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In growing ‘student backlash’ against Hillel Int’l, Oberlin Hillel leaders host civil rights veterans

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Our site has been closely following the Open Hillel movement’s encounter with Hillel International: a nationwide campus tour by four Jewish civil rights movement veterans who have been banned from speaking at Hillel’s because they violate the organization’s rules against addressing Palestinian human rights.

Open Hillel’s track record of desegregating the Hillel lunchcounter goes like this so far:

–Harvard. One of the civil rights veterans, Dorothy Zellner, speaks at the Hillel and calls for BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel.

–MIT and UMass Amherst: Hillel successfully shuts down the event. I believe in both cases the event took place elsewhere on campus.

–Swarthmore. Hillel International issues threats against the Hillel so it changes its name to Kehilah so as to host the four valiant activists.

–Muhlenberg. Here both Hillel International and the school threaten to shut down the veterans, and the strong Hillel president Caroline Dorn meets with the school administration to make sure the event goes through, then resigns from Hillel-–  ” I can’t be a representative of… an organization that I feel is limiting free speech on our campus and prohibiting academic integrity” — and then hosts a tumultuous evening where 150 people show up to hear the inspiring program about human freedom.

–University of Chicago. The veterans spoke as guests of JVP and a group called JUChicago that broke off from Hillel three years ago.

Well last week three of the veterans spoke at Oberlin College in Ohio, and they were again prevented from speaking at the Hillel. But they spoke anyway, at another campus site.

Below is a press release about the event, describing the student “backlash” to which Hillel is oblivious: Increasingly, students are turning away from Hillel International and creating their own programming and communities, as students who sponsored these civil rights veterans at University of Chicago have done under jUChicago and other Jewish student groups.

Jewish students at Oberlin College unite to condemn Hillel’s “Standards of Partnership”, join host of schools that have hosted Civil Rights Veterans outside of Hillel

Oberlin, OH — On Friday night, student leaders of Oberlin College’s Hillel and other Jewish and Israel-Palestine activism groups published a statement to condemn Oberlin Hillel for refusing to host a talk by an Oberlin professor and three white Jewish civil rights activists whose views violate Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership.

Titled “Jewish Community Must Include Diverse Opinions,” the statement was signed by members and current and past co-chairs of Oberlin College Hillel, co-chairs of Oberlin Zionists, co-chairs of Oberlin J Street U, and members of Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine. In the statement, students expressed support for the event and condemned attempts to limit discussion within Jewish spaces at Oberlin College.

Oberlin College Hillel chose to pull their support and sponsorship a week before the event because of the speakers’ expressed opinions on Israel/Palestine.

On Wednesday April 8, the three white Jewish veterans of the Civil Rights Movement spoke at King Hall in Oberlin College alongside Dr. Pam Brooks, chair of Oberlin’s Africana Studies Department and the daughter of Owen Brooks, who was also a Mississippi Freedom Movement Veteran. The event, co-sponsored by Oberlin Progressive Jewish Collective, Oberlin College Democrats, and Queer Jews and Allies, took place as part of a national tour to promote open discourse on Israel-Palestine in campus Jewish communities.

“I was deeply moved and inspired by the speakers, who stressed how social justice and activism are essential to their Judaism,” said Sam Price, an Oberlin sophomore and Outreach Coordinator for Oberlin Hillel. “This event succeeded in bringing together Jews with a diversity of opinions and from various backgrounds to challenge the occupation and dismantle systems of oppression.”

The veteran activists — Dorothy Zellner, Ira Grupper, and Larry Rubin– served as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizers in the 1960s. They shared their experiences fighting for human rights in the 1960s and in modern-day America. Ms. Brooks, whose work has focused on black resistance movements in the U. S. South and South Africa, discussed being exposed to the tradition of radical activism between and among Black and Jewish people during her upbringing in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.

Under Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership, these three Jewish leaders are not allowed to speak within Hillel because of their opinions about Israel and activism in protest of its policies.

“The panelists are living examples of committed Jewish community leaders, and it is intolerable that an organization such as Hillel, the center for Jewish life on campus, would not allow such speakers on the grounds that they have differing political beliefs”, said Jeremy Swack, one of the organizers for the Oberlin civil rights event.

Oberlin’s event reflects a broader pattern of Jewish students protesting Hillel’s Standards of Partnership and and being forced to host speakers like the civil rights activists outside of Hillel. Last month, Hillel and Hillel-affiliated Jewish student leaders at Muhlenberg College and the University of Michigan were barred from bringing these activists to speak at Hillels and hosted them outside of Jewish spaces, despite the fact that over 100 people attended each of these events.  Last month, Jewish students at Swarthmore College voted to change their organization’s name from Swarthmore Hillel to Swarthmore Kehilah in order to host the civil rights veterans after Hillel International threatened to sue Swarthmore College over hosting the event.

Increasingly, students are turning away from Hillel International and creating their own programming and communities, as students who sponsored these civil rights veterans at University of Chicago have done under jUChicago and other Jewish student groups.

Hillel International has given no indication that it will change its policies in the face of this student backlash.

+++++++++++++

From Mississippi to Jerusalem: In Conversation with Jewish Civil Rights Veterans is a national tour taking place from February 25-April 19, 2015, organized by Open Hillel.  During this time, the Freedom Summer Vets will visit over a dozen schools across New England, the mid-Atlantic, the Midwest, and the South. Speaker biographies and more information about the tour are available on Open Hillel’s website.

Open Hillel is 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.

And here is a portion of the statement from the 16 Oberlin Jewish students in the college paper, decrying the official Jewish community’s refusal to hear from Zellner et al.

Some of us disagree with their stated stances on Israel-Palestine, and some of us agree with them. But all of us feel that their voices must be welcome in our Jewish community.

As Oberlin students and as Jews, we believe in open dialogue and that these speakers’ voices deserve to be heard and do have a place in our Jewish Community. We reject political litmus tests that police what speakers can and cannot speak in our communities and what opinions Jewish students can and cannot express. No Jewish student should be ostracized from their Jewish community simply because of their political beliefs. Jewish spaces on campus should reflect the diversity of opinions and create a space for all to feel comfortable openly sharing their views. This pluralism is absolutely crucial to a vibrant and meaningful Jewish Community.

the statement was signed by members and current and past co-chairs of Oberlin College Hillel, co-chairs of Oberlin Zionists, co-chairs of Oberlin J Street U, and members of Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine. In the statement, students expressed support for the event and condemned attempts to limit discussion within Jewish spaces at Oberlin College.

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3 Responses

  1. Mooser
    Mooser
    April 15, 2015, 1:02 pm

    Hopefully, this issue won’t cause a contest of wills between students and their parents. Although I don’t think it will be long till somebody suggests it should. I wonder who it will be?

  2. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    April 16, 2015, 9:35 am

    Some at least of the Hillel-at-colleges system predated 1930. (Hillel: “1923 The first Hillel opens at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “)

    My guess, just a guess, mind, is that the current rules about I/P are rather recent, historically, and do not define the religious-social purposes of the organization.

    My guess: Hillel justified its presence on campuses by saying it espoused liberal educational goals and social inclusivity for all Jews on campus. The current rules go against these.

    Maybe, if my guesses are right, these Hillels should lose whatever permissions and/or support they have from the schools (at least from Public schools and any other schools which formally adopt academic freedom rules.

    Does propagandizing for for/against abortion, guns, Israel comply with tax-exemption?

  3. Kris
    Kris
    April 16, 2015, 10:24 am

    Two of my children graduated from Oberlin College; words can’t begin to express how grateful I am to Oberlin for the excellent educations they received there. Their lives will always be enriched by their experiences at Oberlin, from the personal interest and encouragement they received from their professors, to the rigorous academics, and to the invaluable experience of being members of a dynamic college community where no topic is excluded from critical examination and discussion.

    Today’s Obies continue in Oberlin’s tradition of encouraging critical thinking, analysis, and discussion, and, once again, they are helping to lead the way towards social justice and inclusion.

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