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No thanks for Zionist ‘chaperones’ –Wesleyan declares itself an Open Hillel

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Readers, we got this press release two days ago and are late getting it up, but it’s wonderful news from Connecticut. And Adam Horowitz informs me that an Open Hillel petition has started at Brown. What exciting news from the young Jews, even as the world is falling down around our ears. In case you missed it, the Open Hillel movement has already captured two campuses, Swarthmore and Vassar, and is making inroads at Harvard and Berkeley. The movement has at least 558 members, according to this listserv application. –Phil Weiss. 

Press Release: Wesleyan Jewish Community Student Leaders stand with Open Hillel

April 2, 2014
Middletown, CT

We, student leaders of the Wesleyan Student Jewish community, have followed with great interest and concern the controversy that has swirled around Hillel International’s Standard of Partnership for Israel Activities, which prevent Hillel from partnering with, hosting, or housing anyone who,(a) denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders, (b) delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel, (c) supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.

These policies have resulted in the barring of speakers from organizations such as Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Knesset from speaking at Hillels without censorship, and has resulted in Jewish Voice for Peace and other Jewish organizations not being welcome under the Hillel umbrella or in the Jewish community that gathers in those spaces.

At Wesleyan, values of inclusion are central to our identity both as Jews and as participants in the wider Wesleyan community. We believe that no one should be made to feel excluded, marginalized or unsafe in a religious or cultural space because of their political beliefs, and that welcoming an individual while censoring their opinions represents little more than probationary community membership. We reject the idea implicit in Hillel’s guidelines that Jewish plurality gives way to Zionist unanimity, and are acutely aware that many individuals have formed robust, meaningful Jewish identities that do not comport with traditional Zionist ideas.

Our community is structured in a way that gives voice to these values. Student leaders known as Jewish Renaissance Fellows organize Jewish student life and programming on campus. The Jewish program house (known as The Bayit) is operated by a student House Manager who also takes a leading role in organizing student Jewish life. Thus, at Wesleyan, Jewish life and the place of Israel within that life is shaped and determined by the students themselves.

We believe that trust is the bedrock of any community that values each of its members. We are grateful that the Wesleyan Jewish community does not employ chaperones for our conversations. Students are allowed and encouraged to introduce and be exposed to the widest possible range of views, and trusted to make sense of the mosaic before them and form an informed position. Our community is built on the assumption that such a process results not in confusion, but in opinions about Israel and Judaism that are more robust and well-reasoned because of the thought that has gone into them. We believe that restrictive guidelines such as the ones Hillel international has adopted are not conducive to fostering a culture of intellectual exploration and free inquiry.

We believe that dialogue and critical engagement are central Jewish values. Our community is founded on texts that are meant to be interpreted, argued over, and debated endlessly. The talmud, our central body of religious commentary, contains many differing opinions on how laws are to be interpreted. Hillel draws its name from the great rabbinical sage who believed that all should be able to learn, and that discourse should be free and unbound by guidelines imposed from above. No one has ever suggested that these values weaken the Jewish community, and we believe Hillel International’s deviation from these principles alienates members of our community and strays from Jewish tradition.

In light of these values, we would like to state explicitly what has long been the implicit policy of our student campus community: we will not follow the current formulation of Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. We are committed to neither censoring nor excluding individuals, groups or speakers from our communal spaces merely because their political views around Israel or other issues stray from mainstream opinion. We are committed to a conversation around Judaism and Israel that reflects the values of the members of our community, rather than the political preferences of the leaders of Hillel International.

Therefore, the undersigned student leaders of the Wesleyan Jewish Community — the vast majority of current student leaders, including both current Jewish Renaissance fellows and the current Bayit House manager, as well as many former Jewish student leaders — express our solidarity with, and support of, the Open Hillel movement. As an affiliate of Hillel, we call upon Hillel International to reform its guidelines so as to ensure that no member of the Jewish community is barred from a space that should be rightfully theirs because of a desire to critically engage with, and express opinions about, issues that relate to Israel.


Current Jewish Student Leaders
Talia Baurer, House Manager, Bayit, and Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Matthew Stein, Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Stephanie Blumenstock, Jewish Renaissance Fellow

Former Jewish Student Leaders
Danny Blinderman, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Sydney Lewis, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow and former Bayit House Manager
Becca Caspar-Johnson, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Hannah Plon, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Maggie Feldman-Piltch, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Yona Roberts Golding, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Carolyn Lipp, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Rebecca Schisler, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Sarah Lerman-Sinkoff, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow

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15 Responses

  1. Krauss
    Krauss on April 5, 2014, 10:58 am

    This is good news, but also ironic. The Jewish establishment never thought young Jews would be engaged in Judaism without Zionism. I can see evidence that they are wrong about this on a daily basis, and this just underlines it.

    As we will look back on the Zionist epoch, we will laugh how people ascted as if 2000 years of history was suddenly invalid – the time when we didn’t have an active Zionist movement – and acted in such ahistorical ways.

    Judaism has always thrived when there have been a plethora of opinions and ideological movements. We’re not a people very good at only thinking one thing, and those who have tried to impose this kind of value system have always failed.
    Zionism is just the latest example.

  2. Les
    Les on April 5, 2014, 1:05 pm

    Another sign of what happens as Judaism decouples itself from zionism, thanks to BDS.

  3. Walid
    Walid on April 5, 2014, 2:49 pm

    Another win for BDS, university’s Hillel group left meeting in protest; from Israel News April 3:

    “Another Canadian University Votes To Join BDS
    Toronto’s Ryerson University joins growing list of student unions voting to boycott Israel, in display of ‘anti-Israel fanatacism.’

    The student union of Toronto’s Ryerson University voted to join the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel on Wednesday, in an annual meeting.

    Representatives of the university’s Hillel Jewish student group left the meeting to protest the decision, reports Shalom Toronto.

    The vote caps a chain of anti-Israel decisions among Canadian institutions of higher education.

    Just two weeks ago, Toronto’s York University student union voted to join the BDS movement. It was preceded by Windsor University in Ontario in early March. In mid-March, students at the University of Ottawa launched a campaign to have Sabra hummus banned from campus because of its alleged connection with “Israel apartheid.”

    Similar votes for a general boycott on Israel have recently been passed in other universities, such as the University of Toronto’s Scarborough and Mississauga campuses, Regina University, Carlton University and others”

    • just
      just on April 5, 2014, 3:27 pm

      Go Canada students!

      Congrats to the Wesleyan students!

      • Walid
        Walid on April 5, 2014, 3:39 pm

        Just, I feel a BDS tsunami building up. Next week, it will be the turn of British Journalists to debate getting on the BDS bus; from (Britain’s) Jewish News that’s campaigning against a pro-BDS vote:

        “Israel boycott campaign ‘will compromise journalists’
        April 3, 2014

        A motion promoting a boycott of Israel will be debated by the National Union of Journalists next week, amid warnings that it may compromise reporters if passed.

        Seven years after the union adopted a widely-criticised boycott position, community leaders this week urged members to roundly reject the controversial text, which is on the agenda at the NUJ’s delegates meeting.

        The motion – which notes Stephen Hawking’s backing for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign – condemned settlement construction among what it called other “outrages” that have resulted in “bloodshed” and suggests BDS could work in the same way as it did with apartheid South Africa.

        The London Magazine branch calls on the meeting to instruct the union’s National Executive Council to “encourage members to boycott Israeli products and back lecturers and other professionals who refuse to co-operate with Israeli institutions” and to “write to the BDS movement declaring the union’s support for the campaign”.

      • Pixel
        Pixel on April 5, 2014, 4:31 pm

        UPenn may not be too far behind…

      • just
        just on April 5, 2014, 4:38 pm

        A big shout- out, and I think so too!

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976 on April 5, 2014, 4:47 pm

        Perhaps this will lead to a testing in court of the advice from eminent human rights lawyers, notably from Lord Lester to the Universities and Colleges Union, that boycotts against a nation are illegal.

      • Pixel
        Pixel on April 5, 2014, 4:43 pm

        Got an email survey yesterday from JVP asking members to weigh in on whether the organization should consider widening the scope of its BDS policy and how quickly.

      • ivri
        ivri on April 5, 2014, 8:11 pm

        “I feel a BDS tsunami building up”
        Relax. There is indeed in the UK a group of committed anti-Israelis. That is so though for decades now and they jump enthusiastically on every anti-Israel move. For instance, there was a couple of years ago and again a couple of years earlier a vote in two university-lecturers unions for an academic boycott of Israel. After an outcry and disapproval of the UK government both were cancelled. The previous London mayor was vehemently anti-Israel until voted out (and probably the Jewish vote there tipped the balance since he lost with a small margin). And there are many other cases and there will be many more, so if you enjoy anti-Israel expressions follow closely the UK scene. But, don`t expect actual results.

  4. MHughes976
    MHughes976 on April 5, 2014, 4:05 pm

    We owe something of a debt to Stephen Hawking, it seems.

    • adele
      adele on April 5, 2014, 6:42 pm

      I wonder if Lord Lester would also advise that colonialising nations is Illegal? Or is he only against boycotts. The morality of some people leaves much to be desired.

  5. just
    just on April 5, 2014, 5:31 pm


    Isn’t/wasn’t Britain/UK party to untold sanctions against Iran, Iraq, etc? A bit disingenuous on the part, eh?

    Or were they arguing against that very idea? Thanks in advance.

    • MHughes976
      MHughes976 on April 9, 2014, 2:11 pm

      I don’t pretend to have analysed Lord Lester’s argument provided to the Universities and Colleges Union. It was kept secret for many years, and though I think it was published as part of the UCU’s defence in the face of the recent ‘Zionist’ Employment Tribunal litigation, where the Union’s ‘scrupulous’ adhesion to it was mentioned, I haven’t read it. I believe that Lester is one of the main architects of our civil rights and anti-discrimination laws and an extremely senior Queen’s Counsel.
      As far as I could see his opinion would imply that the old boycott against apartheid SA was illegal, so I don’t deny I was surprised by it.

  6. Trevor Brown
    Trevor Brown on April 6, 2014, 12:20 pm

    I am waiting for other groups at Wesleyan (and Vassar and Swarthmore) to vote for opening of other forums. Perhaps an “Open Students for Justice in Palestine”, and an “Open Muslim Students Association, ” allowing for discussions with speakers or viewpoints that raise issues such as Palestinian terrorism, those open to coexistence between Jews and Muslims living in Judea & Samaria, one that openly supports opportunities presented by Israeli companies like SodaStream, and open to speaking up against the rejection of Israel’s Right to exist as a Jewish State in safe, secure and defensible borders.

    How about an “open” J-Street bringing the movie “The J Street Challenge” to the Wesleyan campus?

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