Students Object to Hillel Policies

A group of Harvard students has launched a campaign protesting international Hillel policies banning partnerships with student groups that “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.”

The campaign, called Open Hillel and spearheaded by the Hillel-affiliated student group Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, officially launched Jan. 31 with a petition to Hillel International that had already gathered more than 430 signatures as of press time early Thursday morning.

The PJA came up with the idea for Open Hillel after it was prevented from holding an event at Harvard Hillel co-sponsored by the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, a group concerned with the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, according to previous PJA chair Emily S. Unger ’13.

“We feel that these policies end up preventing dialogue [and] collaboration between Jewish and Palestinian groups and excluding some Jewish groups from the Jewish community based on their political views,” Unger said. “Hillel...should not exclude anyone from the community based on their politics.”

Harvard Hillel’s executive director Jonah C. Steinberg, who Unger said has met with the PJA several times to discuss Hillel’s policy, wrote in an email that although he believes it is important for students to participate in discussions about Israel that engage multiple perspectives, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign “is out of keeping with that aim because it encourages alienation rather than constructive connection in relation to Israel.”

“I firmly believe that there is a very important distinction to be drawn between allowing and fostering dialogue, on the one hand, and underwriting and supporting institutional partnerships with [boycott, divestment, and sanctions] campaigns, on the other,” Steinberg wrote in an email to Harvard Hillel’s board members Jan. 31.

Unger said she hopes that if enough people sign the online petition, the PJA will be able to convince the Harvard Hillel Board to modify its rules to make them more inclusive.

Harvard’s campaign has already garnered attention from student groups on other college campuses. According to Unger, the PJA is in contact with students at Tufts University, Brown University, Binghamton University, and Brandeis University who also hope to change international Hillel policies. The petition on Open Hillel’s website is open to all and has been signed by people identifying as students from a variety of schools including Tufts, Temple University, and the University of California, San Diego.

“We’re trying to make it so that Hillel is open to more people. We’re not protesting Hillel,” said Unger. “One of Hillel’s central values is pluralism, and we think that should be extended to political views on Israel as well as to religious pluralism.”

—Staff writer Melody Y. Guan can be reached at Foller her on Twitter @MelodyGuan.