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Just how open should Hillel be?

It is sad, though not surprising, that some want to open Hillel just enough to let their own excluded group in. ‘Just let J Street U in,’ they say to the gatekeepers.

By Jeremiah Haber

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

Several years ago, when Richard Joel was the president of Hillel International, the goal of Hillel was formulated as “maximizing the number of Jews doing things Jewish with other Jews.” It was the notion of “doing things Jewish” that I liked, because that could be interpreted in many ways, religiously, socially, politically, recreationally, etc. Of course, playing basketball is not just a Jewish activity, and maybe it’s not a Jewish activity at all. (Tell that to Jewish day schools…) And indeed there are many places for Jewish students to do things on campus that are not Jewish, or not with other Jews. I teach Jewish Studies, and I don’t “do Jewish” in my classroom, and I may penalize students if they “do Jewish” on their assignments. “That’s for Hillel,” I tell them. I’m not in the Jewish identity business; HIllel is.

“Doing things Jewish with Jews” casts a wide net. It can include Zionist and anti-Zionist groups provided that they frame their respective activities within the discourse of “doing Jewish”. I know many Jews that are deeply offended as Jews by the way Zionism has been implemented in the State of Israel, and needless to say, there have been many historically anti-Zionist Jewish groups. They should be welcome at HIllel not merely as individuals, but as spokespeople for ideologies that criticize and offer alternatives to Zionism and to the State of Israel. By the same token, ultra-Zionist groups, like the Zionist Freedom Alliance, should also be welcome. I believe that there should be limits; it is hard to see how a group that preached racial or religious hatred should be welcome, even if legally some of the claims may be protected speech. On the other hand, views offensive to some students should be allowed,provided that there is a willingness to be part of a community, and a common agreement to disagree. You don’t have to go a presentation by the Zionist Freedom Alliance or Jewish Voice for Peace if you don’t want to. When Meir Kahane came to my college campus, many did not go to hear him; I did.

It is sad, though not surprising, that some want to open Hillel just enough to let their own excluded group in. “Just let J Street U in,” they say to the gatekeepers, “We are part of the family; it’s those Jews who partner with the Students for Justice in Palestine — the BDS crowd that should be excluded.” A recent post by a disappointed Open Hillel-er, herself from J Street U, decries the intolerance of those on the left who ridiculed her desire to invite Elie Wiesel to the Open Hillel, and who only invited right-wing groups for strategic purposes, i.e., to show how open they are. Open Hillel is presented as a ruse to provide legitimacy for views that she considers illegitimate. But this is confusing the ideology of some members of Open Hillel with what Open Hillel wants the ideology of Hillel to be. Open Hillel is overwhelmingly a left-wing enterprise, ranging from liberal Zionist to non-Zionist and anti-Zionist. I never heard that it pretends to be representative of all voices, certainly not the voices of Closed Hillel. Rather, it wants HIllel to give the excluded groups a place at the table with the included groups.

How does one explain that the same author who called on Hillel to open its doors to BDS and anti-Zionist groups a few weeks ago now wishes to exclude them? I suppose she doesn’t like the fact that some of these groups find more in common with Students for Justice in Palestine then with J Street U. SJP is not about dialogue with liberal Zionists; it is about joint struggle with anybody who will support Palestinian rights. In some places it will not “dialogue” with liberal Zionist groups like J Street U or partner with them to bring liberal Zionist critics of the government to campus.

Hillel has no obligation to host an event sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, even if its president is Jewish. That’s because SJP’s mission is not a Jewish one, though obviously many of its aims can coincide with the aims of Jewish students doing things Jewish. Dialogue between Jews is a value, but it’s not the only way to do things Jewish. Once the motive is a Jewish one — and human rights or moral protest can be framed as a Jewish value — then the organization acting on that motive has a place at Hillel.

Jeremiah (Jerry) Haber is the nom de plume of an Orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, who divides his time between Israel and the United States. This post was originally published on his blog, The Magnes Zionist.

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    1. Ben Zakkai

      I’m normally a pretty big fan of the Magnes Zionist, but this post has me scratching my head and failing to see the point of it. So let me get this straight: If you want to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, then Hillel’s not for you; but if you want to do the right thing because you think it’s the JEWISH thing to do, then Hillel should let you in. Okay, whatever. Why don’t we all just try to be decent human beings because it’s the decent thing to do, and if we also want to be Jews doing Jewish things with other Jews, then we can eat bagels lox & cream cheese or go to a movie on Christmas.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mikesailor

      I think the wroiter is being disingenous at best, and intellectually dishonest more likely. “…SJP’s mission is not a Jewish one…”, is glaring in its hypocrisy. For is justice a “Jewish” mission or not? If it is, then SJP should be welcomed because it directly affects the so-called “Jewish” mission. If justice is not a Jewish value, then shutting them out of any “sanctioned” (by the writer) Jewish discussion is almost mandated. I thinkk the writer should think a bit more before writing lest anyone else question his intellectual abilities.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      Maybe Open Hillel should stop using the Hillel name and operate under a name of their own choosing and a set of guiding rules. Then students can choose which organization they wish to belong.

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    4. Jeremiah Haber

      Mikesailor, I meant to say that SJP’s mission is not distinctively Jewish, and I don’t think that offends anybody in SJP to say that. I have no problem with Hillel hosting SJP, an organization that I support, but I won’t go on the barricades for that in the way I would for Jewish Voice for Peace, which sets itself within a Jewish tradition.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Brian

      It all goes to show that the American diaspora establishment is weirdly left on all social and political issues except the occupation in which case it is extreme right. Hypocrisy extraordinaire. From the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

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      • Sluggo

        Brian, you can call wanting a safe israel extremely right wing, but it is not.

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    6. I don’t see how it could be any different. The US and state of Israel are brothers in bloodshed. The US has no moral authority here. I don’t see anything about the US govt. that is different from the GoI.

      A friend sent me a notice to set my clock back “50 years”. The photos she attached were of 2 black men, one circa 1964, the other from 2014, both men being held by white policemen with a chokehold. The man from the present time, Eric Garner, was of course the unarmed New Yorker who died at the hands of white police officers as a result of the chokehold applied to him.

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      • Brian

        I don’t know about that. My comment was specific to the American diaspora, not the American Republic.

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        • It was the “land of the free” bit that got my attention – that’s all

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      • Sluggo

        Annie, what countries do you admire? Who should Israel and the US be more like?

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    7. P. Nile Schwartz

      Marnie, are you joking? ‘brothers in bloodshed’??

      Tell us how you can actually state such a slander when the US has troops all over the world, and has installed one islamist regime after another (an objective which the IDF never assists), and Israel only sporadically even protects Jews from the Islamists that the US/EU financially prop up!!!

      Reply to Comment
      • Since you’re asking, no I’m not joking. I wrote “The US and state of Israel are brothers in bloodshed”. I’m talking about the governments. They are the same, corrupt, motivated by greed, care nothing about the people they’ve been elected to serve and are not held accountable for their many crimes. You’re looking at this one way, I’m looking at it another way. We’re both right/wrong/who knows. As Paul said “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

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        • P. Nile Schwartz

          You’re looking at it from the view of your US government issued propaganda–which insists that the US government is joined at the hip with Israel–even as the US government a) doesn’t allow Israel to build houses for its own people, b) financially props and whitewashes fatah and hamas, both of which are desciples of the 3rd Reich and c) tells Israel that Israel cannot even defend Jews from our hamas pets unless fired upon first.

          In short, you’re bamboozled into supporting US warmongering and fascism, whose victims are Jews, Christians, and assorted anti-fascists around the world.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Ben Zakkai

      Welcome back, Baruch Gottesman. Now please, tell us all, are you fucking illiterate, or just lazy and stupid? Anyone can click over to the Magnes Zionist’s site and see his real name, but if you’d made that minimal effort, then I guess you couldn’t call him an anonymous coward. Jesus, if Woodward and Bernstein had relied on research assistants of your caliber, Nixon would still be President.

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    9. Richard Witty

      The point of the criticism of the Open Zion conferences, was that it was another PR name, not exactly open.

      While you feel admiration for JVP, I feel that it is similar, that it is not in fact an organization advocating peace, but more one-sided criticism.

      I find JVP to be confused, particularly in its advocacy and form of advocacy of BDS.

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      • Deborah Gordon

        If Hillel wants to operate on US campuses, if should be open to JVP, etc. If it wants to be off campus, that’s a different story. But universities that allow a lot of “management” of speech are ones that are universally not respected.

        In America, we have something that goes like this “you don’t have to be me, and I don’t have to be you.” If you don’t like a Hillel event, because it’s too “open,” you don’t have to go. Likewise, if you don’t like a Hillel event that has the IDF coming to visit, you don’t have to go either.

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    10. Mikesailor

      Jeremiah: Is it because one has “Jewish” in its name and the other refers to “Palestine”? Or is it because one (SJP)has finally taken the leap and recognizes that not only is Zionism not Judaism, but that Zionism has suborned Judaism by 1) creating an idol from that piece of land and 2) accentuating the xenophobia within a facet Judaism ie. the fear of “assimilation” and the desire to isolate Jews as a group (the Chosen syndrome)? On the other hand, JVP has not discarded Zionism but instead wants to make it somehow work. Although they attempt to gloss over, much as yourself, the cognitive dissonance brought about by elevating the goal of a “Jewish” state above all else: democracy, equality, humanity etc.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Victor Arajs

      I think that Hillels should only be allowed on American campuses if they sign a pledge to support resistance to the zionist entity. Kudos to Wellesley College for doing just that. When Hillel staffers complained about an SJP poster, Wellesley fired them, putting the zionists in their place. Every Hillel function should also be monitored by college police and any expression of zionism should be punished

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      • Sluggo

        Moderator: Please help. This person is using the name of a nazi collaborator who is responsible for killing 10,000s of Jews. Clearly, he is not here for anything productive. Please rectify.

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        • Dave

          Clearly you’re not being open

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        • Victor Arajs

          No one here has disputed the validity of my views. I have posted here for months and I am just saying what everyone else here wants to be heard. If you hasbarats dont like it, leave this website

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        • Ben Zakkai

          Sluggo, “Victor Arajs” is indeed a mendacious and offensive asshole, but I’d be a little more impressed by your efforts to banish him in the name of enforcing standards of constructive and civil discourse, if you hadn’t devoted so much time lately to irrelevant and nasty personal attacks on Marnie. Myself, I’m a freedom-of-speech type who tolerates a lot of noise for the sake of hearing a little music, but if you favor censorship in the name of decency, then you might start with a little self-restraint.

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          • Sluggo

            Thank you.
            The only reason I did not bring up the word civil is because it opens up a can of worms vis-a-vis the Shalita case. Where he and his supporters mock the idea of civility.
            But Victor is an jerk to everyone here, regardless of your political proclivities.

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          • victor arajs

            None of you have addressed the substance of my comments.All you have done is childishly slung names. Given the lack of response to my comments, I believe that the majority of commenters and bloggers are in total agreement with my views. I even suspect that Ben Zakkai agrees with me but is jealous of my courage

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          • Alan

            The fact that “Victor Arajs” selects an alias honoring a Nazi mass-murderer illustrates that extreme anti-Zionism and anti-semitism are two sides of the same coin. Only an anti-Semite would write: “Every Hillel function should also be monitored by college police and any expression of zionism should be punished.” The only difference between “Victor Arajs” and
            “Marnie” is that “Victor” owns up to his anti-Semitism through his alias.

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          • Sluggo

            Your comments are so off the pale that nobody knows weather they are the words of a severe mental patient or are here just to provoke a response, or perhaps some form of odd satire. Nobody, not even the most antiSemtic person here, would read these words and think they are for real. Thus, no repose. My guess is that your mothers private area stinks like a 10 week old grouper.

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    12. GilGamesh

      So now the truth comes out. Where are all those Open Hillel defenders who swore that they invited all points of view but no one to the right of center took them up on the offer. hmmmm.

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      • Sluggo

        This open Hillel nonsense is going to be over as soon as it started. They have been exposed as frauds and elitists. There is a great blog entry over at TOI written by a student founder who left the organization after discovering the rampant hypocrisy and unmasked agendas of these charlatans.

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