Trending Topics:

Eric Fingerhut, head of Hillel, says JVP is ‘frustrating’ and that Open Hillel movement has no legs

US Politics
on 29 Comments

Eric Fingerhut packs a lot into one speaking engagement.

On January 8, Fingerhut, the head of Hillel International and a former U.S. Congressman, told an audience at a Long Island synagogue that Jewish Voice for Peace is “frustrating,” the Open Hillel movement has no legs, Christians United for Israel is an “amazing” organization and progressive causes are becoming “infected” with anti-Israel sentiment. And those remarks were made in the 30 minute question and answer session. His prepared remarks, peppered with Hebrew phrases and delivered in a blue suit and tie, covered more ground.

Fingerhut spoke to an audience of over 100 people at Temple Sinai in Roslyn, Long Island, a well-off suburban area in New York with a high Jewish population. Billed as an opportunity to learn how Hillel was combatting anti-Semitic, anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses, Fingerhut told the audience that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has become popular in some academic circles, but that Hillel and other groups are fighting back hard. His audience included concerned parents of Jewish college students, pro-Israel activists and a smattering of young people.

Fingerhut took over Hillel, the big-pocketed, leading Jewish campus organization, in the summer of 2013. His tenure has been marked by a continuing controversy over free speech, the movement to “open” up Hillel and a growing BDS movement.

In 2012, a small group of Harvard Jewish students started Open Hillel to try and change Hillel’s guidelines on who can and cannot speak under the group’s roof. The guidelines bar those who advocate for BDS and those who are not in favor of a “Jewish and democratic” state. The movement made a splash when, four months into Fingerhut’s tenure, Swarthmore College’s Hillel declared itself “open” to any viewpoint—Zionist, anti-Zionist, pro-BDS, anti-BDS and everything in between.

But Fingerhut has taken pains to dismiss Open Hillel as small and unrepresentative, and he took that rhetorical path during his speech at Temple Sinai. He did not mention Open Hillel in his prepared remarks, and only addressed the movement when a questioner affiliated with the Zionist Organization of America asked him about it.

He said the Swarthmore students who declared an “Open Hillel” were “instigated by Jewish Voices for Peace” (JVP)–which he characterized as an “anti-Zionist” group. (It’s unclear where Fingerhut got that from. JVP is not an explicitly anti-Zionist organization. None of the press reports at the time said JVP was involved. And Swarthmore’s Joshua Wolfsun, who helped organize the Open Hillel effort, told me “JVP was not linked to Swarthmore Hillel’s process of opening in any way.”)

“If you had asked me this question six months ago, I might have told you that I didn’t know whether this movement would have legs or not. I think I can now tell you with very strong assurance that it does not, and that Hillel has been able to assert its policies on Israel forcefully,” said Fingerhut.

He also said that anti-Zionists like JVP were always the most “frustrating” political opponents to deal with, since they’re Jewish.

The man clearly has his finger on the Israel pulse, paying close attention to developments on college campuses. He sounded a confident note on the Jewish establishment’s ability to combat BDS and Palestine solidarity activism, which he said has created a “political firestorm.”

“The good news is that the bad news has been a wake-up call. If I told you we were ready for this last year, I’d be lying to you. We weren’t,” he said. Earlier in his remarks, he asserted that the majority of college campuses are not hotbeds of pro-Palestinian sentiment and that Hillel and pro-Israel activism is growing.

Fingerhut also went into details about how, exactly, Hillel counters Palestine solidarity activism. He referenced last year’s “blood bucket” incident in his home state, when the president of the student senate at Ohio University dumped blood on her head to raise awareness about Palestinian deaths in Gaza. The incident caused an uproar on campus. Fingerhut was on the case. He told the audience that he talked to the university’s president about a professor who backed the student and was said to have filmed the “blood bucket” challenge, telling the president he should speak out about the professor. “What I asked you to say is that you’re the president of an educational institution, and this isn’t the way we want our educators to behave,” he said, talking about his conversation with the president.

During the Q and A, a young, Jewish Vassar student talked about how she was upset that members of the environmental club on campus, which she is president of, backed boycotting Israeli products. In response, Fingerhut said Vassar is an example of a campus where pro-Palestinian sentiment is rife. (Vassar’s Students for Justice in Palestine sparked a furor last year when, in response to a trip to Israel and Palestine by professors there, they picketed a class because, they said, the trip would break the BDS call.)

“The good news is that the Vassar administration knows. They understand that there is an issue that has to be dealt with. And without, because we’re completely on the record tonight, so without saying everything that are part of the conversation, there are steps being taken to build the kind of support for, first of all for Jewish life, and also appropriate balance on the academic front that is desperately needed at Vassar,” said Fingerhut.

The Hillel head then used the Vassar example to talk about what he sees as a large problem: how progressive causes of all types are being linked with Palestine solidarity activism.

“Your movement is deeply embedded in the cause of social justice and human rights in this country,” said Fingerhut, referencing Reform Judaism’s progressive politics. “And yet, unfortunately, on many college campuses, those progressive causes have become identified, it has become assumed that one of the tenets is to take an anti-Israel position…This is a problem that is across the progressive movement…We have a lot of work to do on this one.”

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

29 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    January 10, 2015, 10:22 am

    No-one who holds power will easily give it up. Oh, I was wrong? Sez who? So Hillel will hold on as long as it can, the same for Zionism, the same for so-called Liberal Zionism.

    Consider the slow response to global warming/climate change. Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us” and he (not we) is winning. Wealth and power are God these days, not the Earth (though it is showing that it is sovereign over us twirps), but mankind believes that it holds power and will not stop even as global warming (like the trees in Macbeth?) move against us.

  2. Mooser
    January 10, 2015, 11:43 am

    Please remember, everyone, Hillel is a “religious leadership organization” that was “specifically empowered by Moses”, so watch your step. Not even Kevlar stops lightening bolts!
    And if an atheist says that, well, I’d listen.

    • Mooser
      January 11, 2015, 1:25 pm

      Leaving me standing out here all alone looking pretty foolish, (which I can do all on my own) please, take that one, too!

  3. Kris
    January 10, 2015, 12:45 pm

    So glad to read that “Open Hillel” has no legs. This means that Fingerhut can stop wasting his time on it, and redirect his energy to the great works of charity and justice that Zionists like him are famous for. Not.

    • Mooser
      January 10, 2015, 12:59 pm

      ” This means that Fingerhut can stop wasting his time on it, and redirect his energy to the great works of charity and justice that Zionists like him are famous for.”

      Ah, so that’s what they do at Hillel! I’m so happy to know there is a Jewish organization inspiring students and involving them in selfless service and charity. Giving them ideals which will last for a lifetime!
      Thank G-d there is no self-servicing, and no manipulation of vulnerable students.

      • Kris
        January 10, 2015, 1:25 pm

        “Thank G-d there is no self-servicing, and no manipulation of vulnerable students.”

        Alan Dershowitz helps out, too, by preventing the contamination of students’ minds by impure and unworthy concepts. Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell was on the same page:

        “I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”

        “Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”

        This article, “How Alan Dershowitz bullied rape victims to protect a serial child molester,” helps us understand how hard Dershowitz has labored to protect the minds of the young:

        “As a Harvard University emeritus professor of law and celebrity defense attorney, Dershowitz wields enormous power, which he frequently deploys against opponents of Israel’s occupation. On at least one notable occasion, Dershowitz called on his friend, Epstein, to muzzle a prominent Israel critic.

        “In 2007, Martin Nowak, a mathematics and biology professor and director of Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, rescinded a speaking invitation to award-winning evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers just hours before his event. Nowak said he was instructed to cancel the speech but would not say by whom—only that he had no choice but to comply. Trivers later learned that the order to cancel was delivered by Jeffrey Epstein, on whose donations the program relied for its continued existence. (Nowak had also relied on Epstein to secure his position at Harvard).

        “Epstein, it turned out, was acting on the request of his attorney Dershowitz.

        “Dershowitz was still furious at Trivers for writing a letter in which he condemned Israel’s 2006 “butchery” of Lebanese civilians and called Dershowitz a “Nazi-like apologist” and “rancid defender of Israeli fascism” for rationalizing the killing. In the end, Dershowitz leveraged Epstein’s financial influence to mete out revenge on Trivers.”

      • annie
        January 10, 2015, 3:30 pm

        kris, re the electronic intifada article. some of that information is sourced back to a 2007 article by phil:

        Going far beyond the typical role of a lawyer, Dershowitz mobilized a pre-emptive smear campaign against the victims, mining their pages on the social network MySpace for comments relating to marijuana and alcohol use, which he printed out and compiled into dossiers for the police and state attorney’s office in a salacious attempt to tarnish the credibility of Epstein’s accusers.

        Dershowitz hired private investigators to track and dig up dirt on at least one of the underage girls who accused Epstein of raping her. The girl, a high school student, reported that one of the private investigators had impersonated a police officer while asking her questions. In a letter from Dershowitz to the Palm Beach police chief, obtained by The Guardian, Dershowitz attached a copy of the girl’s MySpace page, noting “her apparent fascination with marijuana,” and expressed fears “that she, an accomplished drama student, might try to mislead [the private investigators] as successfully as she had misled others.”

        i just thought i would point out, that the guardian article referred to by EI, here: says this:

        The professor, who was assisting Epstein’s defence team, also enclosed a printout of AH’s MySpace page, noting to the detective that she had “chosen to go by the nickname of ‘pimp juice’” and made reference to a marijuana habit. He wrote that the private detectives had also been asked to confirm what were “the extreme lengths she would go to, as she put it, ‘to be rich, no, I mean really, really rich.’”

        Dershowitz’s role in sending posts from MySpace by Epstein accusers to the authorities was first reported by New York magazine.

        and they link to an article written in 2007 by our own phil weiss. he first reported that segment of the story.

        it’s a 5 page article and his name is only mentioned on the first page:

        The Fantasist
        Accused of paying underage girls for sex, superrich money manager Jeffrey Epstein is finding that living in a dream world is dangerous—even if you can pay for it.

        By Philip Weiss Published Dec 8, 2007


      • Kris
        January 10, 2015, 3:38 pm

        Thank you, Annie, amazing stuff!

      • Mooser
        January 10, 2015, 6:43 pm

        Okay, but I’m sure Hillel finds plenty to do, without being involved in anyway with the Epstein-Dershowitz scandal. I just wish I knew what it was.

    • piotr
      January 12, 2015, 4:07 am

      Alternatively, it means that Open Hillel is a bunch of snakes (or fish?).

  4. Kathleen
    January 10, 2015, 5:23 pm

    As long as the facts keep getting out there is no way for Fingerhut or anyone else to combat the BDS movement. The flood gates are open …..

  5. Edward Q
    Edward Q
    January 10, 2015, 9:33 pm

    Fingerhut is careful not to discuss the reasons people criticize Israel.

    • Mooser
      January 11, 2015, 12:32 pm

      “Fingerhut is careful not to discuss the reasons people criticize Israel.”

      And I would have thought (hey, I was raised in a convent) that Fingerhut would have spent the time emphasizing Hillel’s services to students, and public services. But I guess other stuff is more important.

      • Edward Q
        Edward Q
        January 11, 2015, 1:32 pm

        Somehow I don’t think Fingerhut’s controversy is going to go away. If you can’t argue “Our opponents claim X, Y, and Z which is wrong because of A,B,C” your prospects are not very good. Fingerhut isn’t even trying to argue his case.

  6. Edward Q
    Edward Q
    January 11, 2015, 1:19 pm

    I wonder if Hillel qualifies as a cult. When some subjects can’t be discussed by a group and must be accepted on faith does that make it a cult? Cults can also really hound people who leave.

    • Mooser
      January 11, 2015, 4:44 pm

      “Cults can also really hound people who leave.”

      I don’t worry about that with Hillel, I’m more concerned what they do to the people who stay.

  7. Xpat
    January 11, 2015, 8:07 pm

    “a well-off suburban area in New York with a high Jewish population”
    and “Hillel, the big-pocketed, leading Jewish campus organization”

    Since this article is not about money why is a synagogue introduced as full of rich Jews and Hillel presented as a rich Jewish group?

  8. Xpat
    January 11, 2015, 10:39 pm

    I know lots of people who are not “deep-pocketed” but support Hillel. If this all all about “Jews and money” then make the case. Otherwise, let’s be more careful with old tropes.

  9. Mooser
    January 12, 2015, 11:01 am

    “I know lots of people who are not “deep-pocketed” but support Hillel.”

    Does Hillel feed American college students to the settlements?

    • Whizdom
      January 12, 2015, 11:49 am

      Ironically, Hillel has become Shammai. And that didn’t end well.

      • Mooser
        January 12, 2015, 3:33 pm

        Whizdom, I googled (being deficient in Scripture Knowledge) and it seems Shammai is having a revival! Yep everybody wants to re-examine him, and find out what made Shammai run.

      • Whizdom
        January 12, 2015, 4:44 pm

        Shammai and Hillel, who ran the two largest and competing schools of thought in Jewish philosophy and teaching. Hillel was gentle and inclusive and outward looking. Shammai was rather strict, talibanish and inward looking .
        Politically, Hillel advised constructive negotiation with the Romans, as did the surrounding Kingdoms. Shammai advocated non cooperation, negotiation, and armed resistance. Shame was allied with the Zealots

        Annannais he high priest invited them all to a banquet vote on the future of policy, then he killed all the Hillel followers, then took a vote. The Shammai/Zealot faction won the vote!

        Disaster followed, first Jewish revolt, total destruction of the Temple.

        In the aftermath, the Sanhedrin rescinded the adoption of Shammai principles.

      • seafoid
        January 12, 2015, 10:42 pm

        “Hillel was gentle and inclusive and outward looking’ Very good diaspora profile

        “Shammai was rather strict, talibanish and inward looking ” More Zionist than anything else

        Hillel had no chance under Jewish power, did he ?

      • Mooser
        January 13, 2015, 11:47 am

        “Hillel had no chance under Jewish power, did he ?”

        And Shammai’s plans sure worked out good for everybody! Wow, with a one-two punch like that, (Hillel-Shammai) who can stop us? Watch out, world, that ol’ tribal unity is coming for you!

  10. Mooser
    January 12, 2015, 9:35 pm

    “Annannais he high priest invited them all to a banquet vote on the future of policy, then he killed all the Hillel followers,”

    Oy Gevalt another banquets, already! Trefa banquets, murder banquets, it’s too much.

    • Whizdom
      January 12, 2015, 9:57 pm

      Heh. What next? Netanyahu and Adelson enjoying some nice clams casino in NYC? Here is a story of a nice banquet, nobody killed.

      Petreaus on Iran and BDS

      • Mooser
        January 13, 2015, 10:28 am

        Book of Ruth or something, my wife mentioned another fatal banquet. I’m glad I like home cookin’. Those catered affairs can be murder.

        My Aunt “Charlie” had a sampler “Kissin’ wears out, cookin’ don’t.”

      • Mooser
        January 20, 2015, 11:59 am

        His Aunt Charlie? (It was a I think, a childish mispronunciation which became a family nickname, origin lost to me in the mists of thyme.)

Leave a Reply