“And I am a supporter of BDS.”
With those seven words, uttered at the Harvard Hillel last Wednesday night, the great Dorothy Zellner violated the Hillel International standards that bar speakers who have endorsed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
Open Hillel celebrated the moment:
Victory! Harvard Hillel breaks the Hillel International Standards of Partnership!
This is historic (and should make Jews of conscience weep). The event was titled “From Selma to Ferguson: Religious Tradition as Solidarity.” At 16:00 in the video below, Zellner describes her Palestine work: She is a founding member of Jews Say No. “We demonstrate in largely-Jewish neighborhoods about what we consider the evils” of the Israeli occupation. She’s a volunteer for Jewish Voice for Peace, and a board member of the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre. Then she states her support for BDS.
From the Forward:
Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, the director of Harvard’s Hillel, denied any violation of the guidelines, noting that Zellner only briefly mentioned her support for BDS….Despite Steinberg’s claims, the guidelines make no exception for speakers who only briefly discuss their support for BDS. Nor do they make a distinction between supporters of BDS who use events to advocate for isolating Israel and those who primarily discuss other subjects.
Zellner also speaks about taking the solidarity tradition she learned from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to Israel and Palestine. Zellner has said that “we are winning” the struggle for Palestine inside America. Her appearance is further evidence of that trend.
But. It seems like Hillel is invoking those standards after all. Hillel at UMass Amherst barred a presentation by Zellner and two other veterans of the civil rights movement on Thursday night, citing the fact that it was Israeli Apartheid Week on campus. The panel went off at another location on campus.
We got this press release last night from Open Hillel.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jewish Civil Rights Veterans Barred from Speaking at MIT, UMass Amherst Hillels
Students decry exclusive “Standards of Partnership”
Boston, MA—Hillel staff at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst have declined to host three white Jewish veterans of the Civil Rights Movement in campus Hillels.
The veteran activists — Dorothy Zellner, Ira Grupper, and Larry Rubin — served as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizers in the 1960s. They traveled to Massachusetts as part of a national tour to promote open discourse on Israel-Palestine in campus Jewish communities.
The speakers are touring to share their experiences working for human rights in the 1960s, in modern-day America, and in Israel-Palestine. They spoke at UMass Amherst Thursday, and will speak at MIT on Sunday evening.
Despite their heroic work fighting for civil rights in America, the three Jewish speakers were not allowed to speak in the campus Hillels at MIT and UMass Amherst.
“These are the exact type of speakers Hillel should be sponsoring–they are examples to all of us of how to apply Jewish values of tikkun olam to our lives,” said Josh Strassman, a freshman at UMass Amherst. “The fact that UMass Amherst Hillel would decline to assist at all with the event speaks volumes about their lack of commitment to open dialogue.”
Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership bar the Jewish speakers because of their views on Israel. Two of the speakers endorse the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.
MIT Hillel told student organizers that there would not be time to perform the “due-diligence” to see if the invited speakers were “in line with MIT Hillel’s values.” UMass Hillel declined based on the timing of the event, which they said coincided with UMass’s first Israeli Apartheid Week. By contrast, Harvard Hillel hosted an event with one of the speakers on Wednesday night at a civil rights-themed panel.
“I see this as an obvious political litmus test,” said Caroline Morganti, a junior at MIT who serves as the Open Hillel Communications Coordinator and coordinator for the Massachusetts leg of the national tour. “I encourage MIT to reconsider and to put more trust in students, like myself and my friends, who now are organizing the event on campus outside of Hillel. Jewish students are capable of creating the discussions we would like to see on campus, and Hillel should facilitate that, rather than dictating from above.”
The national tour will run from February 25th through the end of April. During this time, the Jewish veterans of the Civil Rights Movement will visit over a dozen schools across New England, the mid-Atlantic, the Midwest, and the South.
More about From Mississippi to Jerusalem here. Open Hillel describes itself as “a national grassroots organization of Jewish college students and young alumni working to promote inclusion and open discourse on Israel-Palestine within campus Jewish communities.”