See: Students Angered by Hillel’s Pro-Israel Standards published earlier this week.
Among other things, the Swarthmore Hillel Board, 2013-2014, has stated:
“On November 11, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset Avraham Burg was supposed to give a talk on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Harvard Hillel house. Instead, Hillel barred him from speaking at the Hillel house, and he ended up giving his talk in an undergraduate dormitory on campus. The reason he was barred? His talk was co-sponsored by the Harvard College Palestinian Solidarity Committee.”
Hillel International’s Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities prohibit campus chapters from partnering with groups or hosting speakers who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply double standards to Israel; support boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel; or foster an atmosphere of incivility. The policy encourages individual campus Hillels to adopt their own policies that are “consistent” with these guidelines.
And so, the student board of Swarthmore College’s Hillel repudiated the International Hillel guidelines prohibiting partnerships with groups deemed hostile toward Israel. Big time.
For the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would imagine that boycotting a speaker from reaching young people would do the boycotting entity any good. It’s a recipe for boosting the injured party’s popularity. But even more important – it allows them to reach their next audience without fear of being challenged by an opposing, informative voice.
Instead of barring anybody from speaking, Hillel should have insisted that they may only appear alongside a reliable spokesperson for the Israeli side.
The Swarthmore Hillel board further wrote:
“Sadly, for organizations bearing the name “Hillel,” situations like these are all too common. Across the country, many Hillels have banned Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli soldiers that facilitates talks about the Israeli military and West Bank occupation. Jewish Voice for Peace, which seeks ‘peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East,’ has never been allowed to affiliate with Hillels. On some campuses, J Street has had a difficult time working with Hillels, and events co-sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine or Palestine Solidarity Committees have often been banned.”
That’s infuriating – that Hillel would squander these opportunities to teach students about the falsehoods being disseminated by the enemies of Israel, and simply refuse to deal with them is just unacceptable.
The guidelines, stated the board, “would exclude speakers with views like those of Peter Beinart, Judith Butler, and Noam Chomsky.”
Why would Hillel wish to avoid confrontation with these fanatical enemies of Israel? Any well trained Israeli spokesperson, whether from the IDF Spokesperson’s Office or from the Israeli foreign office would easily poke holes in their trite arguments, with eloquence and deep knowledge. Why not challenge them, rather than block their access? Are Hillel officials uncertain about their own Zionist convictions?
The Swarthmore Hillel’s student board voted unanimously on Sunday to reject the Hillel guidelines for campus Israel activities. The Pennsylvania liberal arts college’s Hillel became the first chapter of the Jewish campus organization to declare itself an “Open Hillel,” part of a student movement that says its goal is to “encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels.”
Here’s the full resolution, titled: “Swarthmore Hillel is an Open Hillel”
Unanimously adopted by Swarthmore Hillel Student Board, December 8, 2013
Whereas Hillel International prohibits partnering with, hosting, or housing anyone who (a) denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders, (b) delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel, (c) supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;
And whereas this policy has resulted in the barring of speakers from organizations such as Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Knesset from speaking at Hillels without censorship, and has resulted in Jewish Voice for Peace not being welcome under the Hillel umbrella;
And whereas this policy runs counter to the values espoused by our namesake, Rabbi Hillel, who was famed for encouraging debate in contrast with Rabbi Shammai;
And whereas Hillel, while purporting to support all Jewish Campus Life, presents a monolithic face pertaining to Zionism that does not accurately reflect the diverse opinions of young American Jews;
And whereas Hillel’s statement that Israel is a core element of Jewish life and a gateway to Jewish identification for students does not allow space for others who perceive it as irrelevant to their Judaism;
And whereas Hillel International’s Israel guidelines privilege only one perspective on Zionism, and make others unwelcome;
And whereas the goals of fostering a diverse community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be met when Hillel International’s guidelines are in place;
Therefore be it resolved that Swarthmore Hillel declares itself to be an Open Hillel; an organization that supports Jewish life in all its forms; an organization that is a religious and cultural group whose purpose is not to advocate for one single political view, but rather to open up space that encourages dialogue within the diverse and pluralistic Jewish student body and the larger community at Swarthmore; an organization that will host and partner with any speaker at the discretion of the board, regardless of Hillel International’s Israel guidelines; and an organization that will always strive to be in keeping with the values of open debate and discourse espoused by Rabbi Hillel.
I have no idea what they mean by the values of discourse and debate espoused by rabbi Hillel, honestly, I have no idea where they dug up that one, other than from their smoke-infused imaginations. I mean, Hillel the Elder wasn’t AGAINST open debate, but neither was anyone else in the Talmud. So Hillel is yet another casualty of Reform Jewish education (nebech).
The question is, how will Hillel International prevent more of its healthy cells going cancer (oh, I’m going to get quoted on this one).
I say, open the gates to anyone, from Hitler to Stalin, with the proviso that there must be a fair and balanced debate with any reputable defender of Zionism.
All we need now are Palestinian Hillels.
JTA contributed to this report.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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