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Op-Ed | Is Hillel truly “the foundation for Jewish campus life” for all Jews?

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:11

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Hillel is advertised as “the foundation for Jewish campus life.” I assumed this meant that Tufts Hillel is a place for all Jews, but recently learned this is not true. Unfortunately, this supposed “foundation for Jewish campus life” is limited to Jews who support Israel in its current form, including the occupation of Palestine and the violence towards people in Gaza. As a Jewish student who is on Tufts Hillel board, a proud member of Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Boston Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), I feel isolated at Hillel. My Jewish identity provides context to my life, my worldview and my experiences. I should feel welcomed at Hillel, especially because my personal opposition to the occupation of Palestine stems from my Jewish values.

Many Jewish Tufts students who are members of Tufts SJP, Tufts J Street U and Boston JVP feel that Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines limit their voices. These guidelines state “Hillel will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: 1) deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders, 2) delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel, 3) support boycott of, divestment from or sanctions against the State of Israel and 4) exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.” These guidelines create an environment where Jews like me feel uncomfortable and without a voice, and allow for one group of individuals to dominate the discussion about Israel and Palestine.

I believe these guidelines are problematic because Hillel itself is guilty of violating its own guidelines. First, by supporting Israel in its current form, Hillel International is “denying the right of Israel to exist as a democratic state.” Israel is currently an ethnocracy without equal rights for all of the people under its rule. This hardly sounds like a democratic state. Tufts Hillel is also guilty of “applying a double standard to Israel” because it and organizations affiliated with it overlook Israel’s human rights violations while condemning the human rights abuses of countries such as Rwanda, Sudan and others. Through these guidelines, Hillels across the country “foster an atmosphere of incivility” toward any student or group with diverging viewpoints on Israel and Palestine.

The guideline that forbids Hillel from working with groups that support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is perhaps the most egregious of these guidelines, with the most significant impact on the Tufts campus. This guideline forbids Tufts Hillel and its affiliate Friends of Israel (FOI), Tufts’ pro−Israel group, from having constructive events with SJP, because SJP supports BDS. This guideline makes me feel that, although I’m on Tufts Hillel board, Hillel does not wish to partner with or welcome me because I, “as a matter of policy and practice,” boycott products that profit from the occupation. As a Jewish student, I cannot fathom how Hillel can be the “foundation for Jewish campus life” and continue excluding me from the discussion about Israel and Palestine.

These same Israel Guidelines state, “Hillel welcomes a diversity of student perspectives on Israel and strives to create an inclusive, pluralistic community.” I have found that this inclusivity only goes so far. Once BDS is mentioned, the aforementioned pluralism comes to a screeching halt. Hillel has proven only to be pluralistic religiously and politically as long as Israel and Palestine are not mentioned. The mere fact that the pro−Israel campus group, and no other Israel/Palestine dialogue groups, lies under Tufts Hillel’s auspices is proof that Tufts Hillel lacks the pluralism it seeks to foster.

Part of Hillel International’s mission statement reads, “Hillel helps students find a balance in being distinctively Jewish and universally human by encouraging them to pursue tzedek (social justice), [and] tikkun olam (repairing the world).” For me, an important aspect of tzedek and tikkun olam is supporting the Palestinian people and their right to human rights and self−determination. However, Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines are proof that the tzedek and tikkun olam they encourage do not extend to the Palestinian people or Jews who wish to support them. Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines are hypocritical when viewed alongside their mission statement because to truly “pursue tzedek and tikkun olam,” one must pursue them for all peoples, including the Palestinians.

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