Global, Israel, Politics

Spitzer Forum Patronizes, Infantalizes

New Voices‘ Ben Murane and Ilana Sichel report back on Hillel’s Spitzer Forum, which they deem, “not an example of the responsible Jewish global citizenship for which students were encouraged to strive, but an early sign of the conspicuous omission of sensitive, honest discussion about moral troubles in Israel.”

Last week Avraham Infeld, president of the Jewish campus organization Hillel, rightfully stated that tzedakah is easier than tzedek. The difference between charity and justice, he pointed out at the Spitzer Forum on Public Policy/JCPA Plenum, is the difference between providing essentials like food or clothing and dealing with the root causes of poverty and inequality.
Infeld’s insight was so right. Why, then, was Hillel’s Spitzer Forum, which was ostensibly committed to social justice, so very wrong?
According to the conference literature, the forum’s priority was to “make the connection between being a responsible citizen and a responsible Jew, by exploring social justice work through a Jewish lens.” But what we experienced during this three-day bonanza was a culture of luxury, condescension and half-hearted commitments that was embarrassingly inconsistent with the mission. The apparent contradiction of hosting a social justice convention in a four-star hotel, the insulting infantilization of students, and the noticeable failure to address the structural inequities within the Jewish state, prompted us to question not only how Hillel defines social justice, but how it is training the next generation of Jewish leaders.

Read on…

12 thoughts on “Spitzer Forum Patronizes, Infantalizes

  1. The more disturbing part of the article was that the kids were turned into Bush administration lobbyists, without their consent.

    In striking opposition to its mission of training responsible citizens, the forum used students to push contentious legislation that the JCPA had decided upon months before the convention. The bills included the renewal of the highly controversial Patriot Act with only minor revisions, and H.R. Bill 4681, which would curtail the critical Palestinian aid that pays the salaries of 130,000 employees, and would restrict our government’s ability to work with moderates like President Mahmoud Abbas.
    As of the night before the lobbying activity, an informal survey of student participants revealed that the vast majority had no idea what they were lobbying for or why. Why would a conference that claims to want students, as its literature proclaims, to “Organize,” “Protest” and “Vote,” deprive them the opportunity to dissent from, or at least engage with, the highly suspect political agendas of both the JCPA and the American government itself?
    The JCPA and the conference might have put their authority and ideology on the line had they opened themselves up to students’ participation. Indeed, we would have called it creating a culture of democracy.
    The infantilization of students was part of a tactical decision to push a narrow agenda that obscured the thorny sides of the subjects at hand, and it began early. The Spitzer Forum opened with a celebration of Hillel’s 500th Birthright Israel trip. To us, this was not an example of the responsible Jewish global citizenship for which students were encouraged to strive, but an early sign of the conspicuous omission of sensitive, honest discussion about moral troubles in Israel.

  2. I think that criticism is a unnecessarily harsh. The bone-marrow film illustrated a successful outsome of a Hillel project- and Sptizer forum is faulted for not providing immediate means to register for Marrow Donation. And not collecting and recycling empty water bottles. And choosing a site that is nicer than a “shoestring budget” should be. And not provoding an opportunity to dissent from the JCPA agenda.
    That’s some serious bullshit. It’s great that you’re agitated to get out and do good works. Stop whining that not everything is being spoonfed. If you want to dissent, step up. How dare you ask an organization to provide a point and counterpoint in a single breath. Quit the bitch-and-whine routine, get a trashbag, and start picking up the bottles yourself.

  3. Ummm, maybe because Hillel is simply trying to perpetuate the ‘old school’ paradigm of Jews who support the government of Israel, no questions asked. Or worse, Jews who are willing to combat the evil forces of Arab propaganda on campus, thus buying into the ‘innocent victim’ approach of hasbara. This should come as a surprise to no one. Hillel, for all its emphasis on students, has never been cutting edge.

  4. I am amazed that anyone is still surprised by this. Hillel has been, and probably will continue to be, a complete joke.

  5. without reading on, I’m guessing the the forum didnt “act responsibly” because it didnt mention the gas chambers, the concentration camps,the Zionist SS and other
    aspects of the palestinian holocoust.

  6. alex’s remarks are the perfect example of precisely what is wrong with the state of zionism. to even suggest, god forbid, that we need to be honest about the human rights situation in israel and address it from a reasonable place immediately, in their heads, equates with calling israel nazi germany. it is disgraceful, childish, and exactly the kind of patronizing infantalization ben and ilana are complaining about.

  7. Hillel is a massive beaurocratic albatross. I don’t work for them, but I work for an organization in the Jewish non-profit world and I have had plenty of very high-level meetings with them dealing with programmatic as well and fund-raising departments of the organization. As a national organization they do not see themselves as existing to serve students. At the national level, their “client” is the Hillel professional on campus. They’re just as much a part of the massive black hole of money as your average JCC, Federation, or big-ass synagogue. Frustrating as hell to try to work with, too. They’re very stuck in old and ineffective paradigms.

  8. Dameocrat–
    There are plenty of problems with recent organized Jewish lobbying efforts, but lots not forget what the so-called “employees” of the Palestinian authority being affected by H.R. Bill 4681 actually do for a living. From a March 11 NYTimes article: “Mr. Sinokrot needs $115 million a month just to pay the salaries of 145,000 public sector employees, about half of whom, he said, shaking his head, are listed as security forces. Most of them have weapons.” Now, a bill that is really disconcerting is being promoted by AIPAC. It aims to prevent not only U.S. governmental aid to the Palestinians, but also aid provided by NGOs. Check out MJ Rosenberg’s for an excellent critique of the bill.

  9. Siviyo,
    Folks like you would have been handy at Spitzer–at least you are motivated to do something. What shocked Ilana and I the most were how the future Jewish leaders were being led around like grazing cows, not noticing nor caring about the oversights, feeling happy and proud of their social justice cheering.
    Or worse, like Alex, feel like they’ve already got everything figured out. It’s time to wake up–you don’t, I don’t, and that’s the point.
    Rather than forced to stand up for themselves, they were reduced to cheerleaders–whereas the few of us who did anything were, alas, in the minority.
    I “dare” demand that leadership and critical thinking be taught, not obedience.
    Ben Murane

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