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Tufts Hillel says it will not co-sponsor events with SJP

Published: Friday, December 10, 2010

Updated: Friday, December 10, 2010 16:12

hillel

Justin McCallum/Tufts Daily

Tufts Hillel has declined to co-sponsor events with the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, above in a group meeting, citing its national organization’s policy.

A national directive put forth by Tufts Hillel's national parent organization discourages co-sponsorship of campus events between Hillel and the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), according to Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, Tufts Hillel's executive director.

The policy came to discussion after senior Jack Irmas, president of the Tufts chapter of SJP, approached Hillel about co-sponsoring the Nov. 15 event featuring Diana Buttu, a former spokesperson and negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Alice Rothchild, the chair of the Boston chapter of the nonprofit organization American Jews for a Just Peace. Rothschild and Buttu came to campus to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the future of the Middle East peace process.

"In order to reach more people, in order to make the event more robust, we wanted to invite other student organizations on camp to co-sponsor the event with us," Irmas said.

According to Irmas, Summit informed him that Tufts Hillel could not sponsor any event with SJP because of objections to the actions and issue positions of other SJP chapters across the country.

It is a national Hillel policy that Hillel chapters do not co-sponsor events with any organization that advocates for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, Summit said.

"The reason that it doesn't make sense for Hillel to co-sponsor with SJP is that SJP chapters around the county have been the address for the movement to boycott, divest from and impose sanctions on Israel," Summit said in an e-mail to the Daily.

Tufts Hillel President Rachel Finn, a senior, agreed and said that her organization is dedicated to engaging in a comprehensive discussion about the Middle East.

"Hillel has a problem with associating our name as a co-sponsor for an event with a group that seeks to delegitimize Israel," she said in an e-mail to the Daily. "We … encourage and are deeply committed to dialogue … and working under the NIMEP [New Initiative for Middle East Peace] umbrella to bring to light multiple narratives and opinions."

Finn added that other SJP chapters in the United States have been accused of harassment of students.

"This has happened all over the nation, even on campuses very close to Tufts, and therefore co-sponsorship with a group known for those efforts does not fit within Hillel's mission," Finn said.

Summit said Hillel's stated support for the State of Israel creates a discrepancy between the aims of the two organizations.

 "It doesn't fit our mission to co-sponsor with an organization with a national reputation for sponsoring programs and speakers that delegitimize, demonize and even call for the end of Israel," Summit said.

Summit added that the policy does not apply to any other Tufts group because the views espoused by SJP are unique to the campus.

"No other groups have been so strongly aligned nationally with the movement to promote boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel," he said.

Irmas argued, however, that the Tufts chapter of SJP should not be held accountable for the actions of other SJP chapters. He said that Tufts SJP has not demonstrated the attitudes of other SJP chapters in its programming.

"We haven't had any opportunity to do any pro-Israel or any anti-Israel actions because we're a new group," he said.

Tufts SJP has, in its first semester as a Tufts Community Union-recognized student organization, sponsored two film screenings and the Nov. 15 event, according to Irmas. The group also hosted a "lunch and learn discussion" concerning the current status of negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Irmas said that while he could not speak for all the members of Tufts SJP, he personally supports a boycott of products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and of companies that support to Israel's military.

"I do not support an academic or cultural boycott of Israel, and instead seek to engage Israel and its supporters in a dialogue about the conflict and how we can reach a just solution," Irmas said in an e-mail to the Daily.

Tufts Friends of Israel (FOI) President Daniel Bleiberg, a sophomore, said that while FOI has been involved with discussions with other student groups, it shares Hillel's opinion that other SJP chapters' stance on Israel gives reason for groups that support Israel, including FOI, to refrain from co-sponsoring events with SJP.

"Unfortunately for the community, the Tufts SJP leadership made a deliberate decision to affiliate with a group that is … the prime address for the demonization of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country as well as detrimental boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns," Bleiberg said in an e-mail to the Daily.

Bleiberg said that he hopes for continued future collaboration between all of the groups on campus related to the conflict in the Middle East.

"Due to the unique circumstances that we are fortunate to have here at Tufts, I believe that, and based on my discussions with SJP leaders, the Middle East groups on campus will be bringing substantive and meaningful programming to the Tufts community in the near future," he said.

Summit said that despite the policy prohibiting co-sponsorship between the two groups, Tufts Hillel advocates dialogue between students who hold differing opinions on Middle East issues.

"Students can come together under forums such as NIMEP for discussion and dialogue," Summit said.

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