Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hillel fails to represent all Jewish students

By Joshua Strassman

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(umass.hillel.org)

(umass.hillel.org)

In a recent article in Tikkun, Michael Kaplan and Jack Ross lay out the history of the Jewish Newsletter, a now-defunct Jewish publication, which was a hotbed for dissenting, left wing Jewish voices. It rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s as Zionist fervor was spreading and becoming the dominant ideology in the Jewish world. Its contributors were forceful in their opposition to this new trend. Significantly, Hillel chapters at colleges all over the country distributed this magazine to students. It seems there was a time where vibrant, open debate was strongly encouraged at Hillel.

Not anymore.

A few weeks ago, as part of a national speaking tour sponsored by Open Hillel, three Jewish civil rights veterans came to speak at UMass. All three of them worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 60s. They were part of the large Jewish presence in the movement for black civil rights. The lessons they learned from the struggle in the South are extremely relevant today, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. I recall my skin turning cold as many of their stories of police violence mirrored almost precisely some of the tragedies of the past year.

It would seem UMass Hillel would welcome these speakers, and that they would be excited to host such inspiring leaders. Here’s the problem: all three speakers are fierce advocates for Palestinian rights, and harsh critics of the Israeli Occupation. They made connections from their work in the Jim Crow South to the movement for Palestinian human rights today. This has provoked fierce opposition from Hillel International, which has resulted in Hillel chapters refusing to sponsor the speakers. UMass Hillel claimed that because the event coincided with Israeli Apartheid Week, they could not support it.

None of this is meant to be an attack on individual Hillel chapters, at UMass or elsewhere. Campus Hillel directors have their hands tied by Hillel International, which enforces their Standards of Partnership on Israel-related speakers. These standards, in effect, end up silencing progressive and left wing Jews.

The provocations from Hillel International have gone too far. In a recent Times of Israel piece, Hillel International chief administrative officer David Eden attacked the speakers, claiming that they are being “manipulated by this small band of student activists.” Quite offensively, Eden seems to think these three lifelong activists are simply ignorant and don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. He certainly is not listening to what they’re actually saying; all three have made strong comments in support of Open Hillel.

Swarthmore College’s Hillel is even facing legal action from Hillel International for choosing to host these speakers. In a direct attack against open discourse, Hillel demanded that Swarthmore’s Jewish students not use the Hillel brand to promote their event. Bravely, Swarthmore Hillel’s board stood up to this attack, and voted to disaffiliate with Hillel International.

J Street, a moderate Zionist organization which pushes for a two-state solution, has also faced bullying and attacks from Hillel. Last week, J Street had their annual national conference, which around 1,000 Jewish students attended. Incredibly, Hillel International Director Eric Fingerhut pulled out of the conference because of the presence of Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat – a slap in the face to the dedicated students in attendance.

It is becoming increasingly clear the Standards of Partnership need to go. They restrict free speech and contribute to an often toxic culture and discourse among Jewish students surrounding Israel/Palestine. They force individual Hillel directors – who typically strive to include all students – to kowtow to an official line that is exclusionary and divisive. Luckily, the tide is turning quickly – the recent provocations from Hillel International have led to an explosion of resistance on campuses across the country.

Ironically, as these events have been unfolding, I have found myself increasingly drawn to the writings of Hillel the Elder, after whom the Jewish organization is named. Hillel famously asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” I had never internalized the importance of this question until now. I’m now realizing that if I stay silent, there are a myriad of reactionaries who will claim to be speaking for me. Jewish students from all over the country are taking Hillel’s teaching to heart – we will not be silent anymore.

Joshua Strassman is a Collegian contributer and can be reached at [email protected]

17 Comments

17 Responses to “Hillel fails to represent all Jewish students”

  1. Genghis Khan on March 26th, 2015 6:20 am

    So Hillel needs to open its doors to Palestinian speakers who would, given the absolute freedom to do what they want, would march Jews into ovens again.

    Right.

  2. John Doe on March 26th, 2015 10:38 pm

    “J Street, a moderate Zionist organization ”

    HA.

    Anyway, Hillel has every right to welcome and not welcome whatever speakers they want. As a staunchy right-wing and pro-Israel establishment, it would be nonsensical for them to welcome anti-Israel Palestinians into their home.

    “J Street, a moderate Zionist organization which pushes for a two-state solution, has also faced bullying and attacks from Hillel. Last week, J Street had their annual national conference, which around 1,000 Jewish students attended. Incredibly, Hillel International Director Eric Fingerhut pulled out of the conference because of the presence of Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat – a slap in the face to the dedicated students in attendance.”

    So not going to a conference is bullying now? Should we force people to go to conferences that go against their beliefs?

    Who allowed this drivel to be published?

  3. John Doe on March 26th, 2015 10:46 pm

    “In a direct attack against open discourse Hillel demanded that Swarthmore’s Jewish students not use the Hillel brand to promote their event.”

    Hillel is a PRIVATE organization that isn’t beholden to you or anyone else. They aren’t ATTACKING OPEN DISCOURSE by “demanding” that one of their own chapters not host anti-Israel speakers. If the government did something similar, then yes, they would be attacking discourse. But not a private org. like Hillel.

    “we will not be silent anymore.”

    Do everyone a favor, Joshua. BE silent, please. Leave important free-speech topics to the grown ups. Here, take this rubber-ducky. Go play in the corner.

  4. Quentin Tarantino on March 26th, 2015 11:28 pm

    Go away.

  5. Stephanie Higgins on March 27th, 2015 3:28 am

    I see nobody feels like putting their name on their opinions…

  6. John Doe on March 27th, 2015 3:35 pm

    “In a direct attack against open discourse Hillel demanded that Swarthmore’s Jewish students not use the Hillel brand to promote their event.”

    Hillel is a PRIVATE organization that isn’t beholden to you or anyone else. They aren’t ATTACKING OPEN DISCOURSE by “demanding” that one of their own chapters not host anti-Israel speakers. If the government did something similar, then yes, they would be attacking discourse. But not a private org. like Hillel.

  7. Thomas Dalton on March 30th, 2015 12:37 am

    Joshua– thank you for your well-reasoned opinion. This piece was highly informative, and unlike many in the comments section here, I feel that you were always respectful and politically correct. Anonymous detractors can say what they will, but I think that your observations here represent an important dialogue that all campus organizations should engage in when faced with pressure from national organizational structures. What use is a student group if the students have no control over the agenda?

  8. Lawrence Rosenwald on March 30th, 2015 11:07 am

    I too admired the piece. There’s something that needs clarification, I think (not in the piece, rather in relation to some of the negative comments). Hillel describes itself as a non-political organization, and also describes itself as an organization for all Jews. It’s because of these self-descriptions that the question of inclusiveness matters so much. If an orthodox synagogue refuses to host an across-the-board critic of orthodoxy, then fine; why should it? But the orthodox synagogue doesn’t want to be everyone’s synagogue. Hillel, though, wants to be every Jew’s Hillel. And if it excludes, in one way or another, particular Jews for holding particular political views, then it’s just not every Jew’s Hillel, whatever else it is, and however much one may agree or disagree with those views.

  9. Armen Dacity on March 30th, 2015 12:48 pm

    Jewish Liberal: “If you don’t allow BDS speakers at Hillel then I won’t feel welcome there!”

    Other Jewish Students: “But, if there are BDS speakers at Hillel, then we won’t feel welcome.”

    Jewish Liberal: “Who cares what you want!”

  10. Yitz Glick on March 30th, 2015 1:02 pm

    Joshua – While Israel is surrounded by Hizbullah, ISIS, Al-Qeada, Hamas that all would kill us all if they could you have a great need to take an all out position against Israel believing that you are holier than thou. We in Israel put our lives on the line serving in the IDF and sending our daughters and sons to defend our country while teaching them values including peace, tolerance, morality and you people in Open Hillel have the downright audacity to pass judgement on us – Your position is morally despicable in every possible way. We in Israel will do everything we can to advance peace, help Palestinians in every way and defend human rights of all. Your position saddens us and is an overt obstacle to peace.

  11. Zafar Nizami on March 30th, 2015 3:36 pm

    Yitz,

    Open Hillel has “the downright audacity to pass judgement” because Israel’s policies rightly deserve all the criticism they can get. If Israel has done possibly everything to advance peace, then please tell me why is there still an illegal military occupation that has illegal settlements? No matter how much Israel whitewashes its crimes, people are still very easily able to see the atrocities, just as they can see the grossness committed by ISIS, Al-Qaeda, etc. The difference? Israel’s crimes are funded by American tax dollars. MY tax dollars.

    You attack Joshua simply because he objectively goes against your gross political ideology with legitimate criticisms. You actually gave no constructive response, your comment was simply just a string of emotionally charged smears.

    Wake up sir.

  12. Yitz Glick on March 30th, 2015 5:02 pm

    The settlements are 100% legal – The position that Jews cant live in the West Bank is legally wrong, overtly racist, and beyond ludicrous!TOP LEGAL EXPERTS IN INTERNATIONAL LAW – Support Israel’s legal rights to Judea & Samaria (AKA West Bank). Eugene Rostow, Julius Stone, Stephen Shwebel, Moris B. Abram, Eugene Kontrovich, Arthur Goldberg, Harel Arnon, Nick Rostow, Jacques Gauthier, William Jacobson, Howard Grief, Julie Bishop support Israel’s legal rights to the West Bank. Not to mention The Israeli supreme court and the Levi commission.
    Julius Stone The Distinguished Professor of International Law at the Univ. of Ca . Author of 27 books on international law, one of the premier legal theorists his view is that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are legal under international law, and do not constitute a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49(6)). He stated:”Irony would…be pushed to the absurdity of claiming that Article 49(6), designed to prevent repetition of Nazi-type genocidal policies of rendering Nazi metropolitan territories judenrein, has now come to mean that…the West Bank…must be made judenrein and must be so maintained, if necessary by the use of force by the government of Israel against its own inhabitants. Common sense as well as correct historical and functional context excludes so tyrannical a reading of Article 49(6.)”[4]

    Professor, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel B.A. magna cum laude Harvard &Yale Law School, From1967-81 he was a professor of International Law in Johns Hopkins University. Schwebel served as the President of the the International Court of Justice from 1997–2000. Schwebel, made it very clear: Israel has “the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem ”

    “(a) a state [Israel] acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self-defense;
    “(b) as a condition of its withdrawal from such territory, that State may require the institution of security measures reasonably designed to ensure that that territory shall not again be used to mount a threat or use of force against it of such a nature as to justify exercise of self-defense;
    “(c) Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully [Jordan]; the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense [Israel] has, against that prior holder, better title.
    As between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively, in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem

    Eugene Rostow -Yale Law School with highest honors, editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. Rostow was Dean of Yale Law School until 1965. From 1966 to 1969 he served as Under Secretary for Political Affairs in Lyndon Johnson’s government, third-highest official in the State Department. He helped draft UN Resolution 242 relevant to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in 1990 Rostow had this to say regarding the Geneva Convention/Oslo Accords. The Convention prohibits many of the inhumane practices of the Nazis during and before the Second World War – the mass transfer of people into and out of occupied territories for purposes of extermination, slave labor or colonization. The Jewish settlers in the West Bank are most emphatically volunteers. They have not been “deported” or “transferred” to the area by the Government of Israel, and their movement involves none of the atrocious purposes or harmful effects on the existing population it is the goal of the Geneva Convention to prevent.

  13. Sharon reader on March 30th, 2015 5:28 pm

    Hillel should not open itself up to people who want to destroy the State of Israel anymore than an organization of Black Students should welcome the Klu Klux Klan. BDS is a recipe to demonize and kill off the State of Israel. Any Jews with self-respect will not welcome anti-Jewish bigots into the Hillel tent.

  14. Armen Dacity on March 30th, 2015 5:32 pm

    Zafar,

    You throw around the term “illegal” as if it has some meaning in this context. It doesn’t. The same bodies that have declared Israel’s actions “illegal” have also declared that Israel is the greater abuser of women’s rights in the Middle East. That’s so factually inaccurate its downright laughable. So, with all due respect, you can take your UN resolutions and other declarations and stick them in the orifice of your choosing.

    Israel not perfect, but compared to its neighbors, its a model or democracy, justice and civil rights.

  15. Alden Stelark on March 30th, 2015 6:11 pm

    lol.

    FUck palestians. they are just dirty arabs.

    The Kurds deserve a homeland 1,000,000x more than the ‘stines.

  16. School Parent on March 30th, 2015 6:15 pm

    Joshua Strassman failed to disclose that he is an organizer for SJP, an anti-Israel hate group that seeks to eliminate the only Jewish state on the planet. He has identified and collaborated with a group that is inherently anti-Jewish. Why would he want to join Hillel? Hillel does not need to cater to self-loathing Jews who want to win the approval of their leftist and Islamist friends by trying to strangle the Jewish State. Why didn’t the Collegian disclose that Strassman is with SJP? Hillel should not and will not welcome Israel haters. #Jewish self-respect matters!

  17. Genghis Khan on April 1st, 2015 7:36 am

    @School Parent: Infiltration is what the Left does.

    You see, they’re MISSIONARIES. They have a near-religious obligation to SAVE THE WORLD. Actual consequences, like Israel being destroyed, be damned – they MEAN WELL and that’s all that matters.

    Israeli Company’s Vaccine Blocks 90% of Cancer Types
    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/189429#.VRvSGZtFBev

    I openly call for all BDSers to give up any Israel-or-Jew-related medical treatments. Put your money where your mouths are. Oh, and the Palestinians? Stop crossing into Israel for medical treatment.

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