Standards of Partnership turn Hillels from gateways to Jewish identity into discriminatory gatekeepers
Dear Mr. Fingerhut,
    In recent weeks, events at Hillel affiliates across the country have highlighted the inherent flaws of Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership (the “Standards”). The Standards, which you recently assured the Knesset are enforced “rigorously,” have been deployed to silence Jewish students and communities that oppose Israel’s occupation. Recent events at Princeton University and University of Michigan Ann Arbor demonstrate that the exclusionary Standards will not stop us, as Jewish students, from exercising our right to create politically pluralistic Jewish communities.  Recent events have shown that the “Standards” are not standards at all, but rather are deployed arbitrarily by Hillel staff to discriminate against and exclude Jewish students based on political ideology.
On November 4, 2014, Princeton University’s Hillel-affiliated Center for Jewish Life (the “CJL”) hosted a lecture about racism and antisemitism by Professor Doug Massey. The very next day, Prof. Massey attached his name to a statement in the Daily Princetonian calling for divestment from companies complicit in Israel’s military occupation. This triumph for intellectual freedom came on the heels of the CJL being forced by your Standards to preemptively bar Professor Max Weiss, who has publicly expressed support for BDS. Hillels are part of campus communities and spaces of intellectual exploration, so why have many Hillels played an active role in silencing students and faculties from expressing certain opinions? What does it say about a Hillel’s role as part of a campus community when it will not allow professors to speak under its roof?
On Wednesday, November 19, 2014, J Street U Michigan sponsored a lecture in their Hillel building by Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the co-founder of the Israeli organization Rabbis for Human Rights. During the course of his talk, Rabbi Ascherman explicitly broke the Standards by stating that he supports a settlement boycott and could be convinced of the merits of a “targeted divestment” from multinational companies that profit from Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. In addition, he discussed “how important it is to stand in solidarity with Palestinians.”
Rabbi Ascherman’s comments affirmed the Jewish American tradition of standing in solidarity with oppressed groups both at home and abroad. Though it is convenient for Hillel International to pretend such Jewish students do not exist, local Hillel directors do not have that luxury. Just a few weeks earlier, Michigan Hillel staff invited Jewish Voice for Peace-affiliated students to partake in a Shabbat Across Campus initiative. The invitation was awkwardly rescinded when these students titled the Shabbat dinner “Palestinian Solidarity Shabbat.” The students were told that the name was aggressive and exclusive, and yet, over 70 students still showed up to celebrate the unaffiliated Palestinian Solidarity Shabbat. How is it that the “Standards” were deployed to keep a group of students out of Hillel’s tent for holding the same values that Rabbi Ascherman preached just one week later? Standards that are used arbitrarily are not standards at all; they are tools of discrimination.
These events suggest the impossibility and absurdity of forcing Hillel affiliates to conform with a selective boycott of Jewish students and professors. Further, the events at Princeton and Michigan underscore the fact that Hillel chapters derive their strength from students’ desire for critical inquiry, irrespective of the Standards’ ambiguous mandates. It is unclear what “boycott of…the State of Israel” even means. Is a settlement boycott, which is supported by 49 percent of voting Jews under thirty, seen as a violation of the Standards? If so, why is their most prominent Jewish advocate, Peter Beinart, explicitly welcome at Hillel?
In the spirit of the best of the Jewish intellectual tradition, we, along with our peers at universities across the country including PrincetonMichiganHarvardSwarthmoreVassar, and Wesleyan, urge you to eliminate the sweeping, unsophisticated restrictions that are your Standards of Partnership. We do so publicly, as college students and young alumni, with the support of rabbisformer Hillel directorsJewish educatorsjournalists, and academics, all of whom are leaders in the American Jewish community.
Mr. Fingerhut, you once declared that “that every student is welcome at Hillel regardless of his or her personal views on Israel or any other topic in Jewish life.” Why does this sentiment change when those students organize themselves into a Jewish group with views that do not conform to the Standards? Do you really believe that your organization can decide what political and ethical viewpoints are Jewish? We are not telling Hillel that every Jewish student wants to plan or participate in a Palestinian solidarity Shabbat dinner, but rather, that the Jewishness of the students that do cannot be institutionally denied.
At Open Hillel, we have witnessed the way that Hillel International’s Standards seek to turn Hillel affiliates from gateways to Jewish identity into discriminatory gatekeepers. What we seek is nothing less than a return to Hillel’s past as the place that Jewish students of all political persuasions can rightfully call home. After these recent events at Princeton University and University of Michigan, we renew our call for the immediate abolishment of the Standards, along with the culture of alienation, fear, exclusion, and stigmatization that they foster.
It is time for Hillel to embrace the diversity of Jewish students. It is time for Hillel to stop determining who and what is Jewish. It is time for every Hillel to be an Open Hillel.
On behalf of Open Hillel National:
Amelia Dornbush, Swarthmore College Class of 2015
Becca Rosenthal, Claremont McKenna College, Class of 2015
Rachel Sandalow-Ash, Harvard University, Class of 2015