Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hillel’s Betrayal of Its Own Principles: Targeting Jewish Students at Swarthmore

In 1992, Bnai Brith International Corporation registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office the name “Hillel” to designate “association services; namely, promoting the interests of members of the Jewish religion through religious, career and vocational counseling programs, sporting events and social programs, and by providing information on issues concerning human rights and inter-faith relations.”

Twenty-three years later, the Swarthmore College Hillel, which has declared itself an Open Hillel because it won’t accept Hillel International’s political guidelines on Israel,  is sponsoring a program with Jewish civil rights veterans who criticize Israel’s human rights record called “From Mississippi to Jerusalem: In Conversations with Jewish Civil Rights Veterans.”  In response, International Hillel’s legal counsel has cautioned Swarthmore that it will take action to protect its trademark if the program is under the Hillel name. As a result, the Swarthmore Hillel is being forced to change its name. Read about it here.

International Hillel has misrepresented Open Hillel as a group that promotes an anti-Israel and BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) agenda. In fact, Open Hillel only wishes to give a forum to speakers who do not pass the International Hillel Israel loyalty test. As an organization it doesn’t itself promote BDS, much less an anti-Israel agenda.  Just go to their website and see for yourself.

The evolution of  Hillel  from an organization that, inter alia, provides information on human rights to Jewish students,  to an organization that suppresses such information when it comes to Israel,  has been well-told by John Judis in the New Republic.

Hillel’s stance toward Israel began to change in 2002 in response to donor generosity and the onset of the Second Intifada. That year, using a donation from the Schusterman Foundation, a significant funder of AIPAC and of the campus watchdog David Project, Hillel started the Israel on Campus Coalition. Its motto was “Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel.” In 2010, the director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, Wayne Firestone, a suburban D.C. lawyer, became the head of Hillel, and instituted explicit political guidelines for Hillel chapters to follow in sponsoring speakers and partnering with organizations, which included co-sponsoring events and allowing events to be held in Hillel buildings.

Former presidents of Hillel International like Richard Joel and Avraham Infeld were no less pro-Israel than Mr. Firestone and current president Eric Fingerhut,  but a lot more sensitive to different constituencies within the Jewish community.  Mr. Firestone and Mr. Fingerhut tend to identify being Jewish with being pro-Israel (Mr. Fingerhut is described in his official Hillel bio as “an active member of Ohio’s Jewish and pro-Israel community,” as if the two are coextensive). For some pro-Israel Jews,  to wish to boycott or place sanctions on Israel in order to stop Israel’s human rights abuses is tantamount to anti-Semitism and has no place at Hillel.

Recently, Mr. Fingerhut cancelled his appearance at the J Street conference because a Palestinian speaker was on the program.  The message to students: listening to representative Palestinian spokespeople is against the spirit of Hillel. (For the response of Benjy Cannon, the President of J Street U National Board, see here.  Full disclosure: Benjy was my student, and I am the faculty advisor for J Street U at UMD.)

And what are Jewish students to make of this? Even if you are deeply opposed to the BDS movement, does it make any sense in the world to throw Jewish critics of the policies of Israel – not of this or that Israeli government, but of the state  – out of Hillel, or to demand that they keep their mouths shut in order to enter Hillel?  Who is International Hillel  to decide who is a Jew and what is a legitimate Jewish opinion? If Maryland Hillel, one of the best Hillels in the country, invites the Director of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, a former Hillel board member and donor, to speak – will it be sued by International Hillel for trademark infringement? Ribono shel olam, have we come to this?

In a letter to Swarthmore Open Hillel’s Joshua Wolfsun, Eric Fingerhut wrote, “Rabbi Hillel is perhaps more famous for his saying in Pirkei Avot, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” What Mr. Fingerhut perhaps does not know is that  Hillel’s saying immediately continues “And when I am for myself, what am I?” Am I an egoist only looking out for my own tribe? Or am I a mentsh, who looks out for the welfare of all human beings created in the image of God. After all, when asked to summarize the entire Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel said,

What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

That is Hillel’s most famous statement, the Golden Rule, the  foundational statement for the very human rights discussion that Swarthmore Open Hillel wants to have. And  International Hillel sees this human rights discussion  as  contrary to Hillel’s mission! It is the very essence of Hillel’s mission.

15 comments:

Geoff Kl said...

could you at least be honest with your readers and say who the palestinian is? its erekat, who has done things like promulgate the myth of the jenin massacre.

CD-Host said...

Jerry you are being disingenuous here. Open Hillel does not just want to provide a forum for anti-Zionism it is fundamentally an anti-Zionist group for Jews who are disgusted with Israel. It encourages a rejection of Israel. Hillel does not discourage listening to Palestinian representatives it opposes going along with them. American loyalists can freely read Al Qaeda materials but the USA government doesn't want them being provided in a form and to people who are likely to not just be aware of their content but agree with their message and carry out the acts specified. Demanding loyalty is not the same as demanding ignorance.

Who is International Hillel to decide who is a Jew and what is a legitimate Jewish opinion? I

A religious organization, effectively in the USA a Jewish church for college students. As such an organization that has the right to require theological positions of its members. Every Nation is a Christian equivalent of Hillel, a college ministry for Charismatic kids. There very first statement of faith is biblical infallibility. Deny that and they don't want you in the organization. Hillel is doing the same thing.

Even if you are deeply opposed to the BDS movement, does it make any sense in the world to throw Jewish critics of the policies of Israel – not of this or that Israeli government, but of the state – out of Hillel, or to demand that they keep their mouths shut in order to enter Hillel?

Yes, if you want to make Zionism a fundamental of the Jewish faith, or assert that it has been one. If you want to reject anti-Zionism then you want to consider Jews who are anti-Zionists to be apostates, poshea Yisrael, kofer.

Jerry Haber said...

CD-Host, you have a right to think that Open Hillel is fundamentally anti-Zionist, just as you have a right to think that the ADL is fundamentally neo-Nazi. Die Gedanken sind frei! But this is how Open Hillel describes itself on its website:

The Open Hillel campaign does not advocate for BDS, or for any other political position on Israel-Palestine. The campaign simply advocates for inclusion of all Jewish groups within Hillel regardless of their political views, and for the freedom for Hillel-affiliated groups to co-sponsor events with whomever they choose. The goal is not to support any one political position but to encourage an atmosphere in which a plurality of political views can be openly expressed, discussed, and debated.

So if you can construe "not to support any one political position" as "fundamentally anti-Zionist", I have a bridge to sell you. Unless you understand "fundamentally anti-Zionist" as "fundamentally pluralist."

I couldn't follow your next statement; you seem to think Hillel is a religious organization, which is false. Or perhaps the sign at Hillel should read, "Atheists not welcome here."

I agree with your last statement. If you identify Judaism with Zionism, you will think that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and that anti-Zionists are heretics. So from Hillel's standpoint it makes sense to exclude anti-Zionists, just as from the standpoint of a Ku Klux Klanner it makes sense to exclude Blacks. When I said "makes sense" I really should have said, "Is it smart policy". And the answer from many Hillel directors I have spoken with basically is "We care more about the donors than about the students". I guess that also makes sense. Ein lehem, ein Torah.

CD-Host said...

@Jerry

Lots of groups have public self descriptions or statements shaded different than they are. It is common for lobbying groups to declare they study an issue rather than advocate on one side of it. I think the evidence from the membership and activities makes the actual position of Open Hillel clear. Yes they do support a particular viewpoint. Now of course they also want to not be excluded from the mainstream. Excommunicated sects usually want the broader religion to show them tolerance and include them on equal footing. But the reason the membership choose the sect in the first place is because of their views. If you saw Open Hillel members that were from the right: pro-extermination, pro-cleansing, pro-colonialism... then I'd agree that they were a forum for debate and not an advocacy group but you don't.

you seem to think Hillel is a religious organization, which is false.

Hillel is a social club for Jews. That makes it a religious organization. If it were a social club for ice skaters it would be a sports organization.

Or perhaps the sign at Hillel should read, "Atheists not welcome here."

They do, though atheism isn't the problem. Christian converts are not welcome at Hillel either. Atheism isn't disqualifying from Judaism, Judaism is a religion of practice not belief.

___

As for the students vs. donors. I suspect that the Jewish students who are likely to be leaders in Jewish organizations a generation hence are Zionists. The strongly anti-Zionist students mainly only care about the I/P issue they are political not religious. I don't see a difference. Same reason that churches frequently have to exclude left political activists from college youth groups.

Jerry Haber said...

CD-Host, I think you should distinguish between a group's principles and a group's membership. There aren't that many conservatives in the American Civil Liberties Union. But the ACLU went to bat for Nazis in Skoki -- because they are big believers in freedom of speech and expression. Ditto for Open Hillel. Open Hillel wants a Hillel that will include JVP and the Zionist Freedom Alliance, or ZOA. The fact that ZOA members don't join them doesn't say anything about their lack of adherence to their principles. Now if they barred uber-Zionists from joining them, that would be something else.

Hillel is a Jewish organization not a religious organization. For many Jews Judaism is a religon; for many others, it is not.

But let me accept your views for a minute. You say that Judaism is a religion of practice not belief, and Hillel is a religious organization. So Jews for Jesus should be welcome at Hillel, as long as they don't practice their religion. And of course, anti-Zionists should be able to express their beliefs fully at Hillel.

Thanks for making the case so eloquently for Open Hillel!


CD-Host said...

@Jerry

(part 1)

There aren't that many conservatives in the American Civil Liberties Union. But the ACLU went to bat for Nazis in Skoki -- because they are big believers in freedom of speech and expression.

OK first off I agree your analogy is a good one. And I would also consider the ACLU to be a Democratic / Liberal organization (though well to the right of Open Hillel). The ACLU focus its attention on the 1st, 5th, 6th, Amendment concerns. They have been recently focusing on Freedom of Information. They are mostly indifferent and sometimes opposed to the 2nd, 9th, 10th amendment concerns that conservatives are more fond of. We've been having serious debates about religious liberty as it pertains to the Civil Rights Acts, and how the expansive view of Title VII of the 1964 restricts relgiious practice. The ACLU is siding against conservatives.

I'm not sure what the Nazis in Skokie was supposed to prove. America's conservative parties today aren't pro-Nazi today and AFAIK never really were. The only period where defense of Nazis would have even been part of American mainstream politics (but not conservative) would have been to defend people before the Dies Committee (what HUAC was called when it was going after actual Nazi sympathizers in positions of power within the USA). The ACLU was pro-Dies until the Hitler Stalin pact and then after the pact split on the committee and did far less institutionally. By 1977 defending the Nazis is just defending a harmless but detested fringe group against a local government trying to keep peace. That sort of support for the fringe is fully consistent with Liberalism. But conversely in the 1930s when Americans were trying to decide whether to side with Germany in the war or not the ACLU was mostly in favor of Southern paranoia against European political movements and not in favor of a free and open debate with all positions considered equally and everyone having equal access to the public forum.

So using your analogy and your example I think see exactly the opposite of what you were trying to prove. The ACLU is a liberal group. It advances liberal causes. It has a liberal membership. It is characterized as part of the left for a reason and those reasons are fair and accurate.

CD-Host said...

(part 2)

Open Hillel wants a Hillel that will include JVP and the Zionist Freedom Alliance, or ZOA.

Of course they want that now. Right now ZOA is in and JVP is out. Getting JVP in is advancing their goal. The question is whether Open Hillels themselves would want ZOA members. If I'm wrong point me to Open Hillel events that are pro-expulsion, pro-extermination or pro-oppression. If they were genuinely looking to represent all points of view given how common those views are among American Jews that should be easy. The fact they aren't there means something.

Open Hillel may very well have ZOA speakers at sometime in the future. But they would be represented as outsiders explaining their view for purposes of understanding not as a viable political position that the listener is expected to consider as being potentially one they should adopt. Again the distinction between how the ACLU viewed Nazism in American culture prior to the time of Hitler Stalin Pact, and Nazism in the 1970s is perfectly analogous.

This is the key point
Open Hillel: anti-Zionism -- presented as viable
Hillel: militant Zionism -- presented as viable
Open Hillel: militant-Zionism -- presented hostile
Hillel: anti-Zionism -- presented hostile

Open Hillel is not about the right to present anti-Zionist views but instead is a political lobby made up of people holding such views to be accepted into mainstream Judaism. Those views do have foreign supporters but few supporters within the Jewish community current. To continue with the analogy we've been using (and I'm not trying to say that anti-Zionism is Nazism) Judaism is America in the 1930s, JVP are American pro-Nazis and Hillel is like Martin Dies trying to drive Nazism out of acceptable political discourse. Open Hillel would then be analogous to something like the German American Bund.

Now if they barred uber-Zionists from joining them, that would be something else.

Joining them in what? They bar uber-Zionists from having any meaningful voice. One could imagine an alternative world where there is a forum for anti-Zionist / militant-Zionist dialogue among college age Jews.

So Jews for Jesus should be welcome at Hillel, as long as they don't practice their religion.

What does that even mean?

CD-Host said...

(part 3)

And of course, anti-Zionists should be able to express their beliefs fully at Hillel.

They mostly are. What they aren't able to do is act on those beliefs. To use Christian language they aren't able to proselytize others into their heretical views or openly engage in practices that disgrace the church. Someone who merely said they were anti-Zionist but pro-Jewish while mostly engaging with Hillel in activities to support Judaism, avoiding activities having to do with Israel, I suspect would be welcomed. The same way most synagogues would tolerate someone who claimed to believe in polygamy but didn't make it the focus of their Jewish faith. But that is far short of the synagogue performing a bigamist marriage. It is likely that the pro-polygamy synagogue would welcome people not in polygamous relationships. They might even claim to welcome people of all views on polygamy though in practice virtually everyone who is a member would be either pro-polygamy in theory or in practice. In practice everyone knows what view the bigamist synagogue exist to push and pretending this is merely about free speech is disingenuous.

Jerry Haber said...

CD-Host, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that once Open Hillel actually has control of Hillels, it won't be so "open". OK, so here's your homework. Find out where there are currently "Open Hillels" (There are a few). Then give me evidence that rightwing groups have attempted to have events that have not been permitted, and then let's see why they have not been permitted.

On your view, Jews for Jesus can hold lectures at Hillel explaining who they are as long as they do not proselytize (assuming they view that as a religious activity and not simply as exercising first amendment rights) and conduct prayer services in Hillel's facility. You may also, for extra credit, show me Hillels that adopt your tolerant position. I, for one, would be tip my kippah in salute.

Finally, not sure how old you are, but the Nazi march in Skokie was a very big deal at the time. I was not implying that there are Nazis who are conservatives. On the contrary, my point was that an organization's principles are often different from those of some of their members. There may be racists, homophobes, climate change deniers, and birthers in the Republican party. But that doesn't make the Republican party committed to any of that. When I want to know what the Republican party as a party is committed to, or any group, I read its platform or mission statement, etc.

CD-Host said...

@Jerry

(part 1)
When I want to know what the Republican party as a party is committed to, or any group, I read its platform or mission statement, etc.

This is actually the core of our disagreement. I look at what they do not what they claim to believe. Let’s use the Nazi example you raised. With only a few exceptions the Nazi government officially fully embraced the Weimer constitution. So for example would that make it reasonable to say that Nazism wanted a democratic republic? The constitution was quite clear that all Germans were to be qual before the law. It guaranteed the right to appeal before an independent judiciary during confinement. It guaranteed privacy of correspondence. There was a guarantee of a free press. All of those things were in the constitution. Is it reasonable to assert those were the policies of the Nazi government institutionally?

I think its a total abuse of language to say group X believes Y when group X acts in a manner totally contrary to Y. It might be accurate to say that group X officially supports Y, while unofficially supporting Z but going much beyond that I consider to be dishonest.

Moving on to a less extreme example

There may be racists, homophobes, climate change deniers, and birthers in the Republican party. But that doesn't make the Republican party committed to any of that.

The Republican party has institutionally backed anti-gay legislation. The last presidential candidate made it a center piece of his campaign and in the run-up to 2012 they made defending the military’s ban on open service a key campaign issue. That does make them committed to the anti-gay agenda.

Similarly on climate change they have fought climate change regulation and have institutionally supported denialism.

CD-Host said...

(part 2)
if I understand you correctly, you are saying that once Open Hillel actually has control of Hillels, it won't be so "open".

I'm saying they aren't open now. I don't have a clue what they would be like if they were the institutional norm. That would be a world with an entirely different mainstream Judaism and thus entirely different issues. I’m hard pressed to think of any plausible situations in which such a thing would come to pass.

2015 is a point in time when mainstream American Jews are still open to considering JVP Jews with whom they have deep political theological disagreements rather than non-Jews. What I think Hillel and other Jewish leadership groups are doing is doing is trying to move from the one state to the other and Open Hillel is objecting. The Jewish mainstream is either successful or not in making Zionism defacto part of the Jewish creed as far as Jewish laity is concerned. Open Hillel as a protest movement can only exist during this intermediate period of debate. After that they will either become a sect of Judaism or break from Judaism almost entirely.

I could imagine, though I think it is very unlikely, that as they progress they become an institutionalized sect rather than a fringe cult or denomination. In that possible future, JVP/Open Hillel wins the debate and anti-Zionism becomes an acceptable position in mainstream American Judaism without Judaism forking into two denominations that don’t cooperate much at all. Under that situation since many colleges can't support 2 liberal Jewish social clubs if Open Hillel were to become successful enough to be meaningfully challenging Hillel the two groups would merge and become part of the peace effort between the groups.

On your view, Jews for Jesus can hold lectures at Hillel explaining who they are as long as they do not proselytize (assuming they view that as a religious activity and not simply as exercising first amendment rights) and conduct prayer services in Hillel's facility. You may also, for extra credit, show me Hillels that adopt your tolerant position

Hold on you are conflating 3 very different things.

1) An individual Jew for Jesus who attends Hillel cultural events and doesn’t proselytize nor raise religious issues.
2) A discussion about Jews for Jesus from a mainstream Jewish perspective, that is an outsider perspective towards Jews for Jesus.
3) Allowing Jews for Jesus to freely present their position that Jesus is the Jewish messiah, from an insider perspective.

Hillel allows (1) and (2). They don’t allow (3). The situation is similar for anti-Zionists.

1) An anti-Zionist can be a member of Hillel as long as they stay away from Israeli topics mostly.
2) Hillel can discuss anti-Zionism from an insider perspective.
3) What Hillel will not do however is allow anti-Zionism to be discussed as a legitimate Jewish view, offered as an insider perspective.

CD-Host said...

(part 3)

This is not a question of free speech it is a question of Judaism drawing boundaries. Is anti-Zionism
i) an acceptable minority viewpoint
ii) a fringe discouraged viewpoint
iii) a heresy so serious as to be disqualifying.

Right now it is pretty clearly for most American Jews a (ii) or (iii). Open Hillel wants it to be a (i) and Hillel International wants it to be officially a (iii).

To pick an analogy. Gordon Hinckley or Thomas Monson were able to say that there are no polygamous Mormons because the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints excommunicates all known polygamists or promoters of polygamy. Certainly they know there are sects who descended from Brigham Young that practice polygamy but those sects are officially disowned. Hillel similarly wants to be able to say there are no non-orthodox anti-Zionists.

That’s what the debate is about. American Judaism is trying to enforce church discipline. That’s drew my attention to this debate since I follow church discipline.

Then give me evidence that rightwing groups have attempted to have events that have not been permitted, and then let's see why they have not been permitted.

Well first off I’d disagree with that criteria. What need to rightwing groups have for Open Hillel? The test would be after a Hillel on a college campus went Open. That being said though such evidence does mostly exist: http://www.thetower.org/article/open-hillel-is-a-much-bigger-problem-than-you-think

Jerry Haber said...

CD Host, You claim that Open Hillels aren't open now. There are some Hillels that call themselves Open Hillel -- show me how that those Hillels -- you have to find out which they are -- have prevented rightwing groups from holding events, etc. It should not be hard to find hard evidence on the web.

Obviously one judges a group by the poliices its leaders make, and the Nazis articulated those policies in triplicate -- I assure you, they left a written trail. I don't judge the Nazi parties by the views of their members but by the policies, including their written ideology, Every one of your Nazi examples was irrelevant, because every move they made was backed up powers that they accorded themselves. I am sure there were many decent Germans who joined the Nazi party, for various reasons, but that doesn't make Nazism decent.I was making a distinction between the views of some of the members and the policy of a group.

So now I am asking you to show where Open Hillel's policy has not been open, where its leaders have said that it would not be open. You respond, well, it's too early to say, isn't it. I say that is simply tendentious prejudice based on ignorance. Make your point, man; do your best -- but present hard evidence. That's what this blog is about.

CD-Host said...

did part 3 get dropped?

delete this if there isn't a problem I'll repost if there is

CD-Host said...

@Jerry

OK good now we should pay attention to their policies as implemented and not just their formal statements.

Of course what you are asking for is impossible. Open Hillel lacks the power to prevent rightwing groups from holding events. That's like asking me to prove that ISIS wants to establish a worldwide caliphate by showing examples of them invading non-muslim countries.

What we can see though is the types of events that Open Hillel does hold and the type of culture that they breed within their organization. If they were aiming to be inclusive then given that they come from the left we would expect their outreach to be directed to the right so as to aggressively avoid partisanship. We would expect their events to be balanced or possibly even lean right. So you would see programs with something like 2 rightwing Zionists a leftwing Zionist and a JVPer on a panel.

Now let's look at the speakers from their conference all of whom are (with the possible exception of Freedom Summer Veterans) are well known and credible:

Judith Butler -- early BDS leader.
David Harris-Gershon -- BDS since 2012
Steven M. Cohen -- left Zionist leader in Scholars for Israel and Palestine
Shaul Magid -- leader or 3rd narrative
Freedom Summer Veterans (Jewish activists who participated in the American civil rights movement): Dorothy Zellner, Ira Grupper, Larry Rubin Sarah Turbow, Director of J Street U -- endorse BDS
Rebecca Vilkomerson -- early BDS supporter, head JVP
Mark LeVine -- early BDS supporter
Peter Beinart -- left end of J-Street
Rashid Khalidi -- BDS leader from Palestinian side. Possible extermination advocate.
Sa'ed Atshan -- BDS intellectual
David Rosenn -- EVP for NIF, liberal Zionist
Marjorie Dove Kent -- on balance BDS supporter but harder to classify in terms of 2015 Jewish community. I'm going to score her in the BDS camp but understand if you disagree.

So by my count:

BDS: 12
liberal Zionist: 4
Mainstream Zionist or further right: 0

The Liberal Zionists are mostly on the left fringe and aren't even reflective of liberal Zionism. I think that's pretty indicative of where Open Hillel stands and a fair count.