The Palestinian activist groups understand well that Israel's image in the West depends to a large extent to the Jewish diaspora. Since Israel sees the diaspora as an integral part of the Israeli community at large, the importance of the relations between the two cannot be overstated.
But the BDS drive and the heated discourse that it generates on campus and beyond has created strife among Jewish students and academics. As IAM reported, one issue of contention pertains to the freedom to debate BDS. Hillel International, the umbrella organization that oversees and funds the network of Hillel chapters, does not allow speakers who support BDS to appear at its events. Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania was the first to challenge this decision in 2013, subsequently leading to the Open Hillel movement. As of now, there are some 3 chapters in campuses in the United States, Swarthmore, Harvard and Vassar.
But the liberal segments among American Jews have continued to challenge the Hillel decision. J-Street, the liberal lobby that has established its own network on campuses has provided a counterpart to Hillel International. More to the point, Open Hillel has recently created its own Academic Council with the support of 55 American academics.
The Academic Council endorsed a statement that reads: “Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership narrowly circumscribe discourse about Israel-Palestine and only serve to foster estrangement from the organized Jewish community… Just as our classrooms must be spaces that embrace diversity of experience and opinion, so must Hillel.”
Needless to say the schism among Jewish students and academics on campus is detrimental to the fight against BDS. At the same time, there are no easy solutions to the problem.
Israel, which was once a source of identify and cohesion among diaspora Jews, has become a source of division. The Pew survey of 2013 indicates that this trend is generational, in the sense that the younger cohorts are most distant from Israel and less likely to agree with the policies of the Israeli government. Though most Jewish students reject BDS and the occasionally virulent rhetoric of pro-Palestinian activists, many embrace the principle of free speech in and out of classroom.
(January 2016) - Open Hillel is proud to announce the formation of its Academic Council, an initial group of fifty-five professors across the United States and Canada. They are specialists in a range of fields, and the group includes many highly regarded scholars of Israel-Palestine and Jewish America. The Council features department chairs, columnists, and public intellectuals. They are secular, religious and spiritual; and they hold a diverse range of views on Israel-Palestine. What unites them is not a particular political stance but a shared commitment to promoting open discourse in their classrooms and on their campuses.
The professors of the Academic Council have all affirmed the following statement:
“As an academic, I support Open Hillel’s efforts to restore the values of critical inquiry, inclusivity, and disputation to Jewish campus communities. Hillel International's Standards of Partnership narrowly circumscribe discourse about Israel-Palestine and only serve to foster estrangement from the organized Jewish community. Regardless of my own political beliefs, I reject any attempts to stifle conversation about Israel-Palestine, ostracize student or faculty activists, or monitor the speech of students or intellectuals inside Hillel and the campus at large. Just as our classrooms must be spaces that embrace diversity of experience and opinion, so must Hillel. By joining Open Hillel's academic council, I affirm my commitment to bringing these values to life both in my classroom and in my community.”
Hillel has historically promoted the academic values of free discourse and open debate. In 1971, the head of Hillel’s Israel department declared that “the healthy desire of students to hear ‘all sides of the question’ obligates Hillel to welcome many responsible speakers to its platform.” For decades, Hillel’s Board of Directors featured many professors and educators: individuals committed to helping students wrestle with ideas in accordance with the best of our Jewish and academic traditions.
Yet, in recent years, Hillel has pushed out many of these board members and replaced them with far wealthier donors -- individuals who lack their predecessors’ respect for academic freedom and who seek to enforce their own right-wing ideologies. Along with this change in leadership, Hillel has changed its attitudes and policies, turning from promoting open discourse on Israel-Palestine to stifling such discourse. In 2010, Hillel enacted its Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities, barring speakers and events deemed too critical of Israel. Professors are now subjected to Hillel International’s litmus tests before being allowed to speak in Hillel houses on their own campuses. Tragically, these Standards have served to estrange professors and students alike from organized Jewish life.
Hillel’s recent aggressive attempts to police discourse about Israel place it in direct conflict with the spirit of the academy. Hillel is forcing an unnecessary and destructive choice between academic freedom and membership in the Jewish community. In forming this Council, professors are publicly joining students in fighting back to restore the principle of open discourse in Jewish campus communities. They will partner with students across the country as speakers, advisers, and interlocutors around these questions. We are excited about the many ways in which students and faculty will work together to make their Hillels, once again, places of open discussion and debate.
If you would like to work individually with any professors on our Council, please feel free to contact the professor directly or e-mail Aaron Steinberg-Madow at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are an academic and are interested in learning more about the work o the Council, please feel free to contact Aaron as well.
(We update this list as new academics join.)
- Aaron Hahn Tapper, University of San Francisco, Mae and Benjamin Swig Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and
Director, Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice
- Aaron Hughes, University of Rochester, Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies
- Alex Lubin, University of New Mexico, Professor and Chair of the American Studies Department
- Amy Kaplan, University of Pennsylvania, Edward W. Kane Professor of English
- Atalia Omer, Notre Dame University, Associate Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies
- Benjamin Schreier, Penn State University, Associate Professor of English and Jewish Studies, Director of Jewish Studies Program
- Bruce Rosenstock, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Associate Professor of Religion
- Caroline Light, Harvard University, Director of Studies and Lecturer on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality
- Charles H. Manekin, University of Maryland, Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center of Jewish Studies
- Dan Segal, Pitzer College, Jean Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and Professor of History
- Daniel Boyarin, University of California-Berkeley, Hermann P. And Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric
- Daniel Falk, Penn State University, Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Chaiken Family Chair in Jewish Studies
- David Biale, University of California-Davis, Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History
- David Myers, University of California - Los Angeles, Professor & Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History
- Diane L. Wolf, University of California-Davis, Professor of Sociology, Director, Jewish Studies Program
- Dov Waxman, Northeastern University, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs and Israel Studies; Co-Director, Middle East Center
- Elizabeth Anker, George Washington University, Associate Professor of American Studies and Political Science
- Eve Spangler, Boston College, Associate Professor of Sociology
- Harriet L. Murav, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Editor, Slavic Review
- Hasia Diner, New York University, Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History; Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies
- Hilton Obenzinger, Stanford University, Emeritus Lecturer
- Jennifer Glaser, University of Cincinnati, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature
- Jeffrey Shoulson, University of Connecticut, Doris and Simon Konover Chair of Judaic Studies; Director, Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life; Professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages; Professor of English
- Jeremy Pressman, University of Connecticut, Associate Professor of Political Science, Director of Middle East Program
- Joel Beinin, Stanford University, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle Eastern History
- Josh Schreier, Vassar College, Associate Professor of History
- Judith Butler, University of California-Berkeley, Maxine Eliot Professor in the Department of Literature and the Program of Critical Theory
- Kenneth Koltun-Fromm, Haverford College, Professor of Religion
- Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Pomona College, Associate Professor of English and Gender and Women's Studies; Coordinator of Gender and Women's Studies
- Laura S. Levitt, Temple University, Professor of Religion, Jewish Studies and Gender
- Lee Sharkey, University of Maine-Farmington, Professor Emeritus of English and Women's Studies
- Lincoln Z. Shlensky, University, of Victoria, Associate Professor of English
- Marion Katz, New York University, Professor of Mdidle Eastern and Islamic Studies; Director of Graduate Studies
- Marjorie N. Feld, Babson College, Associate Professor of History
- Mark LeVine, University of California - Irvine, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History
- Matthew Ellis, Sarah Lawrence College, Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation Chair in Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs
- Max Weiss, Princeton University, Associate Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies, Elias Boudinot Bicentennial Preceptor
- Michael Rothberg, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Professor of English and Head of the Department of English; Director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies Initiative and a Conrad Humanities Scholar.
- Michael Staub, Baruch College, Professor of English
- Michael Zank, Boston University, Professor of Religion and Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies
- Mira Sucharov, Carleton University, Associate Professor of Political Science
- Naomi Koltun-Fromm, Haverford College, Professor of Religion
- Nathaniel Deutsch, University of California - Santa Cruz, Professor of History, Co-Director of the Center for Jewish Studies and the Director of the Institute for Humanities Research
- Neil Levi, Drew University, Associate Professor of English
- Nina Tannenwald, Brown University, Faculty Fellow at the Watson Institute and Director of the International Relations Program; Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science
- Nora Rubel, University of Rochester, Associate Professor, Department of Religion & Classics; Director, Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies
- Peter Beinart, City University of New York, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science
- Rachel Buff, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Associate Professor of History
- Ranen Omer-Sherman, University of Louisville, JHFE Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies
- Sa'ed Atshan, Swarthmore College, Visiting Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies
- Sara Abrevaya Stein, University of California- Los Angeles, Professor and Maurice Amado Endowed Chair in Sephardic Studies
- Shana Minkin, Sewanee: The University of the South, Assistant Professor of International and Global Studies
- Shaul Magid, Indiana University, Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Chair in Jewish Studies; Professor of Jewish Studies and Religious Studies
- Shira Robinson, George Washington University, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs
- Simona Sharoni, State University of New York - Plattsburgh, Professor of Gender and Women's Studies
- Steven Zipperstein, Stanford University, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History
- Stuart Z. Charmé, Rutgers University, Professor of Religion
- Todd Gitlin, Columbia University, Professor & Chair, Ph.D. Program of Columbia Journalism School
- Todd Presner, University of California-Los Angeles, Professor of Germanic Languages, Comparative Literature, and Jewish Studies; Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies; Chair of Digital Humanities
- Wendy Brown, University of California-Berkeley, Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science
- Zachary Braiterman, Syracuse University, Professor of Religion
- Zachary Lockman, New York University, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, History
 “Hillel Directors Discuss Problems.” Jewish Exponent, January 22, 1971: 21.
Peter Beinart, 54 other academics demand Hillel open up Israel dialogue
January 7, 2016 4:09pm
(JTA) — The Open Hillel student group has established a council of 55
academics who support its mission to open up dialogue about Israel at
Open Hillel announced the launch of its Academic Council on Thursday, which
includes high-profile Jewish academics like Peter Beinart, Judith Butler
and Shaul Magid.
The academics were said to have endorsed a statements that reads in part:
“Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership narrowly circumscribe
discourse about Israel-Palestine and only serve to foster estrangement from
the organized Jewish community. … Just as our classrooms must be spaces
that embrace diversity of experience and opinion, so must Hillel.”
Hillel International’s partnership standards prohibit the Jewish campus
group from working with people or organizations that, among other things,
deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state or support
the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS movement, against Israel.
“Jewish life on university campuses must reflect the openness to ideas
which defines the academy,” Hasia Diner, the director of New York
University’s Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History and one
of the 55 academics, said in the news release about council. “Jewish life
will be sapped of its vitality, and its broad appeal will narrow when
Jewish students are told that their Jewish spaces cannot sustain the same
kind of flurry of viewpoints that prevails on the campus at large.”
In December 2013, Swarthmore College declared its Hillel chapter
“open,” saying it would not abide by Hillel International’s rules
prohibiting partnering with or hosting groups or speakers who deny
Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish or democratic state. Jewish students
at several other colleges subsequently expressed support for that position.
The Swarthmore chapter disassociated from Hillel in March after the
organization threatened legal action if the Pennsylvania school continued
to use Hillel in its group name; the chapter is now known as Swarthmore
Hillel President Eric Fingerhut has said the organization is committed to
inclusiveness, but will not give a platform to those who want to attack
“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,” Fingerhut said in 2014 in response to Vassar’s
decision to declare its Jewish Union an Open Hillel. “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. This includes
groups or individuals that support and advance the BDS movement, which
represents a vicious attack on the State of Israel and the Jewish
Why I'm Joining Open Hillel’s Academic Council — BDS Disagreements or No
January 10, 2016
When I was a plucky 11-year old, I challenged the biblical account of creation at my Jewish day school in Winnipeg, Canada. Instead of getting punished, I was invited over to the high school wing to continue the debate with the senior Judaic studies teacher. As is befitting a culture of open critique, I felt privileged and encouraged, not humiliated and chastised.
Jewish life has a great tradition of questioning — something that is fostered in almost all Jewish denominations. (In this respect, ultra-Orthodoxy, with its practice of excommunication, is an odd outlier.) But when it comes to Israel, a culture of fear has taken hold among many mainstream Jewish institutions. This fear — coupled with a slavish adherence to the desires of a few powerful donors rather than accountability to the more pluralistic grassroots base — has led otherwise open-minded leaders to succumb to close-mindedness.
That is why, when the Open Hillel Academic Council launched last week, I was proud to count myself part of the 55 founding scholars (now up to 67 and growing) who are providing intellectual support to the initiative. Recent university graduates and students like Rachel Sandalow-Ash (National Organizer), Aaron Steinberg-Madow (Academic Council Organizer) and Caroline Morganti (Internal Coordinator) are seeking to pressure Hillel to adopt greater political pluralism.
Hillel’s Standards of Partnership, one of the key targets of Open Hillel’s critique, forbids inviting speakers or otherwise partnering with groups who “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders,” who “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel,” and who support BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel.
There are at least two significant problems here. One is that the first set of standards is so broad as to potentially disqualify any critic of Israel.
The second is that most Palestine solidarity groups these days support BDS. We can debate the merits of BDS — and in my writings I frequently point to the drawbacks — but if we want Jewish students to be involved in the most relevant debates around Israel and Palestine, we must invite Palestinians (and their supporters) to the table. (They may choose to stay away due to “anti-normalization” tendencies, but that will be a separate challenge.)
You could argue that banning BDS proponents from a shared podium is simply a way to signal Hillel’s opposition to the boycott movement. There is some value to this view. But there’s a more important value at stake: open debate and deep intellectual inquiry. Part of that involves putting everything on the table — short of hate speech (and I have not seen any sufficiently strong argument to convince me that BDS intrinsically entails hateful speech) — and leaving the marketplace of ideas to sort out the best ones.
The Academic Council will not be without its challenges, though. In political inclination, we are a diverse group. I have written many times in opposition to BDS, while my fellow council member Judith Butler has gone on record supporting it. Some council members might believe — as I do — that joining an academic council while supporting an academic boycott (of Israel) is a contradiction in terms. While I suspect that this conundrum will be left for each person to decide privately, perhaps the council will serve as a forum for us to wrestle with each other’s perspectives. That will be a good thing for our campuses and our communities.
And then there is the question of how committed we each are to the centrality of Israel for Jewish identity. (Not surprisingly, I favor a more significant role for Israel.)
So what does unite us? As scholars, we share a core belief in the importance of critical thought and open debate. On campus, this means that we want to see that value expressed in our classrooms and in our corridors. And as someone who cares about nurturing the next generation of Jewish leaders, I want to see our own students carry these same values into their Jewish community affiliations.
While we’re on the topic of Judith Butler, I will state that especially in light of the 2014 fiasco whereby she cancelled her talk at the Jewish Museum in New York (on a topic unrelated to Israel) under donor pressure, I embrace the opportunity stand in solidarity with her in any matter pertaining to open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas.
Finally, as a Jew, I’m not in a position to push other extra-mural campus organizations (such as Catholic or Muslim or Palestinian student associations) to adopt these same practices and principles. But I can push my own community to support them, and thereby serve as a model for others.
Mira Sucharov is associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.