I Violate Hillel’s Israel Guidelines: A Non-Apology

CC via Wikimedia Commons

CC via Wikimedia Commons

In a rebuttal to last month’s New York Times article profiling college students who question Hillel guidelines on Israel, Hillel International President and CEO Eric Fingerhut wrote that an “unwavering line” existed on cosponsoring events or welcoming students who “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycotts, divestment or sanctions against Israel; or foster an atmosphere of incivility.” Those students can, according to him, attend “Shabbat dinner and other events, but we cannot and will not let them guide our programming.”

As a Hillel student board member, I am in breach of Hillel’s Israel guidelines. I refuse to abide by them. Further, as the campus Shabbat coordinator, I’ll ensure that all Zionists, post-Zionists, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists have a seat at our table and in our programming.

I violate Mr. Fingerhut’s guidelines as I boycott West Bank settlement products and advocate for divestment from companies located beyond the Green Line. I am also sympathetic to the Boycotts, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement. When “moderate” Israeli politicians like Tzipi Livni  reference BDS in an attempt to build support for the peace process, it confirms my worst fears. The only way to peacefully end Israel’s 47-year military occupation is through unprecedented international pressure.

After living and working in Israel, I recognize that the “two-state solution” paradigm is dangerously outdated. We must figure out a Plan B – for us, for the diaspora Jewish community, and for our Israeli brethren. That’s where Open Hillel steps in, the same movement that Mr. Fingerhut denigrates and opposes.

Twenty years of the peace process has resulted in a tripling of the settler population since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993—growing from 100,000 to more than 300,000, all under the guise of negotiation. While Israeli negotiators sit down in Washington, Caterpillar bulldozers raze Palestinians homes in Area C, those parts of the West Bank Israel agreed to gradually turn over to the Palestinian Authority in Oslo. While Tzipi Livni jets off to international conferences, the Israeli government entraps Gazans in an unlivable jail. While Netanyahu pledges support for “two states,” his cabinet issues an unprecedented number of settlement housing permits.

A two-state solution is inherently flawed—as long as we discuss “solutions,” we ignore the one-state reality on the ground; a 47-year military occupation, unprecedented settlement growth, the rise of the far-right in Israeli politics. As long as we yearn for an undefined, illusive solution, we obfuscate the changing reality on the ground. Absent a diplomatic solution, the current drift towards an apartheid status could take us many more years before it ends.

If the status quo of Israeli occupation and colonial settlement won’t change, how should Americans Jews respond? That’s where Open Hillel enters the equation. We’ve found ourselves in a situation where our parents, our rabbis, our Hillel directors, and our American-Jewish communal leaders do not see what we’re seeing. At the same time when we need Open Hillel the most, the mainstream Jewish establishment has launched an all-out assault.

At one point in his letter, Fingerhut wrote that “other [students] mistake their deeply held disagreements with the policies of the Israeli government as anti-Zionism, while others are swept up in the anti-Zionism of friends or faculty, or simply in the passion of being young and on campus.”

What condescension. It’s alienating and out-of-touch with the needs of Jewish students. Rather than conveying a fruitful message, Mr. Fingerhut chose to issue a counterproductive overreaction. He’s entitled to hold right-wing opinions, of course, but to denigrate his ideological opposition reveals a stark truth about his organizational agenda.

As the head of an organization with over 550 collegiate chapters, Mr. Fingerhut should be able to recognize and respect differing ideological views. Instead, this letter alienates and degrades the very constituency that populates his organization. He casts opposition to Israeli government policy as an exercise in youth rebellion, which is not a compelling argument.

Mr. Fingerhut’s defense of Israel guidelines condones a right-wing Likudnik body politic (not surprising given Hillel International’s recent partnership with AIPAC), meaning my leftist politics are now deemed treif. Considering that historically, Hillel was not a Zionist organization—70 years ago there was much ideological strife in the Jewish community—it’s revisionist of Mr. Fingerhut to expect undue fealty to this dogma.

I support Open Hillel because change won’t happen tonight and the occupation won’t end tomorrow. This is why we need to start having these conversations with our friends, family members, rabbis, and teachers now. We need to prepare ourselves and our community for the breakdown in negotiations and Israel’s long descent towards apartheid.

Mr. Fingerhut, I believe your  “unwavering line” is illegitimate and I refuse to recognize it. At my campus Hillel, we will not follow these guidelines when it comes to programming. Even if you find out who I am, kicking me out of Hillel will not resolve your long-term problem, namely, international delegitimization of Israel arising from its occupation of the Palestinian people.

 

The author wrote this article under the condition of anonymity in order to protect his/her Hillel student board membership and position.

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