Hillel is an international organization that prides itself on its mission to “enrich the lives of Jewish students,” and is considered by universities to be a religious organization. However, the reality is that Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership with Israel, which local Hillels around the world must adhere to in order to receive support from the umbrella organization, politicize Hillel and exclude a multitude of Jewish students and speakers.
In response, a student-led movement called Open Hillel has come to rise, and its goal is to persuade Hillel International to abandon its Standards of Partnership so that diversity in Jewish opinion is welcomed rather than censored.
On its website, Hillel International claims that it “welcomes a diversity of student perspectives on Israel and strives to create an inclusive, pluralistic community,” but the reality is far different. Hillel’s Standards of Partnership with Israel express a refusal to “partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice” support nonviolent measures such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement or deny Israel’s so-called “right to exist” as a Jewish state. These two statements are squarely contradictory.
Imagine a Jewish speaker that supports the “one-state solution,” which would constitute a secular, multinational state inclusive of both Israelis and Palestinians. Though some would consider the opinion overly optimistic, it would not make the speaker any less Jewish. However, under Hillel’s Standards for Partnership, that speaker would not pass Hillel’s Jewish litmus test and would be unwelcome.
A more specific example was found last year at UCLA, when Rabbi Brant Rosen was invited to speak. Rosen is a UCLA alumnus who was active in Hillel during his tenure here. Since graduating, he has become increasingly critical of Israeli policy towards Palestinians and when he came to speak at his alma mater, Hillel refused to promote his event, likely because he supports the BDS movement.
Is Rosen not Jewish enough to receive Hillel’s support? And this is not an isolated event. Primarily Jewish student groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace chapters on campuses across the country are systematically denied support from Hillel because they advocate for BDS.
In 2014, for example, Hillel rejected Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA’s membership application because it disagreed with the group’s political positions, as per Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. Why are these Jewish voices excluded from the so-called center for Jewish life on campus? It is one thing to disagree with those that advocate for BDS, but the Standards for Partnership do not even allow these opinions to be presented to the students within Hillel.
Recently, Open Hillel announced the 81 members of its Academic Council, which is composed of professors who urge Hillel to abandon its Standards of Partnership. Professor Todd Presner, director of UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies is among two other UCLA professors, David Myers and Sarah Stein on the council.
As Presner states, “Open Hillel is a profoundly Jewish movement rooted in Jewish traditions of debate, ethics and justice. It seeks to re-instill these core values into campus discussions of Israel-Palestine in ways that are open, honest and challenging – precisely what a university should be doing.”
Open Hillel is not advocating for a political position but rather calling for uncensored discourse surrounding Israel-Palestine. Hillel can either serve the entire Jewish student body or enforce its political viewpoints against criticism of Israel, but it cannot do both.
We urge Hillel to abandon its Standards of Partnership because so long as they are in place, Hillel becomes a political organization rather than a religious one and ought to edit its mission statement to read: “enriching the lives of Jewish students except for those who hold certain political positions regarding Israel.”
Two Jewish speakers are coming to UCLA on Wednesday, but Hillel will likely not advertise the event, as neither of them pass its litmus test. The two speakers are Max Blumenthal, a Jewish journalist, and Miko Peled, an Israeli author. Both speakers have traveled extensively throughout the Palestinian territories and have incredible insight to the struggles faced by Palestinians day in and day out.
The exclusion of their voices from Hillel makes hearing their perspective all the more important, so we invite all students and faculty to come, listen, agree, disagree, and ask questions about the perspectives of the speakers on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Room A65 of the Humanities Building.
Peled is a fourth-year student and president of Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA.