The U.S. and the world has spent so much time, so much money on trying to bring peace between Israel and Palestinians with no real progress to show for their efforts. Maybe these Jewish student groups are the hope for peace in the future--if only the old guard will get out of the way."At Harvard, the Jewish student group Hillel was barred from co-sponsoring a discussion with a Palestinian student group. At Binghamton University, a Hillel student leader was forced to resign his position after showing a film about Palestinians and inviting the filmmaker's brother to speak. And on many other campuses, Hillel chapters have been instructed to reject collaboration with left-leaning Jewish groups.
At American colleges, few values are as sacred as open debate and few issues as contested as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Hillel, whose core mission is to keep the next generation of Jews in the fold, says that under its auspices one thing is not open to debate: Those who reject or repudiate Israel have no place.
This month, the students at Swarthmore Hillel rebelled, declaring themselves the first 'Open Hillel' in the nation. They will not abide by Hillel guidelines that prohibit chapters from collaborating with speakers or groups that...'apply a double standard' to Israel."
I can't help but applaud the Hillel members at Swarthmore."The Hillel dispute has amplified an increasingly bitter intra-Jewish debate over what is permissible discussion and activisim about Israel on college campuses...
...Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School who was once a faculty adviser for the Harvard hillel, said in an interview: 'I don't think this is a free-speech issue. The people who want divestment and boycotts have plenty of opportunity to speak on campus. The question is a branding one. You can see why Hillel does not want its brand to be diluted.'"
Sorry, but I fail to see how learning more about the people you share a geographic location with is diluting your brand. Knowledge is strength."In interviews, some students said that college should be a place for no-holds-barred discussions about Israel and that Hillel should host those discussions, since Hillel emphasizes inclusion and takes its name from a rabbinical sage who welcomed intellectual challenge.
'Hillel does a fantastic job of bringing together Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, secular students, and respecting everyone's different religious practice,' said Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a student active in the Hillel at Harvard. 'But in the political realm, that sort of pluralism just doesn't exist, and students who have more dissident views on Israel are excluded in many ways.'
Joshua Wolfsun, a student on the Swarthmore Hillel board, said, 'There are a lot of really smart people across the political spectrum on Israel that we want to talk to, and we feel that Hillel should not have a political litmus test on who is allowed and who is not.'"
Benjamin Sheridan, a student at Binghamton University was forced from his Hillel position and stripped of a paid internship after arranging a showing of the Academy Award nominated film "5 Broken Cameras" and asking the brother of the Palestinian who created the film to speak."'The second I question Israel--Israeli policies, not its existence--all of a sudden I'm a pariah?' he asked. 'If Hillel is going to be the group that represents all Jews, how can it say, 'On Israel we have one policy only?'"
When two people see themselves as enemies, the first step in ending that enmity is to talk, to begin to know each other. Only then can there be understanding.
By refusing to talk to or to listen to anyone but your own insular group, you are not only isolating yourself from the rest of the world and its diverse opinions, but you are denying the rest of the world the chance to know yours. The students at Swarthmore have taken the first steps to being heard by deciding they will listen. Hopefully we are seeing the first steps to understanding.