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Another ‘Open Hillel’

Vassar Jewish Union becomes second Hillel-affiliated group to reject foundation's rules governing acceptable Israel-related speech.

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A second college’s Jewish student organization has joined the “Open Hillel” movement, rejecting Hillel International’s guidelines banning partnerships with groups that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

The  Vassar Jewish Union  announced the decision on its website on Feb. 18, two and a half months after Swarthmore became the first school to repudiate the guidelines. Vassar is located in Poughkeepsie, 90 minutes north of New York City.

“We believe that this policy censors and delegitimizes the diverse range of personal and political opinions held by Jewish students,” the group wrote on their website. 

“We believe that Hillel International’s goal to ‘inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel’ does not represent the diverse opinions of young American Jews,” the statement continues. “We believe that fostering a pluralistic community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be achieved with Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines in place.”

Naomi Dann, VJU’s president told The Jewish Week that her organization aligned itself more closely with the principles of the “Open Hillel” movement than of Hillel International.

“We thought that the values of the Open Hillel movement were already values that we were practicing and we wanted to make a statement,” she said.

Students at Harvard University began the Open Hillel movement in November of 2012 in response to the Hillel International’s guidelines, which were adopted in 2010. In addition to banning partnerships with groups supporting the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, Hillel-affiliated groups are not allowed to partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers” that “Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel … [or] Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

Harvard student Rachel Sandalow-Ash said she helped start the Open Hillel movement because the guidelines are “counterproductive.”

“Every campus Palestinian group supports BDS. What that means is there can’t be any dialogues with Palestinian groups,” she said in a telephone interview. 

She said has been in contact with students from several Hillel-affiliated groups that are considering joining the movement, and that the organization has a core group of a few dozen organizers around the country and a mailing list of several thousand. 

Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut responded to Vassar’s announcement by saying in a written statement that while his group agrees “that Hillel should and will always provide students with an open and pluralistic forum where they can explore issues and opinions related to their Jewish identity,” Hillel “will not, however, give a platform to groups or individuals to attack the Jewish people, Jewish values or the Jewish state’s right to exist.”

Sandalow-Ash doesn’t contest Hillel’s right to create guidelines for the groups that use its name or receive funding.
“We’re not challenging what Hillel has a right to do. It can do whatever it wants,” she said. “The question is what it should do. Hillel as the Foundation of Jewish Life on Campus should be a space that nurtures the fostering of Jewish identities. … I think that is the more important value.”

“Cosponsoring something with another group doesn’t mean that you agree with the other group,” she added. “Groups cosponsor events with each other all the time. The Democrats and the Republicans cosponsor events.”

Fingerhut has reached out to Dann and other VJU leaders asking to discuss the issue in person, and Dann said she has agreed. 

Meanwhile, a group of Boston University students have started “Safe Hillel” in opposition to the “Open Hillel” movement.
“Hillel should not have to change its mission in order to accommodate those who don’t agree with it,” co-founder Raphael Fils told The Jewish Press.

On its website, the group says that “College campuses allow for debate and open discussion, but Hillel is a place for those that support Israel to feel welcomed and safe on the many campuses that have become anti-Israel.”

Last Update:

03/05/2014 - 15:00
Open Hillel, Vassar College
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If Vassar must take sides, then be fair. Stand by your principles and open the floor to groups and speakers that are anti-Islam, anti-Muslims, anti-Arabia and all the 'nation states' into which the western powers divided them in the beginning of the 20th century. There are 22 of them. Then there are all the non-Arab Muslim states, you are now duty bound by your own principles to invite all speakers and groups that are anti-non-Arab nation states. I am sure any student admitted to Vassar knows all of these countries like the back of their hand. This category covers another huge swatch of land mass on the globe. Then we have all the Christ based countries who are taking economic sanction action against Israel. Be sure to invite the speakers who can speak intelligently and convincingly about why the world should boycott them. This will cover the 'western world' of former Europe and the Americas, including criminal Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic countries, the Scandinavian countries, the Balkans and all the Commonwealth countries down under. Then we need informed speakers and groups to demonstrate why Asian countries should be boycotted, rampant rape in India, China's criminal act of occupying Tibet, Myanmar's heinous acts, Pakistan's nuclear threat, North Korea's murderous disgusting regime, and especially all the countries surrounding Israel. Vassar is surely eager to stop the raping and beating to death, acid disfiguring, removal of the sexual pleasure organ of women and sewing them up so that they die of internal poisoning, hangings of those who practice same sex pleasuring. This would cover almost all of Africa and once again Arabia and the continent formerly know as 'Europe' now 'Eurabia'. This list is incomplete, but the scholars and speakers best qualified in every imaginable way to present research, publications, arguments and vision for a better world are the Israeli academics. There are enough of them to go around, all over the world and even on a daily basis. Vassar should be thrilled that every podium dealing with these dire subjects and those subjected to them, will be filled by the unequaled best scholars, researchers and presenters in the world of today: the Israelis.

I find it very inflammatory that your headlines use the name of colleges instead of using the more correct "Jewish students at xxxxx college reject organizational ......." You make it appear that the Colleges, as entities, are behind the Open Hillel movement and by extension anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.

Anonymous: you make a valid point that we shouldn't have said Vassar but rather Vassar Jewish Union. I've changed the subhead. Thanks for pointing that out. -Amy

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