Hillel Ottawa, through its Israel advocacy wing, the ‘Israel Awareness Committee’ (IAC), has recently released its ‘Social Media Code of Conduct’, which bans virtually all posts that are critical of Israel. While the IAC, being an integral part of Hillel, is meant to serve the campus Jewish community, it only provides a space for unabashedly pro-Israel voices within its midst. This is part of a growing trend across diaspora Jewish communities, in which censorship is being used to silence critics of Israel.
The IAC describes itself as being “dedicated to engaging in debate, discussion, and dialogue on Israeli society, culture, and politics.” However, its Social Media Code of Conduct states that “All articles/links/blogs etc. must come from a source (or be written by an author) that supports the Two-State Solution.” That stipulation not only silences any members of the Jewish campus community who are opposed to an ethno-nationalist state for Jews in historic Palestine, but even Zionist members of the community who are beginning to lose hope in the corrupt “peace process”, and are interested in discussing alternative visions for a just and lasting peace in Israel and Palestine. It is also worth noting that Hillel Ottawa supports illegal settlement products, and has shown no indication of supporting a two state solution based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
Just as stifling for open debate, the IAC also claims that it will “remove posts that endorse Boycotts, Divestments, and/or Sanctions of Israel or of Israeli businesses,” and that it considers support of these initiatives to be “hateful rhetoric.” By using the term “hateful” in reference to support for the Palestinian non-violent campaign to boycott and divest from Israel and/or companies profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, Hillel Ottawa is equating support for non-violent resistance against occupation to hate speech. This is reminiscent of the now defunct ‘Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism’, which attempted to create legislation that BDS be considered hate speech in Canada.
As the ‘Open Hillel’ movement in the United States has demonstrated, Hillel International’s guidelines prohibit partnering with organizations or sponsoring events that “delegitimize” or “demonize” Israel, or that promote BDS in any way. This automatically sanctions any coordinated discussion or debate with Palestinian students or organizations on campus (or their supporters), or Jewish students who do not identify with the vague and restrictive guidelines imposed by Hillel around discussing this issue. These guidelines have even prevented Hillel from inviting liberal Zionist speakers or partnering with groups who would bring such speakers, such as former Israeli Knesset member Avraham Burg, writer Peter Beinart, and the Israeli organization ‘Breaking the Silence’.
While there is a growing number of young Jews who are questioning the Zionist narrative that we were brought up to believe, Hillels across North America (and beyond) are failing to encourage open and honest engagement with the issue of Palestinian rights. Funding plays a large part in this, since Hillels in Canada are supported financially by the local Federations. These Federations, which control community funding allocations, are vested with enormous authority, and influenced by large (Zionist) donors.
Therefore, it is not only the Hillels that are silencing progressive Jewish voices—the Jewish Community Centre of Ottawa, funded like Hillel by the local Federation—refuses to rent space to Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) for an event, since IJV “advocates for positions that run counter to the objectives of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.” Rather than widening the tent to include voices that do not serve the continued interests of the State of Israel, the organized Jewish community in Canada is locking down, preventing any honest discussions about Israel and Palestine from taking place.
IJV strongly supports Swarthmore Hillel, and a growing number of Jewish institutions in North America and beyond who are fighting for the right to discuss justice for Palestine in their respective communities. Jewish voices of resistance must continue to demand openness and discussion in their respective communities if we are ever to liberate ourselves from the shackles of Zionism.