Friday, March 7, 2014

Save Berkeley Hillel

Students and Alumni of UC Berkley have joined together to urge their classmates, colleagues and friends to "Save Berkeley Hillel.". If you are a current student or alumni, please sign the petition here

 We write to you as concerned alumni and concerned students who believe that the message of those pushing for an “Open Hillel” is a fundamental deviance from one of the major pillars of Jewish identity, and therefore, an unacceptable position for our Hillel to take.

 Endorsing speech calling for the dismantling of the Jewish state, or anti-Zionist speech, besides being repugnant in and of itself for denying the right of self determination to the Jewish people, would not create openness in our Jewish community, but rather shut the door on views held by each major Jewish denomination: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist, all of which encourage Zionism and support the State of Israel. To suggest that Hillel could increase its openness by endorsing this and other messages that most Jews see as offensive and hateful is a disastrous idea.

 This is not to argue that a diverse range of opinions should not be welcomed at Hillel; a check on free speech would be disastrous, and deplorable. But supporting free speech within the Hillel building does not mean that Hillel should endorse all speech. Hillel is not a campus classroom, where even the most reprehensible speech can be invoked in the spirit of exchange in the free market of ideas; it is an institution with an ideological message that includes the support of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

 Others might castigate us as narrow-minded and unwilling to engage in dialogue, but this could not be further from the truth. Dialogue and the free exchange of ideas should be protected on campus, but Hillel need not be a platform for each idea. Even though it would be acceptable on campus, no one would dream of welcoming speakers in Hillel who call for the dismantling of the Jewish religion, because that would contradict the essence of Hillel itself, and the case of Israel is no different. By supporting anti-Zionist and anti-Israel speakers, Hillel would cease to be Hillel, and it would become nothing more than a campus building, unprincipled and devoid of messaging.

  It is also important to note that Hillel does recognize diverse opinions regarding Israel. Criticisms can be voiced and speakers from the left-wing to the right-wing have been welcomed into Hillel. A myriad of examples abound of this being the case. However healthy criticism is very different from demonizing, delegitimizing, or applying double standards to Israel, denying its right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, or supporting the BDS movement.

There is nothing “open” about denying the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. There is nothing “open” about demonizing or delegitimizing the state of Israel. There is nothing “open” about BDS. There is nothing “open” about double standards. There is nothing “open” about stripping Hillel of all messaging and leaving it as nothing more than a campus classroom. There is nothing “open” about shutting the door on the values and principles of all Jewish denominations and the overwhelming majority of American Jews.

    Ascribing to the “Open Hillel” movement would be nothing but signing up to become walking contradictions; praising Jewish values on the one hand while calling for an end to them on the other. As students and signatories to this petition, we refuse to become such walking contradictions. We refuse to participate in a Hillel that goes beyond the borders of reasonable dialogue and engages in hateful speech. We will not stand idly by and watch as the Jewish home on campus is stripped of its principles and disintegrates.

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