Hillel warns Swarthmore chapter over rejection of Israel guidelines
[See below Eric Fingerhut's letter to me and my reply, the day after this was posted]
Rabbi Hillel, (110 BCE, died 10 CE) rejected the Zionist concept of ‘retaliation’ and expulsion (he prefigured Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount by saying you ‘What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellowman; this is the whole Law. The rest is but commentary.’ .
Like all Jewish institutions today it has had the normal Zionist intolerance foisted upon it. You cannot be an anti-Zionist Jew and become a member of Hillel.
What is significant is that for the first time ever, a local Hillel has rebelled against these police state rules and declared that Hillel is open to all.
It is yet another sign of the way the wind is blowing.
Instead of taking heed of the trends, Hillel’s International President Hillel International President and CEO Eric Fingerhut has written a typically Zionist McCarthyite letter as to who is acceptable within the tent. to Joshua Wolfsun, Communications Coordinator of the Swarthmore Hillel Student Board.
It breathes intolerance in the Zionist tradition and the refusal to accept that many Jews are no longer Zionists. It is also an example of dishonesty and how Zionism transforms the positive Jewish heritage into one of chauvinism and racism.
Fingerhut wrote that ‘Rabbi Hillel is perhaps more famous for his saying in Pirkei Avot,
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”
But like most Zionists he was being dishonest. He 'forgot' the whole quote, the second part of which completely changes the meaning:
‘If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?
It is no accident that the Zionists use the first part of the quote and discard the second, humanistic part which qualifies the first part! The relevant parts
Excerpts from Fingerhut's Letter
… I hope you will inform your colleagues on the Student Board of Swarthmore Hillel that Hillel International expects all campus organizations that use the Hillel name to adhere to these guidelines. No organization that uses the Hillel name may choose to do otherwise.
Your resolution further includes the statement: “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.” This is simply not the case. 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….
In one of your resolution’s clauses, you invoke “the values espoused by our namesake, Rabbi Hillel, who was famed for encouraging debate in contrast with Rabbi Shammai.” Rabbi Hillel was famed for his openness to others, and his leniency in legal interpretation to advance tikkun olam – “repairing the world.” This spirit is strong in today’s American Jewry, and it is strong in the work of Hillel on every campus. However, Rabbi Hillel is perhaps more famous for his saying in Pirkei Avot, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”
NEW YORK (JTA) — Hillel International warned its Swarthmore College chapter that it cannot use the Hillel name if it flouts the international Jewish campus group’s Israel guidelines.
Hillel delivered the warning Tuesday in a sharply worded letter following the Swarthmore chapter student board’s decision to repudiate Hillel guidelines prohibiting partnerships with groups deemed hostile toward Israel.
In his letter, Hillel’s president and CEO, Eric Fingerhut, warned Swarthmore Hillel’s student communications coordinator, Joshua Wolfsun, that the chapter’s rejection of the guidelines “is not acceptable.”
“I hope you will inform your colleagues on the Student Board of Swarthmore Hillel that Hillel International expects all campus organizations that use the Hillel name to adhere to these guidelines,” Fingerhut wrote. “No organization that uses the Hillel name may choose to do otherwise.”
The Hillel student board at the Pennsylvania liberal arts college voted unanimously on Sunday to reject the Hillel guidelines for campus Israel activities. Swarthmore 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.”
Hillel International’s Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities reject partnerships 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.
The Swarthmore Hillel student board’s resolution said the guidelines “privilege only one perspective on Zionism, and make others unwelcome.” The resolution said that Swarthmore Hillel “will host and partner with any speaker at the discretion of the board, regardless of Hillel International’s Israel guidelines.”
Swarthmore Hillel had said in a statement: “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.”
Fingerhut, in his letter, rejected the formulation.
“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,” he wrote.
Wolfsun had previously told the Forward that Swarthmore Hillel did not need to worry about financial repercussions.
“We are funded by our own endowment and have no board of overseers,” he said.
I would like to add that last month, the Hillel Chapter, Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland, hosted the Israeli-Palestinian youth music movement, HEARTBEAT. The band played fusion rock, hip-hop, traditional Jewish and Arabic music and sent a strong message against segregation and discrimination, and sang for unity and an end to walls. There was a large crowd from the campus. They then had a discussion (but I couldn't stay for the entire afternoon). The founder of the group is an American Jewish former music student who is now doing his graduate studies in Rockville, Maryland. The organization is growing and including more musicians of Palestinian and Israeli background. If you want more information about the group, you can let me know.
Two weeks ago, an Israeli speaker was barred from Harvard Hillel because he was sponsored by a Palestinian solidarity committee. Over the weekend the Swarthmore College Hillel responded with a stunning and unanimous declaration: We defy Hillel International’s rules.
Here are two statements. First, a press release announcing the refusal to accept the international body’s guidelines on speakers and putting out a welcome mat for anti-Zionists, post-Zionists, non-Zionists, everyone. (And not just Jews.) And below that, the resolution itself.
(The Jewish Press has reported this news, angrily. Swarthmore Hillel’s Josh Wolfsun says there’s been no response to the resolution yet.)
Notice particularly the invocation of “our namesake,” Rabbi Hillel, who believed in open debate. Notice the defiant statements about “the true face of young American Jews” against the “monolithic face” that Hillel wants the Jewish community to have. Shattering.
Also hark to the way these young people are now instructing their elders about the mission:
we need to constantly wrestle with how best to meet the collective needs of a diverse community. We need to create a space that is safe and welcoming for all.
For all. In a diverse community. Swarthmore is redefining the modern Jewish community.
1. Swarthmore Hillel declares itself an Open Hillel By Swarthmore Hillel Board, 2013-2014
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.
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.
Across the country, Hillels’ suppression of the freedom to speak and believe things that are not narrowly pro-Zionist are the direct result of Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines. Right after stating in their “Political Pluralism” section that they object to excluding “students for their beliefs and expressions,” they declare that they “will not partner with, house, or host” – in other words, they will exclude – groups and speakers that espouse certain beliefs about Israel. These contraband beliefs include denying the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state and supporting boycotting, divesting, or sanctions against Israel. They also ban those who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel.” No further explanation is provided to clarify these guidelines, but their ambiguity has done nothing to ease the stifling effect they have on individual Hillels’ freedoms of speech, belief, and association. These guidelines would exclude speakers with views like those of Peter Beinart, Judith Butler, and Noam Chomsky.
Hillel, billing itself as the “Foundation for Jewish Campus Life,” is seen by many as the face of the American Jewish college population. And due to these policies, it is a face that is often seen to be monolithically Zionist, increasingly uncooperative, and completely uninterested in real pluralistic, open dialogue and discussion.
We do not believe this is the true face of young American Jews.
In fact, we do not believe there is only one face of young American Jews. We believe there are many faces of this diverse population. In our community, we find this diversity in the conversations we have with each other in our Sukkah, in the group of students meeting in a college coffee bar to discuss Talmudic conceptions of angels, and in the songs we sing together after a Shabbat meal. If we are truly devoted to fostering Jewish Campus Life, we need to constantly wrestle with how best to meet the collective needs of a diverse community. We need to create a space that is safe and welcoming for all. We need to a create a space that invites difference – difference of opinion, difference of belief, difference of background, difference of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
This is hard work. But if we are going to bear the name of Rabbi Hillel, we cannot expect anything less to be asked of us. Rabbi Hillel valued Jewish debate and difference – it was at the core of his practice. We do the same. For us, that is what the name Hillel symbolizes.
Therefore, we choose to depart from the Israel guidelines of Hillel International. We believe these guidelines, and the actions that have stemmed from them, are antithetical to the Jewish values that the name “Hillel” should invoke. We seek to reclaim this name. We seek to turn Hillel – at Swarthmore, in the Greater Philadelphia region, nationally, and internationally – into a place that has a reputation for constructive discourse and free speech. We refuse to surrender the name of this Rabbi who encouraged dialogue to those who seek to limit it.
To that end, Swarthmore Hillel hereby declares itself to be an Open Hillel. 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. We are an institution that seeks to foster spirited debate, constructive dialogue, and a safe space for all, in keeping with the Jewish tradition. We are an Open Hillel.
We invite you to join us.
2. The resolution. “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;
|Hillel as the Zionists would like to portray it|
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;
|Swarthmore Chapter rejects Hillel International's restrictions|
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
In a move that sent shockwaves through the American Jewish community, the Hillel chapter at Philadelphia’s Swarthmore College declared in an open letter last week that it would not comply with its parent organization’s policy of censoring speech critical of Israeli policy.
Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish campus organization, acts as an umbrella group for more than 550 chapters around the world — but mainly within the United States.
Hillel’s Israel Guidelines forbid chapters from hosting individuals or organizations that oppose Israel’s status as a “Jewish and democratic state” (i.e., its right to discriminate against non-Jews).
The guidelines further ban those who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double-standard to Israel” (a catch-all for virtually all other forms of criticism). They also rule out any speaker who supports boycotts, divestment or sanctions (i.e. the use of nonviolent pressure to encourage Israel to comply with international law).
Citing the fact that Hillel’s own namesake was a rabbi known for his steadfast pluralism, Swarthmore Hillel’s student board stated in its open letter published in The Beacon that:
Hillel, billing itself as the “Foundation for Jewish Campus Life,” is seen by many as the face of the American Jewish college population. And due to these policies, it is a face that is often seen to be monolithically Zionist, increasingly uncooperative, and completely uninterested in real pluralistic, open dialogue and discussion. We do not believe this is the true face of young American Jews…Therefore, we choose to depart from the Israel guidelines of Hillel International. We believe these guidelines, and the actions that have stemmed from them, are antithetical to the Jewish values that the name “Hillel” should invoke. We seek to reclaim this name.
Hillel International responds
Swarthmore Hillel was rebuked almost immediately in a sharply-worded letter from Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut.
Fingerhut insisted that “no campus organization that uses the Hillel name” may decline to comply with the umbrella group’s censorship policy. The letter goes on to state that “ ‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.”
Hillel International told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Fingerhut would meet with representatives of Swarthmore Hillel in January, but declined to say if any punitive measures would be taken.
Although Hillel’s campus chapters are autonomous entities, Swarthmore Hillel is particularly well-positioned to challenge the policies of the umbrella group. It receives little funding from Hillel International, and unlike most chapters, it doesn’t have a non-student board of directors.
The Swarthmore move is a major leap forward for the broader Open Hillel, which was launched at Harvard last year. Open Hillel has started a petition in support of Swarthmore Hillel’s declaration that has already gained more than 1,000 signatures.
Mixing culture and religion with political advocacyWhen Fingerhut was hired earlier this year, he said in an interview with JNS.org that the Hillel board’s commitment to its Israel Guidelines was “an important thing” that persuaded him to take the job.
In a recent op-ed authored with Jonathan Kessler, Fingerhut boasted of the way Hillel works alongside lobbying group AIPAC to “develop better and more effective strategies for minimizing the impact of anti-Israel activities on campus.” Kessler is the longtime leader of AIPAC’s campus programs.
Its partnership with AIPAC is only one feature of Hillel’s role in coordinating anti-Palestinian advocacy on college campuses. Seventy Hillel chapters across the United States host “Israel Fellows” employed by the Jewish Agency for Israel, working to increase Jewish students’ “engagement” with Israel, in large part through anti-Palestinian advocacy. Hillel chapters also work closely with “Campus Coordinators” from the David Project, a Boston-based nonprofit which trains students to weave personal networks that can be activated to advance anti-Palestinian initiatives or respond to criticism of Israel on their campuses.
Implications for anti-Palestinian advocacy
In recent years, mainstream US anti-Palestinian groups, led by the Israel Action Network (IAN), have sought to reduce the extent to which they are with identified with overt efforts at censorship, such as attempts to block Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti from speaking at Brooklyn College. This is part of a broader strategy aimed at crafting a “Big Tent” that can leverage voices seen as being on the left to “drive a wedge” between Palestinian rights advocates and potential progressive supporters.
With the Swarthmore declaration, and a growing perception that Hillel and associated institutions are out of touch with their communities and enforce a false consenus through the use of bullying, that strategy faces a serious crisis.
Andy Bachman, a rabbi known for working with IAN to aggressively pressure Brooklyn’s Park Slope Food Co-op to continue stocking Israeli products, including settlement-made SodaStream beverage devices, was quick to leap to Swarthmore Hillel’s defense in the pages of the Forward.
While known astroturfer Bachman’s op-ed may be part of a deliberate communications strategy developed by key institutional stakeholders, it’s far too early to predict how this will play out.
Should other Hillels find inspiration in Swarthmore’s bold decision, or should the ideals behind the Open Hillel movement spread to other Jewish communal institutions, the anti-Palestinian leadership of groups like Hillel International may face a crisis larger than they thought.
20 Dec (4 days ago)