what this trip is about.”
“Given our digital online world, the participants may have given insufficient thought to the way in which this particular photograph would be seen and received back home, where the image is being captioned and written about in a very disturbing manner, including sensationalistic interpretations, by people unfamiliar with the Trek’s full program and mission,” Eden stated.
In a blog post for the Times of Israel whose original title, “No apologies for visit to Arafat’s grave,” was changed to “Yes, we visited Arafat’s grave,” Six Israel Trek trip organizers wrote that they “stand firm” behind their decision to visit Ramallah.
“Whether we like or not, Yasser Arafat is important to the Palestinian narrative, and as educators committed to an honest exploration of these issues we could not afford to deviate from Trek policy that encouraged students to document and share their experiences with their respective communities,” they wrote. “We are saddened and sorry that a photo was taken out of context, causing pain to people who we love and respect.”