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‘It’s time to build the future of the American Jewish community’: Open Hillel announces first national conference

Israel/Palestine
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Open Hillel sent out the following press release today:

Cambridge, MA – May 15th, 2014 – Open Hillel announced today that it will be holding a national conference this fall.  The conference will take place from October 11-13 at Harvard University.

The conference will bring in speakers spanning the spectrum of political views on Israel-Palestine.  Organizers plan to particularly focus on including those — such as Judith ButlerDavid Harris-Gershon, and Rashid Khalidi — who have recently been banned from speaking at Jewish institutions. The conference will include panels, discussion groups, and trainings, and will tackle issues related to Israel-Palestine as well as other issues facing the American Jewish community.

Open Hillel is a national grassroots organization of Jewish college students and young alumni working to promote inclusion and broaden the discourse on Israel-Palestine within campus Jewish communities.  The campaign’s main goal is to eliminate Hillel International’s “Standards of Partnership,” which ban co-sponsorships, speaker events, and affiliations with organizations or individuals whose political views on Israel-Palestine are out of line with Hillel’s policies.  More broadly, the Open Hillel campaign seeks to promote discussion on Israel-Palestine that spans the full range of political views found within the Jewish community.

Since Open Hillel was launched in January 2013, it has grown to include over a thousand supporters and nearly 50 student organizers from dozens of schools across the country.  This conference marks the first occasion on which these organizers and supporters will come together in one location to discuss the campaign, their views on Israel-Palestine, and other issues facing the American Jewish community.

In keeping with the grassroots nature of Open Hillel, conference organizers have launched a crowd-sourcing fundraiser to cover speaker fees, space costs, and other expenses associated with the conference.

The conference is a response not only to Hillel International’s policies, but also the recent slew of speaker cancellations and other actions of exclusion by major American Jewish organizations.  “One conference — The Conference of Presidents — has put most of its effort lately into the exclusion of Jewish voices,” says Lex Rofes, an Open Hillel steering committee member who graduated from Brown in 2013.  “Our conference will instead focus on inclusion. We are inviting all who are interested to attend a communal event that will deepen and broaden our knowledge of crucially important issues facing our world and of one another.”

“The conference will provide a platform for substantive conversations–in particular among Jewish university students in the U.S.–concerning Israel-Palestine and the many other contemporary issues Jews in the U.S. face,” says Henry Rosen, a freshman at Vassar and member of the Open Hillel steering committee.  “That excites me because I have felt my views brushed aside, and I have seen my friends opinions invalidated, misrepresented, or ignored.”

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7 Responses

  1. philweiss
    philweiss
    May 15, 2014, 6:23 pm

    Great news. Congrats to Open Hillel for stepping up!

  2. Les
    Les
    May 15, 2014, 7:27 pm

    Rebel Jewish student movement to hold first national conference
    Open Hillel says speakers will include BDS supporter Judith Butler, Palestinian-American scholar Rashid Khalidi and others banned by Jewish groups.
    By Haaretz | May 16, 2014 | 1:07 AM
    The budding Open Hillel movement of Jewish college students, which has rebelled against mainstream Hillel’s ban on non-Zionist and pro-BDS speakers, announced on Thursday it will hold its first national conference in the fall.

    Organizers said in a statement that the conference – to be held October 11-13 at Harvard, where the movement began in November 2012 – will highlight speakers who have been barred recently from addressing Jewish groups.

    Those named were philosopher Judith Butler, a BDS supporter recently pressured into canceling a talk at the Jewish Museum of New York; author David Harris-Gershon, who was forced to scrap an appearance at the University of California at Santa Barbara Hillel because he refused to condemn all boycotts of Israel; and Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American scholar barred from speaking at New York’s Ramaz Jewish high school.

    “One conference – the Conference of Presidents [of Major American Jewish Organizations] – has put most of its effort lately into the exclusion of Jewish voices,” says Lex Rofes, an Open Hillel organizer. “Our conference will instead focus on inclusion. We are inviting all who are interested to attend a communal event that will deepen and broaden our knowledge of crucially important issues facing our world and of one another.”

    The Open Hillel movement has caught on among Jewish student groups at elite Eastern universities such as Vassar, Wesleyan and Swarthmore. They have broken with Hillel International’s guidelines, which hold that campus chapters may not “partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.

    Today the movement claims “over a thousand supporters and nearly 50 student organizers from dozens of schools across the country.”

    Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut, who opposes Open Hillel, has said that while “Hillel should and will always provide students with an open and pluralistic forum where they can explore issues and opinions related to their Jewish identity … [it] will not, however, give a platform to groups or individuals to attack the Jewish people, Jewish values or the Jewish state’s right to exist.”

    http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/1.591001

  3. Baldur
    Baldur
    May 15, 2014, 9:48 pm

    This is a great initiative! I wonder if later, we will remember this as a turning point in the I/P debate in the US. Nevertheless, it is only by putting our money where our mouths are that we can make this a reality. History is never made by passive observers.

  4. Ecru
    Ecru
    May 16, 2014, 4:05 am

    @ Adam

    Just an FYI – according to a letter to Ha’aretz apparently on behalf of Open Hillel :-

    our press release sent out regarding the Open Hillel conference was unclear, and has led some media sources to believe that Judith Butler, Rashid Khalidi, and David Harris-Gershon are confirmed speakers at the upcoming Open Hillel conference. This is not the case —no speakers have yet been confirmed

  5. seafoid
    seafoid
    May 16, 2014, 9:02 am

    I expect the Open Hillel crowd to be subject to the full range of public punishment for the self hating anti semites who believe in rights for goys in Erez Israel.
    If we are to believe the likes of Lieberman, the only thing standing between Judaism and its slow death by intermarriage is Israel, warts and all (95% warts).

    So if you want to preserve Judaism you have to support the madness.
    What a crazy world it is.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      May 16, 2014, 9:41 am

      seafoid: So, this announcement is a “declaration of warts” ?? Maybe a symbolic elbow in the eye of the “police” of the Hillel Reactionary Hierarchy — after the said HRH grabbed Open Hillel by the * * * conscience ??

  6. annie
    annie
    May 16, 2014, 11:48 pm

    this is excellent! i want to attend.

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