Oberlin, OH — On Friday night, student leaders of Oberlin College’s Hillel and other Jewish and Israel-Palestine activism groups published a statement to condemn Oberlin Hillel for refusing to host a talk by an Oberlin professor and three white Jewish civil rights activists whose views violate Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership.
Titled “Jewish Community Must Include Diverse Opinions,” the statement was signed by members and current and past co-chairs of Oberlin College Hillel, co-chairs of Oberlin Zionists, co-chairs of Oberlin J Street U, and members of Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine. In the statement, students expressed support for the event and condemned attempts to limit discussion within Jewish spaces at Oberlin College.
Oberlin College Hillel chose to pull their support and sponsorship a week before the event because of the speakers’ expressed opinions on Israel/Palestine.
On Wednesday April 8, the three white Jewish veterans of the Civil Rights Movement spoke at King Hall in Oberlin College alongside Dr. Pam Brooks, chair of Oberlin’s Africana Studies Department and the daughter of Owen Brooks, who was also a Mississippi Freedom Movement Veteran. The event, co-sponsored by Oberlin Progressive Jewish Collective, Oberlin College Democrats, and Queer Jews and Allies, took place as part of a national tour to promote open discourse on Israel-Palestine in campus Jewish communities.
“I was deeply moved and inspired by the speakers, who stressed how social justice and activism are essential to their Judaism,” said Sam Price, an Oberlin sophomore and Outreach Coordinator for Oberlin Hillel. “This event succeeded in bringing together Jews with a diversity of opinions and from various backgrounds to challenge the occupation and dismantle systems of oppression.”
The veteran activists — Dorothy Zellner, Ira Grupper, and Larry Rubin– served as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizers in the 1960s. They shared their experiences fighting for human rights in the 1960s and in modern-day America. Ms. Brooks, whose work has focused on black resistance movements in the U. S. South and South Africa, discussed being exposed to the tradition of radical activism between and among Black and Jewish people during her upbringing in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.
Under Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership, these three Jewish leaders are not allowed to speak within Hillel because of their opinions about Israel and activism in protest of its policies.
“The panelists are living examples of committed Jewish community leaders, and it is intolerable that an organization such as Hillel, the center for Jewish life on campus, would not allow such speakers on the grounds that they have differing political beliefs”, said Jeremy Swack, one of the organizers for the Oberlin civil rights event.
Oberlin’s event reflects a broader pattern of Jewish students protesting Hillel’s Standards of Partnership and and being forced to host speakers like the civil rights activists outside of Hillel. Last month, Hillel and Hillel-affiliated Jewish student leaders at Muhlenberg College and the University of Michigan were barred from bringing these activists to speak at Hillels and hosted them outside of Jewish spaces, despite the fact that over 100 people attended each of these events. Last month, Jewish students at Swarthmore College voted to change their organization’s name from Swarthmore Hillel to Swarthmore Kehilah in order to host the civil rights veterans after Hillel International threatened to sue Swarthmore College over hosting the event.
Increasingly, students are turning away from Hillel International and creating their own programming and communities, as students who sponsored these civil rights veterans at University of Chicago have done under jUChicago and other Jewish student groups.
Hillel International has given no indication that it will change its policies in the face of this student backlash.
From Mississippi to Jerusalem: In Conversation with Jewish Civil Rights Veterans is a national tour taking place from February 25-April 19, 2015, organized by Open Hillel. During this time, the Freedom Summer Vets will visit over a dozen schools across New England, the mid-Atlantic, the Midwest, and the South. Speaker biographies and more information about the tour are available on Open Hillel’s website.
Open Hillel is a national grassroots organization of Jewish college students and young alumni working to promote inclusion and open discourse on Israel-Palestine within campus Jewish communities.