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Online Hillel co-sponsorship petition gains Tufts signatures

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 01:02

 A petition created by a group of students at Harvard University circulating at Tufts and across the country calls for the national Hillel organization to remove its ban on allowing Hillel chapters to co-sponsor events with other groups that advocate for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.  
 The online petition was created in November by a Harvard-based campaign called Open Hillel and as of yesterday had garnered 471 signatures, 38 of which are from Tufts students.

The leader of the Tufts campaign calling on Hillel to reverse the ban, sophomore Julia Wedgle, said she promotes the group’s stance because she believes Hillel’s current policy restricts an open discourse about Israeli-Palestinian relations. Harvard’s Progressive Jewish Alliance created the campaign and petition, which has since spread nationwide.

Hillel’s current policy disallows its chapters from accepting sponsors or hosting speakers or organizations that either do not support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish, democratic state or that advocate for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.  
Wedgle said the policy stifles the views of Jewish students who do not hold similar political views.

“For me, Judaism is supposed to be a religion of debate and critical discussion or a religious community of that,” she said. “[The policy] makes Hillel feel like a hostile place for Jews like me who do support the Palestinians and Palestinian rights.”

Tufts Hillel President Emma Goldstein, a senior, does not support the petition. She said one of Hillel’s core values is promoting the right of Jewish people to self-determination. She said to co-sponsor events with students who support policies that undermine Israel’s right to exist through boycott, divestment or sanctions against the country would be contrary to Hillel’s views on the issue.

“Hillel’s policy is clear in welcoming all views and maintaining an open door policy,” Friends of Israel co-president Ayal Pierce, a sophomore, said. “While we avoid co-sponsoring with groups that deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, we more than welcome discussing our disagreements.”

The Tufts chapter of Hillel implemented the national policy in December 2010, declining to co-sponsor an event with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which brought two speakers to the Hill to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that case, Hillel leadership cited the actions of other SJP chapters that had demonstrated political views contradictory to Hillel’s support of Israel.

Tufts Hillel executive director Rabbi Jeffrey Summit said the policy prohibiting co-sponsorship does not necessarily rule out open discussion.

“We believe in free speech on campus, but that does not mean that we are obligated to sponsor speakers or partner with organizations that essentially don’t believe that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish, democratic state,” Summit said.

Wedgle is also a founder of Tufts Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which supports boycotting and divesting from companies that directly profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. She said the co-sponsorship policy has driven many supporters of Palestine away from association with Hillel.

“I think I’m the only Jewish person left in groups like SJP who still goes to Hillel,” Wedgle said. “There’s a lot of differing opinions at Hillel and within the Jewish community, and there [are] a lot of people I talked to who don’t go to [Hillel] because of the policy there.”

Wedgle believes that the intent of the petition transcends the issue of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“It’s more about having critical debate in the community,” she said. 

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