American Jewish students start own, open movement
Hillel’s excluding board of directors: Sidney Pertnoy, David M. Cohen, Eric Fingerhut (President), Deborah Kalick, David Yaffe and Bruce Sholk. Photo by Shahar Azran for Hillel
Open Hillel hopes to highlight opinions and voices on Israel that have been made taboo by mainstream Jewish groups.
May 16, 2014
The budding Open Hillel movement of Jewish college students, which has rebelled against mainstream Hillel’s ban on non-Zionist and pro-BDS speakers, announced on Thursday it will hold its first national conference in the fall.
Organizers said in a statement that the conference – to be held October 11-13 at Harvard, where the movement began in November 2012 – will endeavor to highlight speakers who have been barred recently from addressing Jewish groups.
Open Hillel has cited three intellectuals who have been excluded from speaking at Jewish institutions: Philosopher Judith Butler, a BDS supporter recently pressured into canceling a talk at the Jewish Museum of New York; author David Harris-Gershon, who was forced to scrap an appearance at the University of California at Santa Barbara Hillel because he refused to condemn all boycotts of Israel; and Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American scholar barred from speaking at New York’s Ramaz Jewish high school.
The disinvited, 1:David Harris-Gershon, born in the USA [above].”When it comes to the communal tent of dialogue around Israel, the last few years have seen a concerted attempt by Jewish leaders and institutions to delineate who should be considered “in” and who should be kept “out.” On the heels of the controversy surrounding Hillel’s guidelines, the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center has now entered the fray in an embarrassing way.” Jewish Forward blog, February 2014.
Writing in Haaretz, David Harris-Gershon revealed this week that the DCJCC uninvited him from a previously scheduled book event. Harris-Gershon was to speak on his memoir “What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?” The reason for the cancellation? A July 2012 blog post Harris-Gershon wrote in Tikkun called “Today I’m Coming Out in Favor of BDS.” This is the second time in a few weeks that Harris-Gershon has been disinvited; as the Forward reported, last month, Hillel in Santa Barbara canceled an event at which he was slated to speak.
“One conference – the Conference of Presidents [of Major American Jewish Organizations] – has put most of its effort lately into the exclusion of Jewish voices,” says Lex Rofes, an Open Hillel organizer. “Our conference will instead focus on inclusion. We are inviting all who are interested to attend a communal event that will deepen and broaden our knowledge of crucially important issues facing our world and of one another.”
The Disinvited 2: Born in the USA American-Palestinian Rashid Khalili, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and one-time editor of the scholarly journal Journal of Palestine Studies.
The Open Hillel movement has caught on among Jewish student groups at elite Eastern universities such as Vassar, Wesleyan and Swarthmore. They have broken with Hillel International’s guidelines, which hold that campus chapters may not “partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.
Today the movement claims “over a thousand supporters and nearly 50 student organizers from dozens of schools across the country.”
Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut, who opposes Open Hillel, has said that while “Hillel should and will always provide students with an open and pluralistic forum where they can explore issues and opinions related to their Jewish identity … [it] will not, however, give a platform to groups or individuals to attack the Jewish people, Jewish values or the Jewish state’s right to exist.”
Media release from Open Hillel
May 15, 2014
Judith Butler. Rashid Khalidi. David Harris-Gershon. All these thinkers, experts in their fields, have been excluded from Jewish institutions because of their views on Israel-Palestine. And though these events are the ones that make the news, every day, Jewish students and young adults are alienated from Jewish communities because they feel that these communities — with their monolithic view on Israel-Palestine — don’t represent them.
Open Hillel seeks to change this. We want a Jewish community where the full diversity of Jewish views on Israel-Palestine is accepted and celebrated. We want a Jewish community where vigorous discussion, respectful debate, and free discourse are the norm. We want a Jewish community that all Jews can feel included in, not just those who pass a political litmus test. We’ve campaigned for over a year for Hillel to be such a community. And now, for the first time, we’re modeling what that community could be like — with the Open Hillel Conference.
The disinvited 3: Born in the USA Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature and co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley.
This conference will create a space for open conversation on Israel/Palestine and other issues of importance to the Jewish community, without external restrictions. Because Hillel International limits the kind of conversations we can have, we decided to show the limitless potential of a conversation not bogged down by “standards of partnership” and the political whims of big donors.
We will be inviting left-wingers, right-wingers, Zionists, Anti-Zionists, Non-Zionists, two-staters, one-staters and everyone in between or outside of that spectrum to share their thoughts and ideas on Israel-Palestine. We’ll look beyond the Middle East as well, discussing issues facing our Jewish communities here in America. We’ll have panels and lectures, have discussions and trainings. We’ll argue, we’ll learn, we’ll think, we’ll talk, and we’ll start building the inclusive, vibrant Jewish community that we want for our future.
We have a team of organizers dedicated to putting this conference together — but to make it a reality,we need your help. Please support Open Hillel and donate here — every penny helps us bring in awesome speakers, provide travel and housing stipends for students who would be otherwise unable to attend, and pay for site expenses for the conference!
Open Hillel is a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels. We seek to change the “standards for partnership” in Hillel International’s guidelines, which exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel. In addition, we encourage local campus Hillels to adopt policies that are more open and inclusive than Hillel International’s, and that allow for free discourse on all subjects within the Hillel community.
Hillel International’s current standards are counterproductive to creating real conversations about Israel on campus. They prevent campus Hillels from inviting co-sponsorship or dialogue with Palestinians, as almost all Palestinian campus groups support the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel. They also exclude certain Jewish groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, from the Hillel community. (For specific instances where the Hillel International policies have been used to shut down dialogue or exlcude Jewish groups or students, see “What are the effects of the current guidelines?” below.) Although the Hillel International policies are called “guidelines,” Hillel International has threatened to disaffiliate schools that do not abide by them.
We believe deeply in the ideal, expressed in Hillel International’s mission statement, of a vibrant, pluralistic Jewish community on campus, in which all people, regardless of their religious observance, past Jewish experience, or personal beliefs, are welcome. In many ways, Hillel has been remarkably successful at fostering such a pluralistic and inclusive community, bringing together students from different backgrounds to learn from and support one another, as well as to openly debate and discuss their differing views. We believe that this pluralism should be extended to the subject of Israel, and that no Jewish group should be excluded from the community for its political views.
In addition, we believe that inter-community dialogue and free discourse, even on difficult subjects, is essential in the context of an educational institution and a democratic society. Open discussion and debate is a Jewish value, and we are proud of our culture’s long tradition of encouraging the expression of multiple, even contradictory, views and arguments. However, Hillel International’s current guidelines encourage Jewish students to avoid seriously engaging with Palestinian students or other students on campus with differing views on Israel-Palestine. This is detrimental to the goal of encouraging mutual understanding, cooperation, and peace. Thus, we believe it is essential that Hillel-affiliated groups be able to partner with other campus groups in order to share perspectives, cooperate in those areas where we agree, and respectfully debate in those areas where we disagree.
Open Hillel is a coalition of students working for the full expression of these values in our Hillel communities and in Hillel International’s guidelines. We invite you to join us, whether by signing the petition to Hillel International, signing a petition to your campus Hillel, writing a testimonial, or organizing an Open Hillel campaign on your campus.
Notes and links
Board of Directors of Hillel
Sidney Pertnoy, Chairman, Miami, FL
Bruce Sholk, Chair, Executive Committee, Baltimore, MD
David Cohen, Vice-Chair, New York, NY
Lee Dranikoff, Vice-Chair, Short Hills, NJ
Deborah Kallick, Vice-Chair, Los Angeles, CA
David Yaffe, Treasurer/Secretary, Washington, DC