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Is ‘Open Hillel’ Closing Hillel?

By TTN Blog

Our TTN colleague, David Schraub, a lecturer in law at Berkeley, has published a piece in Tablet  (“ATTACKING HILLEL IN COURT, OPEN HILLEL TAKES AIM AT CAMPUS JEWS AND ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW“) on the implications of the insurgent Open Hillel group siding against Jewish students suing San Francisco State University for allegedly tolerating and buttressing “a pervasively hostile anti-Semitic atmosphere.”  The nub of Open Hillel’s brief is that since Hillel doesn’t represent all Jewish students, it’s not antisemitic to exclude it from campus life.  Schraub argues that this would not only curtail the rights of Jewish students but could also undermine anti-discrimination law more generally. 

This is a small sampling from his Tablet article:

The lawsuit caught the eye of Open Hillel, a left-wing group which seeks to overturn Hillel International’s “Standards of Partnership,” a set of guidelines which restrict Hillel’s ability to work with harsh critics of Israel like the BDS movement. At the close of May, Open Hillel filed a brief in support of SFSU and against the aggrieved Jewish students. Their argument was striking: the deliberate targeting of Hillel for exclusion from campus life, they contended, should not even be seen as potential evidence plausibly suggesting anti-Semitism.  . . .

There’s no conceptual barrier to harboring sharply critical views of Hillel and simultaneously recognizing its importance and centrality to Jewish life and inclusion on American universities.  . . . I, for example, have vigorously protested against Hillel’s unaccountable organizational structure and publicly urged that Hillel democratize itself along the model of the British Union of Jewish Students. My view is that Hillel has . . . grossly mismanaged the application of its partnership guidelines and that these failures are directly attributable to a failure of democratic accountability to its own students. Nonetheless, I also recognize Hillel’s standing at the center of campus Jewish life and know full well what it means when campus actors try to excise it from the university community.  . . . 

Open Hillel . .  could have very easily asserted that while debates over Hillel International’s policies are both desirous and legitimate, debates over whether the primary space for Jewish communal life on campus should be expunged are not. Such a position would have been easily harmonized with Open Hillel’s putative commitments to pluralism and open engagement. After all, how can Hillel be “open” to a campus that refuses to allow it in the door?

Instead, Open Hillel actively chose to actively align itself with groups who seek to drive Hillel from campus outright. It is not just at SFSU either—from Cal Poly to Stony Brook to the University of Ottawa, campus actors have grown increasingly emboldened in asserting that Hillel’s association with Israel necessitates that it be isolated and if possible extirpated from the university setting entirely.   . . .

Click here for the entire article.

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