University News

Zionism divides Hillel members

Relationships to Brown chapter affected by standards of international Hillel organization

senior staff writer
Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hillel International mandates that member Hillels do not partner with groups that “delegitimize” or “demonize” Israel.

This article is part of the series Divided Discourse

This is the second of a two-part series that explores how students and faculty members engage with the Israel-Palestine conflict in their work and social lives on campus.

Last semester, a petition asking Janet Mock to disaffiliate her talk from Brown/RISD Hillel characterized Hillel as a pro-Israel space.

Brown/RISD Hillel Director Marshall Einhorn said he believes the term ‘pro-Israel’ is too reductive to fully encapsulate the nuance with which Brown/RISD Hillel engages with Israel on College Hill. Brown/RISD Hillel’s website describes it as the “center for Jewish life on campus,” and in that capacity, “Hillel has a connection to Israel as the Jewish homeland, as a place of deep meaning to the Jewish people,” he said.

Brown/RISD Hillel is not a center set up through the University but rather a chapter of Hillel International. Hillel International states that its member Hillels “will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice” deny Israel’s right to exist, “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel” or support boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel, according to Hillel International’s website.

Several student groups fall under Brown/RISD Hillel’s umbrella and receive funding and support from it, which means those groups are also affected by any regulations to which Brown/RISD Hillel is subject.

“Hillel unequivocally supports the continued existence of the state of Israel: For us, however, this support can include critique as well,” reads Brown/RISD Hillel’s website.

Not every student involved in Brown/RISD Hillel engages with Israel, and many of those who do so approach Israel through a critical lens, Einhorn said.

“Hillel is not just a space or a building. It’s a community,” he said. “So much of the work we do happens in coffee shops, as well as on campus,” he said, adding that students have considerable freedom in deciding what they want Brown/RISD Hillel to stand for.

But there is no clear consensus among the student groups housed within the organization — or the Brown/RISD Hillel Board of Directors — as to what the organization should espouse.

Officially, J Street U Brown, one group under the Brown/RISD Hillel umbrella, supports a two-state solution and considers itself anti-occupation, pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace, said current J Street U Brown co-chair Andrew Marmor ’18. The group considers a multiplicity of narratives from the many parties involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict, he added.

As a result of its Brown/RISD Hillel affiliation, JSUB’s events are co-sponsored by Brown/RISD Hillel. This sponsorship takes the form of assistance with funding and marketing, Marmor said.

This Brown/RISD Hillel affiliation also means that Brown/RISD Hillel approves JSUB programming, which has led to tension in the past when the group has come up against Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership, said Harpo Jaeger ’14.5, co-founder of JSUB.

The Standards of Partnership guidelines are interpreted by the Brown/RISD Hillel Board of Directors, Jaeger said.

Joe Hollander ’81, president of the Brown/RISD Hillel’s Board of Directors, did not to respond to multiple requests for comment.

When Jaeger was working to bring a representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to Brown, he was asked to structure the event such that equal time would be given to a pro-Israel speaker, he said. Jaeger referred to the idea as “ridiculous,” adding that a representative of the PLO had as much of a right to speak on his own terms as an Israeli ambassador does.

After a few “false starts,” JSUB eventually succeeded in bringing Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the Palestinian government to the United States and to campus to deliver a talk at Metcalf Auditorium with the co-sponsorship of Brown/RISD Hillel.

In May, Sophie Kasakove ’17.5 co-organized a screening of three short films produced by the Israeli nonprofit Zochrot, which seeks to “educate Jewish Israelis about the Palestinian understanding of the Nakba,” she said. The Nakba is the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinians upon the founding of Israel in 1948. Originally, the event was to be held in Brown/RISD Hillel and was to be co-sponsored by a broad coalition of Brown Jewish groups housed in the space.

Two days before the screening, one of the co-sponsoring groups, Brown Students for Israel, withdrew its support for the event, according to a statement released by the event’s organizers. In the absence of unanimous student group support, Brown/RISD Hillel withdrew its endorsement of the event, too, the statement said.

Hillel International later released a statement deeming the event “inconsistent with Hillel’s mission and values,” the Forward reported.

Einhorn characterized the sequence of events surrounding the Nakba screening as “disappointing” because “students had worked over the course of the semester to plan the event,” and their collective vision very nearly came to fruition.

About 70 students gathered to watch the films at Brown/RISD Hillel despite the lack of sponsorship from Brown/RISD Hillel, according to a statement released by the event’s organizers.

BSI’s decision to withdraw support for the event centered on the role of Hillel on campus.

Kasakove said the event was about introducing diverse narratives to Hillel. “Conversations around the Palestinian right of return, (the) bi-national state and other narratives, which tend to be associated with … BDS” are generally not addressed adequately in Brown/RISD Hillel programing, she said.

“It’s important to us that Jews have this conversation — but not only just have this conversation over coffee, but in the space designated for Jews on campus in the space where Jews are investing their money and energy,” she added.

But President of Brown Students for Israel Ben Gladstone ’18 said BSI withdrew its support for the event based on the event’s location in Brown/RISD Hillel. “We were and are interested in having critical conversations about Israel,” he said. But “the integrity of (Brown/RISD) Hillel as a physical space is very important to us,” Gladstone said, explaining that in his view Brown/RISD Hillel should serve as a safe space for Zionists on campus in addition to its role as the center for Jewish life.

Jewish students who oppose Israel’s right to exist “are also free to express their anti-Zionism in history classes, university programs, existing student groups and public spaces on campus in ways that Zionist students — even those of us who are frequently critical of the policies of the current Israeli government — often are not,” Gladstone wrote in an op-ed he co-authored with Jared Samilow ’19 in the Forward.

Gladstone said that a safe space for Zionism “allows for students to speak against dominant narratives and actually, in the long term, serves to encourage free speech.”

Gladstone added that he believes Brown/RISD Hillel should be the safe space for Zionists on campus because Hillels exist “to protect and be a space for Jewish students to gather in a safe space.” He believes that “today, the targeting of Jews is geared towards Zionism and sometimes goes beyond Zionist students.” In the incident of the Janet Mock petition, Jewish students involved in a Hillel-affiliated organization were immediately considered to be furthering Zionism irrespective of their personal beliefs on Israel, Gladstone said.

Kasakove’s understanding of her Jewishness is inextricably linked to her questioning of Zionism, she said. “Being critical of Israel, questioning not only the policies but also the ideology behind it is really critical to my Jewish identity,” Kasakove said. “If that’s a part of what Judaism is to me, then I want to be able to do that in a Jewish space, and I should be included in the Jewish space because I am Jewish. I connect much more deeply and much more strongly to that than to ritual.”

Kasakove added that people have questioned her Jewish identity based on her views on Zionism in the past. “I think there are many Jews on this campus who are not Zionists and that Hillel needs to make space for everyone — anti-Zionists, non-Zionists, Zionists — without discriminating that anyone is more validly Jewish than the other,” she added.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Harpo Jaeger’s class year. He is a part of the class of 2014.5, not the class of 2015. The Herald regrets the error. 

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  1. So now Hillel has to let in “anti-Zionist” Jews who seek the destruction of the only Jewish state in the world? LMFAO

  2. ‘Open Hillel’ Legitimizes Anti-Semitism
    By Zach Stern
    Published Oct. 14, 2014

    Some Jews fought with the Greeks and Romans against their fellow Jews. Some sympathized with the crusades and the pogroms. Some Jews even supported the Nazis leading up to World War II.

    The story is no different today. There is still a very small – but vocal – minority of Jews who sympathize with those who want to kill us. There is still a fringe sect of Jewish society that finds it necessary to love those who seek to kill us and blame us for our enemies’ baseless hatred.

    These views include comparing the Jewish state to the Nazis, calling for the isolation of the only Jewish state and holding it to an impossible standard, and calling for the annihilation of Jewish self-determination.

    Enter ‘Open Hillel’, a fringe group of Jewish students and young professionals who seek to legitimize the world’s worst anti-Semites and invite anti-Semitism into the Jewish community. From welcoming supporters of genocidal terrorist organizations (BDS advocates and other ‘Open Hillel’ conference speakers – see below) to partnering with those who seek to wipe Israel off the map (for example, Students for Justice in Palestine), ‘Open Hillel’ is the newest version of Jewish legitimization of anti-Semitism.

    ‘Open Hillel’ seeks to change the Hillel guidelines regarding Israel programming on campuses to include those who seek the boycott and demonization of Israel and the destruction of the Jewish people and Jewish state. Hillel, according to its guidelines, is already open to all views on Israel, unless those views include a) the boycott of Israel, b) the demonization of Israel, or c) the destruction of Israel. So, by default, all ‘Open Hillel’ advocates for is the inclusion of Israel-hating views in mainstream Jewish society.

    These views include comparing the Jewish state to the Nazis, calling for the isolation of the only Jewish state and holding it to an impossible standard, and calling for the annihilation of Jewish self-determination. The US State Department considers these views anti-Semitic, and most Jews also consider these views hateful and anti-Jewish.

    ‘Open Hillel’ seeks to invite those who support Hamas (an internationally-recognized terrorist group that openly calls for the genocide of the Jewish people) into Hillels on college campuses. It seeks to invite with open arms those who call for intifadas (terrorism against Jewish civilians). These views should be included and imposed upon college students as legitimate ideas, according to ‘Open Hillel’.

    ‘Open Hillel’ recently held its first conference, where it invited guests such as Rashid Khalidi, who gave a keynote address, and Judith Butler, who spoke about anti-Semitism. Khalidi acted as a spokesperson for the PLO while the PLO was an internationally-recognized terrorist organization. He also still calls for the extermination of the Jewish state. Butler refers to Hamas and Hezbollah (both of which call for the killing of Jewish civilians worldwide) as “social movements that are progressive”; she refers to the genocide of the Jewish people as a social and progressive movement. Again, she spoke about anti-Semitism.

    By advocating for the inclusion of this baseless hatred, ‘Open Hillel’ is legitimizing anti-Semitism and inviting this age-old disease onto college campuses.

    ‘Open Hillel’ members continuously claim that they are simply trying to allow criticism of Israel under the Hillel tent. But they fail to realize that criticism of Israel is already welcome under Hillel’s tent. What they do not realize is that a line exists between legitimate criticism of Israel and calling for its demonization, isolation, or annihilation, all of which are anti-Semitic, even according to the US government.

    Would the NAACP invite the KKK to campus to preach racism? Should the Jewish community invite anti-Semites to campus to spread hate speech and call for an end to Jewish self-determination?

  3. Fifty years from now Barack Obama will be known to most Americans as, quite simply, the first African-American president of the United States. Aside from this he will have precious little to distinguish himself other than in the notable electoral deterioration of the Democratic Party under his tenure.

    While future historians may join Alan Dershowitz in considering him among the worst foreign policy presidents in U.S. history, he will probably hold a very special place in the hearts of Jewish people throughout the world. This is true because he will likely be known as the American president who, whatever his honest intentions, did more than any to divide the Jewish people from one another and from the Jewish state.

    The genius in this bit of Jewish slicing-and-dicing is in its multifaceted aspect.

    Obama did not merely rub poison into the cleavage between progressive-left Jews and the rest of us. Nor did he merely drive a wedge between American Jews and Israeli Jews. He even managed, much to my astonishment, to divide pro-Democratic Party Jews among themselves and between themselves and, increasingly, the party as a whole.

    Now that is quite an accomplishment.

    Let’s briefly go through it.

    Dividing American Jews from One Another

    Barack Obama can hardly be blamed for creating Jewish divisions over Israel, as Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor would readily agree. Nonetheless, it must be understood that while Obama may appreciate certain Jews as individuals he has never been friendly or sympathetic to the Jewish people as a whole… or so we can reasonably deduce from his posture toward the Jewish state.

    On the contrary, along with figures like Mahmoud Abbas, Louis Farrakhan, George Galloway, Rashid Khalidi, Jeremy Corbyn, and Keith Ellison, Obama regards Israel as a rogue state imposing itself upon the “indigenous” Palestinian-Arab population. The Jewish people who live there are considered by their very presence, an impediment to peace.

    Among the various ways that Obama’s influence, therefore, served to crack Jewish solidarity, the first was in hammering the wedge between progressive-left Jewish Democrats, who generally show greater sympathy toward his views on Israel, and the rest of us who do not.

    By insisting that Jews in Israel should be allowed to live in some places, like Tel Aviv, but not in others, like Hebron, the Obama administration animated a confrontation within American Jewry. Those loyal to the Democratic Party, like Peter Beinart and Alan Dershowitz, agreed that the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, in and of itself, represented an obstacle toward resolving the conflict. Beinart and Dershowitz may not agree on much, but they definitely agree on that. Others, like Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), believe (along with me) that Jewish people have every right to build housing on the lands of our ancestry. Furthermore, in a recent piece for the Jerusalem Post Isi Liebler acknowledged Klein as the ONLY American Jewish leader of national consequence to be consistently critical of Obama’s transparent flaws and who, he says, “has been more than vindicated” in his views.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Given the existential nature of the long Arab aggression against the Jews in the Middle East, Obama’s hostility toward Jews who live in the wrong place set Jew upon Jew in a manner that grew increasingly acrimonious throughout the period of his tenure. By supporting J-Street while devaluing AIPAC, Obama agitated this split. He also put his sincerest American-Jewish friends on the defensive before those of us who believe in Jewish property rights in Judea and Samaria. Obama thereby forced his Jewish devotees into the position of justifying an unjustly racist stance toward the Jews of Israel.

    Dividing American Jews from Israeli Jews

    If Obama encouraged political divisions within the American Jewish community he also encouraged political divisions between American Jews and Israeli Jews. Because Israeli Jews understood how Obama’s policies encouraged Palestinian-Arab violence and intransigence on the so-called “peace process,” the vast majority of Israeli Jews quickly learned to distrust the man. Jewish Democrats who wished to maintain their progressive bona fides were thereby leaned into ideological tensions with friends and relatives in Israel.

    In order to maintain good-standing with their fellow Democrats, Jews who care about Israel were put into an exceedingly uncomfortable position. They could support Obama or they could support Jewish rights to property on ancestral Jewish land, but they could not do both. And, again, Obama did not create this dilemma, he simply forced the issue. Obama used the two-state solution as a reason for opposing Jews like our friends Joseph and Melody Hartuv who live in Hebron and thereby allegedly stand as an obstacle to peace. He was not even the first president of the United States to do so, but he was certainly the most insistent.

    Hebron, of course, is the site of the Cave of the Patriarchs. This is a place that, with a little encouragement from Obama, the United Nations decided belongs to Arabs. Through the unjust, if not racist, insistence that the “settlers” represent an obstacle to peace by their mere presence, Obama encouraged his American Jewish supporters to join him in condemning their fellow Jews. He managed this while still maintaining a pro-Israel face to his Jewish followers. Furthermore, by playing along with the erasure of Jewish history on the ancestral lands of the Jewish people, Obama also encouraged the dilution of American-Jewish support for that country and those people.

    Dividing American Jews within the Democratic Party

    I have considerable sympathy for Jewish Democrats.

    Many in their own party hold them in contempt for defending Israel, while much of the rest of the American Jewish population casts a gimlet eye upon their never-ending pro-Obama apologetics and sycophancy. These are Jews who, from political and ideological standpoints, are getting smacked around by all sides and finding it increasingly difficult to walk the “progressive Zionist” tightrope. Divisions thereby emerged between the true Obama devotees and those going wobbly watching Obama’s year-in-and-year-out hostility toward Israel.

    In this way, within the Democratic Party, there are good Jews and bad Jews.

    Good Jewish Democrats support Barack Obama while bad Jewish Democrats question the wisdom of breathing life into the corpse of Oslo. Good Jewish Democrats believe that if only Netanyahu had pushed Yosef and Melody out of their home in Hebron then peace could be achieved through the offices of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Bad Jewish Democrats tend to doubt this. They understand that Palestinian-Arabs have no desire to create a state for themselves in peace with Israel. Indeed, why should Palestinian-Arabs hope for a conclusion of hostilities via a negotiated two-state settlement when Obama and the UN want to give them a state on Jewish land in a manner that maintains those hostilities?

    Whatever happens going forward, however, the Jewish people and the Jewish State of Israel are, and will continue to be, one.

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