Wednesday, March 9, 2011
How To End the Brandeis Hillel Brouhaha
Phil Weiss published parts of the rejection letter that Jewish Voice for Peace received from the Brandeis Hillel student board. A careful reading of that letter shows something quite remarkable – the student board appears to be quite uncomfortable with its own decision. Instead of giving its own justification for the rejection, the letter refers several times to the International Hillel’s guidelines, as if to say, “What can we do? Our hands are tied.” The same almost legalistic language appears in BIPAC’s (Brandeis’s student AIPAC, a political student organization at Brandies’ Hillel) letter, which I have seen. One of Phil’s readers suggested that Brandeis Hillel should cut its ties with International Hilllel. 1) Whooa there, folks. Brandeis Hilllel has no legal ties to International Hilllel. In fact, all Hillels are administered locally and are autonomous organizations. Of course, they can apply to International Hillel for some grants, and professional training. But Hillels hire and fire locally, and they set policy – locally. 2) And here is something else interesting. It took quite a long time for the Brandeis Hillel student board to come to its decision. The meeting ended on Monday night, and the JVP students were only informed of the decision Tuesday afternoon. Why did it take so long for Brandeis Hillel to come to its decision? The letter was carefully worded. What phone calls were conducted between International Hillel and Brandeis Hillel? Was Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, who made such a good imporession at the J Street Conference, involved? 3) International Hilllel’s recently published guidelines on Hillel’s involvement with Israel are just that – guidelines. They are not binding on any local Hillel. A Hillel director recently told me, “This is my Hillel; nobody tells me what to do.” By promulgating such guidelines, International Hillel thought it would provide cover for local Hillels. Instead, it has placed Hillel student boards in the uncomfortable and untenable position of rejecting their classmates. They may hide under International Hillel’s apron springs. But at the same time they hurt their fellow students. Was this necessary? When Richard Joel, now President of Yeshiva University, was head of International Hillel, the divestent movement started up on campus. Joel did not have to deal with JVP. But he had the diplomatic skills to avoid the gaffes and adverse publicity that the current International Hillel administration lacks. Folks, it’s time for both sides to seek a reasonable compromise. The guidelines should be recognized as guidelines that are not binding, and JVP should be admitted at Brandeis Hillel, perhaps initially on a trial basis. In return,JVP student groups should be prepared to abide by the only guideline that makes sense -- the civility guideline. That should be the price of admission.