Berkeley Hillel Urged To Go 'Open' on Israel by Alumni

Petition Pushes Student Group To Reject Pro-Israel Rules

By Hody Nemes

Published February 20, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Alumni of UC Berkeley have written an open letter urging Berkeley Hillel to become the latest campus group to join the Open Hillel movement and reject the umbrella group’s pro-Israel guidelines.

The Open Hillel movement supported by the alumni describes itself as “a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels.” Open Hillel encourages Hillel chapters to reject Hillel International’s Israel guidelines, which prohibit campus Hillels from partnering with clubs and from hosting speakers who “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel,” or deny its right to exist. The guidelines also bar cooperation with anyone who supports boycotts, divestments or sanctions against the Jewish state or who creates “an atmosphere of incivility” on campus.

“We believe that Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership [guidelines on Israel] weaken the organization, alienate Jewish students, and reduce the vibrancy and diversity of the Hillel community,” the alumni wrote in the letter to Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director of UC Berkeley Hillel, and Rob Ruby, president of the Hillel’s board of directors.

So far only two campus Hillels have actually signed on to the Open Hillel movement. Vassar College Hillel’s student board voted on Tuesday to repudiate the Hillel International Israel guidelines (in a move uncoordinated with the UC Berkeley alumni). Swarthmore Hillel’s student board had voted to do the same in December in a move that was widely reported and drew loud declarations of praise and condemnation in the Jewish world.

The letter to UC Berkeley Hillel was written handful of recent UC Berkeley alumni currently living in Israel. It has received over 100 signatures from alumni (of a variety of ages) since it was posted online on Tuesday.

“The organizing idea was to rally alumni idea around the idea of Open Hillel – up until now it’s been a student-led initiative,” said Jeremy Elster, a 2012 graduate of UC Berkeley and one of the letter’s authors. “[I]n a school like Berkeley, the alumni do carry a significant political weight.”

Elster and his fellow organizers emphasized that the guidelines were driving Jewish students away from UC Berkeley Hillel. “It is impossible to know how many students have looked elsewhere for Jewish inspiration, or abandoned their Jewish identity altogether, because of Hillel’s overly narrow policies regarding criticism of Israel,” their letter read.

Elster felt that the guidelines created an unwelcoming atmosphere for those, like him, who held more liberal positions on Israel than many Jewish students.

“It’s really hurtful to be called self-hating, to have comments behind your back,” he said. “For a lot of my friends, after experiencing these kind of attacks, they no longer wanted to engage — and many, many left the building and never returned.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.