Sunday, March 29, 2015

PJA Condemns Hillel International's Legal Threats Against Swarthmore



The Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance condemns Hillel International’s threats of legal action over Swarthmore Hillel’s​ plans to host longtime Jewish civil rights activists in their Jewish community.


Earlier this month, we were proud to host one of these activists, Dorothy Zellner, on an interfaith panel on religious traditions and racial justice in Harvard Hillel. This conversation, convened by PJA, the Black Students Association, the Harvard Islamic Society, and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, brought together four activists from a variety of backgrounds who discussed their work on civil rights and racial justice fights past and present. Dorothy Zellner also discussed how her experiences in the U.S. civil rights movement have led her to support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions to end the Israeli Occupation and achieve full civil rights for Palestinians. 


We strongly believe that American Jews must not shy away from conversations about civil rights and social justice, but rather must engage with these key issues of our day.


We are shocked and outraged by Hillel International's attempts to stifle these conversations and intimidate their own students into silence. We support Jewish students at Swarthmore -- as well as Jewish students at MIT and UMass Amherst, who were barred from hosting Jewish civil rights activists in their Hillels -- who are working to bring conversations about civil rights and racial justice into their Jewish communities. We call upon Hillel International to withdraw its threats against Swarthmore. We further call upon Hillel International to eliminate its exclusionary Standards of Partnership, which stymie open discourse in Jewish spaces on campus.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Progressive Jewish Alliance Statement of Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter


We, the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, condemn the recent grand jury decisions to not indict the police officers responsible for killing Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We condemn the racist police violence that has killed not just Brown and Garner but also Aiyana Stanley Jones, Islan Nettles, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Deshwanda Sanchez, and countless others. We are horrified that in the United States, police kill a black person once every twenty-eight hours.

We condemn the many aspects of the American criminal justice system that have given rise to these injustices: an overly militarized police force, minimal police accountability, rampant and unchallenged racism in policing communities. Recent events remind us once again that racism quite literally kills and that the fight for racial justice is far from over.

We stand in solidarity with black student organizers at Harvard who have brought the Harvard community together to say that #BlackLivesMatter and to protest these recent decisions and the systemic problems from which they stem. We were deeply disappointed by the brevity of President Faust’s recent statement, which failed to address the grave and pressing nature of the issue at hand. We call upon Harvard to follow the lead of students of color at this university and lend its institutional power to the fight for racial justice in the Boston area and around the country.

We stand in solidarity with protesters in the Boston area and across the United States who are taking to the streets to demand change. In a world in which “normalcy” consists of white supremacy and systematic state violence inflicted upon communities of color, we applaud efforts to disrupt this normalcy to pressure national, state, and local governments to change their policies and promote racial and economic justice.

We further commend the many individuals and organizations in the Boston Jewish community and the American Jewish community who have taken action to address the issue of racist police violence. We are proud to have signed the Jewish communal letter calling for police accountability and we urge all other Jewish organizations to sign on as well. We are proud to have participated in the national #BlackLivesMatter Chanukah action last week and look forward to participating in similar actions in the future. We urge all Jewish leaders and community members to address this issue through actions as well as words.

Finally, we call upon Harvard Hillel and Hillel International to stand in opposition to racist police violence and in support of recent racial justice protests around the country. As the self-proclaimed Center for Jewish Life on Campus, Hillel must stand in support of black Jewish students, as well as Jewish students of color more generally. Furthermore, as Hillel International seeks to honor historical civil rights struggles and the role that American Jews played in these fights, it must unequivocally affirm this commitment to anti-racism by standing up for racial justice and civil rights today.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Congratulations to the Vassar Jewish Union, the world's second Open Hillel!

Earlier tonight, the Vassar Jewish Union voted to declare their community the world's second Open Hillel! PJA wishes a hearty Mazal Tov to the Vassar Jewish Union, and we hope that many schools will follow. Check out their statement below!


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
SUMMARY: The Vassar Jewish Union is an Open Hillel: Statement adopted by the Vassar Jewish Union on February, 18th 2014
CONTACT: vju@vassar.edu


POUGHKEEPSIE, NY--The Vassar Jewish Union is a Hillel-affiliated student organization that provides a pluralistic space for Jewish life at Vassar. The mission statement of the Vassar Jewish Union calls on us to commit to strengthening our pluralistic Jewish community. We recognize that identification with Israel is not necessarily an integral part of every individual’s Jewish identity. We commit to providing a spiritual and cultural home for Jewish expression in any form.

The Standards of Partnership at Hillel International currently prohibit partnering with, housing, or hosting organizations, groups, or speakers who: “1) Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; 2) Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; 3) Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; and 4) Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.” 

We believe that this policy censors and delegitimizes the diverse range of personal and political opinions held by Jewish students. As a result, organizations such as JStreet and Jewish Voice for Peace have been excluded from campus Hillel organizations, and individual speakers have been barred from addressing students at Hillel chapters around the country. Hillel International advocates identification with Israel as a core element of Jewish life, and a gateway to Jewish identification for students.

We believe that Hillel International’s goal to “inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel” does not represent the diverse opinions of young American Jews. We believe that fostering a pluralistic community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be achieved with Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines in place. According to our constitution the VJU is a non-partisan organization and will not advocate any particular political opinions. In the interest of educating and serving the VJU community, however, the VJU will support individual members’ expressions of their own political views, and will seek to represent this diversity with its programming. In that regard, we welcome open discourse concerning Israel, Palestine, and any other relevant and critical issues, and will not exclude on the basis of political opinion.

As an Open Hillel, the Vassar Jewish Union will not endorse any particular political view. The Vassar Jewish Union will not exclude organizations, groups, speakers, individuals, or events on the basis of political opinion. Rather, we seek to represent the diverse views held by our members and to provide a space for meaningful and respectful debate and discussion. This position is in accordance with our desire to enrich our political, spiritual, and cultural lives at Vassar through free and open discourse.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance stands with Swarthmore Hillel

On December 8th, Swarthmore Hillel unanimously decided to become the first Open Hillel. We, the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, applaud Swarthmore Hillel’s resolution to “encourage dialogue within the diverse and pluralistic Jewish student body” on campus.

Hillel International’s “Standards of Partnership” for Israel activities have twice prevented us from co-sponsoring events with the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee in Hillel. We believe that Jewish-Palestinian dialogue is essential to working towards peace and justice in Israel/Palestine, and are saddened that Hillel’s rules have prevented this sort of dialogue from occurring within Jewish spaces on campus. Moreover, we have also seen how, on other campuses, these standards have been used to exclude Jewish students and Jewish student organizations, and we firmly believe that all Jewish students must be equally welcome in Hillel. Ultimately, Hillels and their students can only engage with the full complexity of issues relating to Israel/Palestine in a productive and meaningful way if we allow a full range of political views to be expressed, discussed, and debated. We congratulate Swarthmore Hillel for living up to Hillel’s self-proclaimed mission of being a foundation for Jewish campus life rather than restricting conversations to those whose political views fall within red lines.

Last November, we joined with students around the country to start the Open Hillel campaign, asking Hillel International to remove its Standards of Partnership. Swarthmore’s recent resolution to become an Open Hillel is an enormously positive step towards making the “Center for Jewish Life on Campus” genuinely pluralistic. We hope that Swarthmore is the first of many Open Hillels, and we urge Harvard Hillel to follow Swarthmore Hillel’s lead and adopt a policy that welcomes all voices and allows for co-sponsorship with all groups on campus.

In his letter responding to Swarthmore Hillel’s announcement, Hillel International’s President and CEO Eric Fingerhut quoted our namesake Rabbi Hillel as saying, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But President Fingerhut neglected to include the remainder of the quote: “And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” If the Jewish community does not listen to dissenting voices within our own community - or to Palestinian voices - are we truly making just decisions or having productive conversations? And if we do not act for change now, then when?

We thank Swarthmore Hillel for their inspiring decision and hope their action encourages Jewish students nationwide to stand up and demand a more inclusive Jewish community on campus.

In solidarity,

Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance
an affiliated group of Harvard Hillel

Please join us in signing the petition in support of Swarthmore Hillel’s decision and the Open Hillel petition to Hillel International.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Open Hillel!

On Sunday night, Swarthmore Hillel declared itself an Open Hillel!

Read their statement, posted online at New Voices and Jewschool! And here's their resolution:

Swarthmore Hillel is an Open Hillel 
Unanimously adopted by Swarthmore Hillel Student Board, December 8, 2013 
Whereas Hillel International prohibits partnering with, hosting, or housing anyone who (a) denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders, (b) delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel, (c) supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; 
And whereas this policy has resulted in the barring of speakers from organizations such as Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Knesset from speaking at Hillels without censorship, and has resulted in Jewish Voice for Peace not being welcome under the Hillel umbrella; 
And whereas this policy runs counter to the values espoused by our namesake, Rabbi Hillel, who was famed for encouraging debate in contrast with Rabbi Shammai; 
And whereas Hillel, while purporting to support all Jewish Campus Life, presents a monolithic face pertaining to Zionism that does not accurately reflect the diverse opinions of young American Jews; 
And whereas Hillel’s statement that Israel is a core element of Jewish life and a gateway to Jewish identification for students does not allow space for others who perceive it as irrelevant to their Judaism; 
And whereas Hillel International’s Israel guidelines privilege only one perspective on Zionism, and make others unwelcome; 
And whereas the goals of fostering a diverse community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be met when Hillel International’s guidelines are in place; 
Therefore be it resolved that Swarthmore Hillel declares itself to be an Open Hillel; an organization that supports Jewish life in all its forms; an organization that is a religious and cultural group whose purpose is not to advocate for one single political view, but rather to open up space that encourages dialogue within the diverse and pluralistic Jewish student body and the larger community at Swarthmore; an organization that will host and partner with any speaker at the discretion of the board, regardless of Hillel International’s Israel guidelines; and an organization that will always strive to be in keeping with the values of open debate and discourse espoused by Rabbi Hillel. 
Contact:
Joshua Wolfsun
Swarthmore Hillel Communications Coordinator
wolfj13@gmail.com
413-687-1809

Also, this has gotten some wonderful press coverage in The Beacon, the ForwardMondoweiss, Muzzlewatch, and JTA.

Finally, check out this back and forth - latest installment yesterday - between Peter Beinart and Shany More in the New York Review of Books, New Republic, Daily Beast that extensively discusses our Avraham Burg event. If only folks had read our press release, perhaps some of this confusion could have been cleared up?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Congratulations to the PJA Board for 2014!

The Progressive Jewish Alliance is excited to announce our board for the upcoming year. Mazel tov to all!

We look forward to another great year of things that are progressive, Jewish, and allied.

Progressive Jewish Alliance Board 2014
Elena Hoffenberg '16, Chair
Ann Finkel '15, Vice-Chair for Israel/Palestine
Joshua Blecher-Cohen '16, Vice-Chair for Programming and Parliamentarian
Justin Szasz '17, Vice-Chair for Campus Outreach
Shai Szulanski '17, Vice-Chair for Corporate Responsibility
Nancy Ko '17, Vice-Chair for Finances
Miriam Rich (GSAS), Grad Student Liaison
Sam Wohns '14, Member-at-Large
Rachel Sandalow-Ash '15, Chair Emerita
Allison Gofman '14, Vice-Chair Emerita for Holidays
Sandra Korn '14, Vice-Chair Emerita for Education

Friday, November 22, 2013

PRESS RELEASE: Burg Barred from Speaking at Harvard Hillel

PRESS RELEASE: Israeli Politician Avraham Burg Barred from Speaking at Harvard Hillel

November 20, 2013, Cambridge, MA— Avraham Burg, the former speaker of Israel's Knesset, spoke in an undergraduate dormitory at Harvard College last week after being barred from speaking at Harvard Hillel.

"It's such a shame that Harvard Hillel would not allow an open discussion about Israel to take place within its walls," said Sandra Korn '14, who helped organize the talk. "Hillel should be a space for students to engage with Jewish issues, regardless of religious or political beliefs."

Burg was allowed to attend an invitation-only dinner in the Hillel building, but was forbidden from hosting the event there since it was co-sponsored by the Harvard College Palestinian Solidarity Committee. The other co-sponsoring student groups included J Street U Harvard and two Hillel-affiliated groups, Harvard Students for Israel and Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance. The event took place in the Quincy House Junior Common Room instead.

"This is an attack on free speech in its most naked form," said Ann Finkel '15, a Harvard student who attended the event. "I'm not sure what they were afraid of - people with all kinds of political views had a very constructive conversation with Mr. Burg."

CONTACT: Rachel Sandalow-Ash
(617) 417-0481
rsandalowash@college.harvard.edu