Washington, D.C. – May 11th, 2014 – Following pressure from the Open Hillel campaign, Hillel International President and CEO Eric Fingerhut announced that Hillel will create an “Israel Strategy Committee” as well as a Student Cabinet. The Israel Strategy Committee will convene students and Hillel professionals to make recommendations on improving programing on Israel-Palestine, while the Student Cabinet will represent general student concerns in Hillel International. The Open Hillel campaign responded to these announcements with two statements commending Hillel International for these changes and urging Hillel to ensure that these bodies are more than just token gestures to students.
The first statement calls upon Hillel International to ensure that the Student Cabinet is democratically elected and representative of a wide diversity of views. The second expresses the importance of including students from a variety of political perspectives on the “Israel Strategy Committee,” including students who are currently excluded by Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities. Hillel International is the umbrella organization for nearly all Jewish campus communities in America, with over 550 local branches worldwide. Open Hillel, a grassroots campaign of Jewish college students and recent alums, works to make Hillel more inclusive and to change Hillel International’s “Standards of Partnership,” which currently restrict free discourse on Israel-Palestine within Hillel. Eric Fingerhut first indicated that a review of Hillel’s Israel policies was needed during a talk at UCLA in January, and Hillel International first announced the formation of a student cabinet at the J Street U National Town Hall in April, in person and via twitter. However, this recent announcement is the first official announcement of a committee to review these policies. “These announcements show that Hillel International is finally listening to student activists,” says Emily Unger, an Open Hillel organizer who graduated from college in 2013. “Hillel is realizing that it needs to be accountable to the students it seeks to serve. There’s no doubt that without the dedicated work of Open Hillel’s student organizers and supporters, these changes would never have happened.” Despite these victories, there is more work to be done. “Now Hillel International needs to make sure that these new committees are transparent, democratic, and represent the true diversity of views that exist in the Jewish community,” Unger says. “These committees can create real change, or can serve as cover for perpetuating the status quo. We will not stop pushing until Hillel International’s policies support full inclusion and open discourse in our communities.”