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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Open Hillel’

Vassar and the BDS War on Campus

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

The anti-Zionist – and sometimes also anti-Semitic – website Mondoweiss recently published a lengthy report by the site’s founder Philip Weiss about a meeting that took place at Vassar in early March.

According to Weiss, the meeting had been scheduled by the school’s Committee on Inclusion and Excellence in order to discuss guidelines for activism after persistent protests by Vassar’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) against a trip to Israel planned by Vassar’s International Studies program.

VASSAR BDS WAR

Weiss began his report by quoting Jill Schneiderman, the professor who had apparently initiated the trip and who had mentioned the meeting in a post on her blog, where she wrote that she “was knocked off-center by a belligerent academic community dedicated to vilifying anyone who dares set foot in Israel.”

Weiss confirmed that the meeting “was truly unsettling,” that “torrents of anger ripped through the gathering” and that “rage against Israel was the theme.” He contrasted this atmosphere favorably with the broad popular support for Israel in the US, asserting that it was very different at Vassar, where “the spirit of that young progressive space was that Israel is a blot on civilization, and boycott is right and necessary. If a student had gotten up and said, I love Israel, he or she would have been mocked and scorned into silence.”

But according to Weiss, Israel’s supporters should expect not just more of the same, but worse to come, because in his view, the “battles we’ve seen so far on campus are just preliminaries.” He predicted that “things are going to get much more belligerent” and asserted that “belligerence may be necessary to the resolution.”

At the end of his detailed report, Weiss offered something like a declaration of war:

“If the SJP students can be obnoxious, their manner is just what feminist Margaret Fuller saw in abolitionists during slavery: tedious, rabid, narrow, prone to exaggeration. And dedicated to a principle worth living and dying for.

Expect many more rage-filled meetings in years to come as the left is broken over this question. How long before students occupy administration buildings of liberal arts colleges that work with Israel? How long before students chain themselves to bulldozers at the Cornell-Technion project in New York city?”

According to Weiss, this militant conduct is also endorsed by BDS leader Omar Barghouti:

“That is what Omar Barghouti is saying to people in the middle now, Get out of the way. The intellectual labors are done, the activists are moving. The public square will increasingly belong to the warriors of both sides. And Vassar shows us clearly which side will win.”

This “war” rhetoric is also reflected in a new book by Ali Abunimah, another leading anti-Israel activist, who is currently touring the US to promote “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” which contains a chapter on “The War on Campus,” and his book tour includes numerous events on campuses.

To understand the growing militancy of anti-Israel activists it is useful to consider for a moment what it means when Weiss declares that the “intellectual labors are done.”

In order to justify the targeting of Israel with campaigns calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), anti-Israel activists have to exaggerate and magnify every failing of the Jewish state in ways that demonize Israel as an evil entity comparable to apartheid South Africa or even Nazi Germany. This demonization is also necessary in view of the fact that all leading BDS advocates insist that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state.

The inevitable result of this indoctrination by activists – and all too often also by professors who support the BDS agenda – is a radicalization of students. As professor Alan Johnson recently noted after an encounter with a group of BDS bullies at an Irish university:

‘Safe Hillel’ Wants the Jewish Campus Group to be Safe for All

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

There’s been some attention paid lately to a largely unsuccessful effort to portray the Hillel on campus model as a “closed” environment, one that paints Hillel as an inflexible enforcer of unreasonable allegiance to the Jewish State. This effort calls itself “Open Hillel.”

The reason the Open Hillel effort has garnered some notoriety recently is that two Jewish campus groups affiliated with Hillel International voted to reject the Hillel International guidelines, declaring themselves Open Hillels.

Those guidelines include a lot of positive, supportive language for all kinds of ways of expressing one’s Jewishness.They also state that Hillels

will 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.

In other words, Hillel students are permitted to say and do whatever they want, they just can’t provide a Hillel platform to Israel haters.

Hillel International responded to the groups who declared themselves Open Hillels like the good uncle it is, lauding the students for expressing their views and for being passionate.

The bottom line message, however, is that if a Hillel-affiliated campus group violates the Israel guidelines by, for example, offering a platform within Hillel to a proponent of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sactions Movement, that group will lose its affiliation to Hillel, along with the right to use the Hillel name, and to avail itself of Hillel resources.

The second step has not yet happened, even on the two campuses, Swarthmore College and Vassar College, which declared themselves Open Hillels.

But along now comes a student-founded and run group calling itself “Safe Hillel,” which takes a different approach to the situation.

SAFE HILLEL

The founder of Safe Hillel, Raphael Fils, is a Boston University sophomore from California. Fils told The Jewish Press that he and several of his friends joined together to take a stand in support of Hillel as a “safe place” for pro-Israel students, after seeing that those who were agitating to take Hillel in the opposite direction began to receive media attention.

“Hillel should not have to change its mission in order to accommodate those who don’t agree with it,” Fils said. “Hillel is the one place students are supposed to feel entirely comfortable in their support of Israel. If that makes some people uncomfortable, there are plenty of other places to go just to hear attacks on Israel,” he continued.

The mission of Safe Hillel is for Hillel to be a safe place where Israel supporters are able to express that view openly, and where Jews of every Jewish denomination are able to practice their Judaism freely.

“Why do students feel the need to ruin Hillel?” Fils said many of his friends were asking.

“Those are the people who are trying to make a lot of noise, but the majority of Hillel students don’t feel it is right to appease the opponents of Israel who want to transform the Jewish campus organization into a battle zone.

“Open Hillel is not really ‘open,’ it’s only being used to accommodate people on the left, those who are harshly critical of Israel’s every move. It is the people on the so-called ‘right’ who are being marginalized,” Fils continued. He also said that he despises those terms anyway, and considers himself someone in the center.

Hillel Explains When ‘Open Hillel’ Will Result in Disaffiliation

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Over the last few months, Jewish student groups on two American campuses affiliated with the Hillel International Foundation publicly rejected Hillel’s guidelines for partnership.

The first to stick out its tongue at the mother ship was Swat Hillel, the Hillel group at Swarthmore College, in suburban Philadelphia.  On December 8, the group approved a resolution declaring itself to be an “Open Hillel.”

According to the resolution, the Swarthmore College group rejected Hillel International’s guidelines “which privilege only one perspective on Zionism, and make others unwelcome.”

This week a second Jewish campus organization, the Vassar Jewish Union at Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, New York, declared it also would not abide by Hillel’s Israel guidelines.

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, issued a firm and swift public response to each of those public declarations.

First, what are those guidelines the two groups cannot abide?

Hillel welcomes, partners with, and aids the efforts of organizations, groups, and speakers from diverse perspectives in support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Hillel will 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.

In other words, you can think whatever you want, even about Israel, you just can’t use Hillel to provide a platform for haters of Israel.

College students tend to rebel against any kind of guidelines, even the most benign ones, and that’s pretty much what the Jewish students at Swarthmore and Vassar did.

FINGERHUT RESPONDS

Eric Fingerhut, the tall, amiable-looking relatively new head of Hillel International, immediately responded to the public pouts with cordial, yet firm, responses.

Within two days of Swarthmore’s vote to reject Hillel’s guidelines, Fingerhut wrote: “Let me be very clear – ‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.”

The Swarthmore resolution included this: “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.”

Vassar rejected the Hillel guidelines on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Fingerhut again responded cordially but firmly in a statement released on Thursday, Feb. 20.

Hillel’s vision is to help Jewish students build an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Israel is a critical part of the Jewish people’s shared history and identity, and we will always encourage students to engage with Israel in a meaningful way.  Hillel 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. This includes groups or individuals that support and advance the BDS movement, which represents a vicious attack on the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Our expectation is that all Hillel affiliates will continue to uphold these standards for partners and co-sponsors. We look forward to helping every Hillel meet the goals of Jewish student exploration, education and identity.

While Fingerhut’s statement is a firm declaration of its commitment to its own guidelines, it makes no mention of what will happen should an affiliated campus group refuse to abide by those guidelines.

WHEN CONSEQUENCES WILL BE TRIGGERED

The Jewish Press pressed that point, and extracted some level of clarity about what Hillel International intends to do, and when it intends to do it, to campus groups which flout the guidelines.

Pro-Israel: ‘Intellectual Peaceniks’ v. ‘Rejectionist Idiots’?

Friday, January 17th, 2014

The Open Hillel (OH) movement, which rejects National Hillel’s Israel guidelines, and J Street, which seeks to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel, are trying to assert control over Jewish discussions about Israel.

These two organizations insist on campuses and in the media that their position represents the objective truth – and the only morally acceptable position – on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  As a result, those who differ with them are labeled morally deficient and inferior.

Capitalizing on western society’s natural aversion to war and violence, these groups have succeeded in marketing themselves to the masses. They quickly label opposing groups and individuals as “warmongering” and “rejectionist.” Traditional Zionist thought is labeled with that hateful term, “conservative,” while those who hold it are portrayed as the opponents of peace. The marketing has been very successful.

According to its website, J Street is “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” It also claims as its mission being “pro-human rights, pro-justice and pro-Palestinian,” and to seek having an “open and honest discussion about Israel.” OH’s mission statement proclaims itself as “a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels.” Given these groups’ stated devotion to diversity and openness, one would assume that everything would be up for debate, including what it means to support peace in the Middle East.

But rather than allow for different conceptions of what it means to be “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestinian” or “pro-human rights,” members of these two groups claim an inviolable monopoly over these terms. They refuse to allow debate on what it means to advocate for solutions in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The same people fighting for inclusion in the Hillel “pro-Israel tent,” are simultaneously delegitimizing and peremptorily rejecting those with alternative perspectives.

In an article by the President of J Street U’s National Student Board, “Hillel And Its Donors Repress Real Conversation About Israel” Jacob Plitman writes,“as some conservative donors demand a tighter conversation and enforce their political values, we risk losing that generation of young progressive Jews who won’t settle for tired hasbara and an Israel right-or-wrong approach.” J Street U Communications Co-Chair Benjy Cannon followed suit in Haaretz, where he opined that “Hillel’s tactic is no better than that of the ASA: It serves to exclude the very voices it should engage.”

The hypocrisy in their cry for “openness” is breath-taking, given J Street’s relentless insistence that only its beliefs are kosher.

J Street’s bullying is on display in an article by Plitman and Rachel Cohen in The Daily Beast. They write: “pro-Israel advocates cannot support the two-state solution in name only; we must all work to provide support for the Kerry initiative as a whole and for each of the difficult concessions necessary to reach an agreement. True backing means mobilizing support for peace talks based on pre-1967 borders with agreed-upon land swaps and robust security guarantees.”

Talking about conflict resolution in such absolute terms endangers the very democracy they demand. They believe and assert that “true backing” can only be achieved by endorsing J Street’s policy positions. According to Plitman and Cohen, if you do not back peace talks based on pre-1967 borders, you are not a true supporter of Israel. Rather than present their opinions as just that, opinions, they present their perspective as infallible, absolute truth.

Hussein Ibish is a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine and a frequent J Street U guest speaker. Eugene Kontorovich, a constitutional and international law scholar, is avowedly both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian.

In a recent article in Commentary, Kontorovich explained the fallacy of labeling Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Arabs as undemocratic. In response, Ibish tweeted that “even by the standards of the Comintern (‪@Commentary) pro-occupation cult, this is certifiably insane & barking mad.” In place of an intellectual response to Kontorovich’s article, Ibish dismissed and labeled Kontorovich, and everyone at Commentary, as insane and “cultish.”

On January 8th, Ibish tweeted:“Anyone, Arab, Jewish or otherwise, opposed to a two-state solution is a fanatic and part of the problem. This is clear.” Ibish – a J Street U favored speaker is unabashed: if you do not see the resolution of the conflict on his terms you are a fanatic and an obstacle to peace. Such narrow-mindedness sets up a single rigid dichotomy: “intellectual peaceniks” on one side and “bloodthirsty idiots” on the other.

On January 7th, Alan Elsner, Vice President of Communications for J Street, penned an article attacking Israeli Knesset member Naftali Bennett. Elsner characterized Bennett as only offering, “many spurious arguments, among them that the demographic clock is working in Israel’s favor and that whenever there are peace negotiations terrorism increases.“

“This is the nature of the opposition to peace. We can’t say we haven’t been warned,” Elsner concluded. Rather than attempting to explain why he thinks Bennett’s statements are wrong, Elsner jumps to an intellectually dishonest conclusion that fits perfectly into J Street’s marketing message: Bennett opposes J Street’s position, ergo, Bennett is an opponent of peace.

For Elsner, for J Street, for Open Hillel, to oppose the imposition of its favored peace plan on Israel by the United States (which is not a party), makes even a democratically elected member of the Israeli government an opponent of peace.

As it stands now, It is impossible to have a productive discussion about who is really pro-Israel with J Street and its ilk because when others disagree they are labeled as insane and barking mad (Ibish), opponents of peace (Elsner), or conservative and exclusive (Plitman).

With their monopoly on morality, the last thing that these groups can claim is to encourage dialogue and discussion. Their policies are not a subset of the “open conversation” but rather the precursor. Rather than having a solution as a result of discussion, the “agreed upon conclusion” is established before anyone begins talking. J Street U Brandeis’ mission statement epitomizes the greater demand that specific policy trumps actual, open conversation: “Our mission is twofold: (1) Primarily, we are working to achieve a two-state solution through creating an informed and invested student body that will influence Congress to push for American diplomatic leadership on this issue. (2) Simultaneously, we are working to engage the American Jewish community in an honest and open conversation about Israel.”

Hillel CEO: You Can’t Use Our Name if You Reject Zionism

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

In a swift, decisive move, Eric Fingerhut, the new president and chief executive officer of Hillel International informed the head of Swarthmore College’s (former) Hillel just who is in the driver’s seat when it comes to making policy decisions. The Swarthmore chapter’s unanimous vote on Sunday, Dec. 8, to reject Hillel guidelines regarding Israel, means it cannot use the name Hillel.

“Let me be very clear – ‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances,” Fingerhut wrote, in response to Swarthmore Hillel’s resolution to reject the national Hillel guidelines. The Swarthmore resolution included this: “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.”

The Swarthmore student board’s unanimous decision to reject the national guidelines and instead become part of a movement known as “Open Hillel” is the first such vote at any campus.

The Open Hillel movement rejects any restrictions on speakers or partnerships with groups, including those which, under Hillel’s Israel guidelines, would be barred because they engage in “demonization, delegitimization or applying double standards to Israel,” or support the economic and legal warfare movement known as the Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel.

But those in the Open Hillel movement still want to benefit from having the name recognition, the established campus presence and the money available to chapters of the Hillel Foundation. In fact, while the Swarthmore group boasted that all of its funding comes from a Swarthmore endowment, giving it financial independence from the Hillel Foundation, its website suggests that the independence is overstated.

Fingerhut made clear that he rejected any claim that his move restricts freedom of speech or freedom of association.

Hillel recognizes, of course, that “organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice” violate these guidelines may well be welcomed on campus, according to the policies of the particular college or university. The Hillel on campus, however, may not partner with or host such groups or speakers. This is entirely within our discretion as an organization, and we have clearly stated our intention to make these important decisions to protect our values and our critically important mission. Just as the university decides who will teach classes, and what organizations it will allow on campus, so Hillel will decide who will lead discussions in programs it sponsors and with whom it will partner.

Fingerhut also summarily disposed of the claim of Hillel-ier than thou that the Open Hillel movement likes to espouse. The Swarthmore group and others in the Open Hillel movement wave around its alleged mirroring of Rabbi Hillel, the namesake of the campus movement, who was a great teacher and leader who engaged in discussion with those with whom he disagreed.

“However,” said Fingerhut, “Rabbi Hillel is perhaps more famous for his saying in Pirkei Avot, ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?’”

In closing, Fingerhut wrote of Hillel International being the true son of Rabbi Hillel:

We here at Hillel International hold firm to his legacy. We encourage debate and dissent, but we draw the line at hosting groups who would deny the right of the State of Israel to exist. We will stand with Israel, the democratic, open, pluralistic home of the Jewish people.

On that fundamental principle, we are unwavering.

The entire statement can be found at Fingerhut’s homepage.

The local Federation paper, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, reveals that there are more details to be worked out.  It quotes what it refers to as the “Hillel of Greater Philadelphia’s staff person at Swarthmore, Rabbi Kelilah Miller,” who, presumably receives support, training, communications or other benefits from being affiliated with Hillel.  But Miller said she plans to “challenge the students to live up to the commitments they expressed in the resolution they adopted.”  In other words, she’s committed to ensuring the students continue to thumb their nose at Hillel’s guidelines.  Let’s hope she’s also committed to keeping her and their hands out of Hillel International’s pockets.

Students Angered by Hillel’s Pro-Israel Standards

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Hillel, which self-defines as the “center of Jewish life on campus,” and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are calling attention to their frequent collaboration in an op-ed penned by national Hillel’s new president and chief executive officer, Eric Fingerhut, and Jonathan Kessler, AIPAC’s leadership development director, in this week’s issue of the New York Jewish Week .

The two acknowledge the Jewish community’s concern about this country’s campus environment “that is too often hostile to Israel. Public demonstrations, inflammatory language and personal attacks by anti-Israel organizations seek to exploit the spirit of open debate and public action central to American academic life.”

The article gives examples of the efficacy of their collaboration to “strategically and proactively empower, train and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists on and beyond the campus.”

In theory, it is a good idea, and there is anecdotal evidence of success.

OPEN HILLEL

However, some students were alarmed by what seemed to be a formalizing of the relationship between Hillel and AIPAC.  These are students and adult mentors who are trying to create a movement known as “Open Hillel.”

This movement started earlier this year at Harvard – although it has not yet been successful there. However, it is cropping up on other campuses. In fact, this Sunday, Dec. 8, the Swarthmore College Hillel student board unanimously voted to declare itself an Open Hillel.

The activists behind Open Hillel are opponents of Hillel’s national guidelines. Those guidelines, crafted several years ago, discuss the many ways in which Hillel is an inclusive institution, but places outside its boundaries those entities that seek to “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel,” or which advocate the economic and political warfare known as the Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) movement.

What’s wrong with that standard?  Well, there are college students who are put out by such rules.  They say:

These guidelines 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 because of their political views. Although individual campus Hillels are not obligated to follow the guidelines, they have been used to pressure Hillels into shutting down open discourse on Israel.

Mind you, these students still want to benefit from the goodies they get from Hillel donors, such as the meeting space, the opportunity (i.e. funds) to bring in (anti-Israel) speakers, communication networks and lots of other goods and services for which the Hillel donors pay.  Those guidelines certainly could not stop any independent student groups from engaging in whatever anti-Israel activities they desire.  But the advocates for an Open Hillel want their tent and the right to blow it up, also.

Perhaps there will be a movement by Hillel donors demanding that the money provided to the Hillel foundation not be used for activities that are contrary to the organization’s stated guidelines.  Maybe an open door will be shown to those who want an Open Hillel.

However, in response to this newly formalized collaboration between Hillel and AIPAC, the Open Hillel advocates are lovingly supportive of the high priority Hillel places on inclusiveness. This time it is the “hawkish AIPAC” they resent.

Why?

Because, according to this group, AIPAC’s definition of “pro-Israel” cannot be the benchmark for what is and is not acceptable within the Jewish community on campus. The example of an unacceptable AIPAC position provided in the Open Hillel Response to Fingerhut and Kessler’s celebration of collaboration is “the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.” Why is that unacceptable? “Because the Palestinian Arabs also claim Jerusalem as their capital.”

Again, this is not a question of whether any group can bring anti-Israel speakers or activities to campus, the only question is whether Hillel donors should be required to pay for it.

A quote comes to mind from Cong. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) when talking about the “open-mindedness” of J Street with respect to Israel positions. He said “an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”

There is another direction from which the Hillel/AIPAC relationship may receive criticism. But these students don’t demand that Hillel changes, these students seek out other organizations on campus with which to work.

For these pro-Israel students on campus, the Hillel method of dealing with anti-Israel activity, rather than being empowering, actually seems to empower the anti-Israel activists.

That is because the “behind-the-scenes” diplomacy and interfaith gestures Hillels generally favor seem, some believe, to result in pro-Israel students simply remaining silent and ignoring lies and distortions and the painting of Israel as an evil occupier. A preferred method for responding to, for example, BDS conferences is to host inclusive Shabbat dinners. Those are nice, but do nothing to counter the lies which, when repeated often enough, attain the status of truth to the students who hear them, or who read reports of those events.

For these less passive pro-Israel students, there are the more action-oriented groups such as the CAMERA Campus Activist Project, or StandWithUs or the Chabads on campus.

The students who work with these groups may still utilize Hillel resources for other activities, but turn to other sources of guidance, and resources, in order to pursue their version of Israel advocacy.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/some-students-angered-by-hillels-pro-israel-strds-and-partners/2013/12/09/

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