Read on to learn more about #OurJudaismIncludes, Open Hillel's campaign urging Hillel International to end its partnership with Mosaic United. You can also read and sign our petition to Hillel here.
Can you describe your campaign...while standing on one foot?
Funny you should ask! In the tradition of Rabbi Hillel, who was famously asked to explain the Torah while standing on one foot:
Mosaic United is an Israeli organization pouring millions of dollars into Hillels across the United States to impose a singular, exclusionary vision of what it means to be Jewish -- a vision that is anti-feminist, anti-LGBT+, opposed to interfaith partnerships, and leaves no room for questions or conversations on Israel/Palestine. We are uniting students, staff, and Jewish community members in calling for an open, inclusive, and pluralistic Jewish community on campus. You can read our petition here! #OurJudaismIncludes #OpenHillel
Interested in getting involved? Sign our petition and sign up to join the campaign here!
Mosaic United and Hillel International:
Q1: What is Mosaic United?
A: Mosaic United is a multi-million dollar project led by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s far-right minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs. It will disburse $66 million over two years in Israeli tax dollars and private funding to Hillel International, Chabad, and Olami Worldwide in order to (in its founders’ own words) combat “the weakening of the Jewish foundations of the family unit” and “critical discourse” surrounding Israel.
Q2: Who is Naftali Bennett?
A: Naftali Bennett is the head of Israel’s far-right Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) political party. He advocates for increasing settlement construction and annexing the West Bank; calls peace proposals “nonsense”; and denies that Israel is engaged in a military Occupation. In his government positions, Bennett has censored human rights organizations, novels, plays, and a variety of individuals who have challenged his worldview and his party’s political agenda. He has also supported a range of misogynistic and homophobic policies in Israel.
Q3: What do Bennett and Mosaic mean when they say that they aim to combat “the weakening of the Jewish foundations of the family unit”?
A: Judging by Bennett and his deputies’ statements and policies, they mean to promote a vision of the family that is homophobic, misogynistic, racist, and anti-interfaith. In 2015, Bennett stated, “Judaism doesn’t recognize gay marriage, just as we don’t recognize milk and meat together as kosher, and nothing will change it.” Bennett supports Israeli laws that prohibit married women from initiating a divorce, and opposes women playing a role in the Israeli Rabbinate. Bennett’s education ministry banned a novel featuring a Jewish-Palestinian romance from Israeli schools out of fears of “miscegenation.” Mosaic’s founders also view Jewish individuals and families practicing Reform, Conservative, or other non-Orthodox branches of Judaism as not fully legitimate. Bennett’s deputy, Ayelet Shaked, called Reform Judaism “nonsense” and said that under no circumstances would their political party accept Reform or Conservative rabbis into the Israeli rabbinate.
Q4: $66 million sounds like a lot of money...but Hillel is huge! Will that money really make a difference?
A: According to Hillel International’s Strategic Implementation Plan, Hillel International raises $25 million annually (while local Hillels raise additional funds). Mosaic’s $66 million will be distributed evenly among Hillel, Chabad, and Olami, so Hillel will receive $22 million from the program, or $11/million for each of the first two years of its operation. Mosaic will increase Hillel International’s budget by nearly 50% and will undoubtedly have a significant influence over Hillel programs and policies.
Q5: Which campus Hillels will receive money from Mosaic? And what will that money be used for?
A: Great question! We actually don’t know, due to Mosaic’s lack of transparency. Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut said that Mosaic “will provide new resources and opportunities,” for Hillel, but it remains unclear where these resources will be directed and what opportunities these resources will provide. Mosaic’s website is quite vague, with a lot of language about “innovation” and very little in the way of actual descriptions of their activities. Most of the information that we have about Mosaic comes from internal Diaspora Ministry documents published by Haaretz, one of Israel’s leading newspapers.
Q6: A Hillel spokesperson has said that the partnership will have "no political influence on Hillel's work whatsoever." Is this true?
A: Hillel International President and CEO Eric Fingerhut recently participated in an Israeli Diaspora Ministry video honoring the ‘reunification’ of Jerusalem -- i.e. Israel’s 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. As a private citizen, Eric Fingerhut is entitled to his opinions on Israel/Palestine. But as the President of Hillel International, he claims to represent the views and concerns of Jewish students at 550 campuses around the world- many of whom oppose the settlements and occupation. Fingerhut's willingness to partner with pro-settlement groups, and the systemic shunning and exclusion of anti-occupation groups, such as J-Street, If Not Now, and Jewish Voice for Peace, suggests that, contrary to the official statement, this partnership does, in fact, influence Hillel's work.
The #OurJudaismIncludes Campaign:
Q1: What is Open Hillel asking for?
A: We are asking for Hillel to reject all donations from Mosaic United to affirm its commitment to pluralism and open discourse in Jewish campus communities. Hillel’s partnership with Mosaic is an affront to Hillel’s values of inclusiveness and pluralism; it is an affront to the LGBT+ community, to women, to non-Orthodox Jews, to interfaith families, and to the fundamental value of open discourse on campus.
Q2: How has Hillel International responded thus far?
A: Before launching this campaign, we reached out to Hillel International to ask about Mosaic's aims and the nature of Hillel's partnership with them; in response, Hillel declined to offer specifics but linked to an article in the Jerusalem Post confirming that Mosaic would work to oppose interfaith families. When Open Hillel chair Sonya Levine, a senior at Wesleyan, asked a Hillel International staff person to meet to discuss Hillel’s partnership with Mosaic, the staff person declined. We will continue to post updates about future communications with Hillel International.
Q3: How can I get involved?
A: There are many ways for students (and non-students) to get involved with this campaign! You can hold an event on your campus, gather petition signatures, write op-eds, join the national campaign team. If you’re interested in learning more and/or getting involved, sign the petition and check “yes, I would love to get involved!” and we’ll be in touch with you. And of course, anything you do to celebrate and promote pluralism in your campus Jewish community helps :)
Q1: What is Open Hillel?
A: Open Hillel is a movement of Jewish students and recent graduates across the country working to promote pluralism and open discourse in the Jewish community on campus and beyond. We are supported in our work by rabbis, professors, and Jewish community members. You can read our mission and vision statements here and the general FAQs about our campaign here.
Q2: What have you done in the past?
A: For nearly four years, Open Hillel has worked to end Hillel International’s exclusionary Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities. Students have organized (and continue to organize) for open discourse on dozens of campuses across the country. Four local Hillels have declared themselves “Open,” stating affirmatively that they will no longer follow Hillel International’s policies. We held a 350-person national conference that brought together Jewish students and community members from across the country to model what a truly open Jewish community could look like, with forty different sessions on a range of issues in Israel-Palestine and the American Jewish community. We organized a national civil rights tour that highlighted the ways in which Hillel’s policies preclude crucial discussions of civil rights and racial justice in the US and around the world. We have called upon the Jewish Federations to stop conditioning their support for Jewish life on campus and beyond on Jewish institutions’ adherence to red lines around Israel-Palestine. Our Academic Council and Rabbinical Council are raising awareness about issues of open discourse in the broader Jewish community. And we have done, and will continue to do, so much more!
Q3: How does this campaign around Mosaic relate to Open Hillel’s efforts to end the Standards of Partnership?
A: For Hillel to truly affirm its commitment to pluralism and open discourse, rejecting funds from Mosaic United is only the first step. In addition, Hillel must end its Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities, which exclude Jewish students and critical perspectives from the Jewish community on campus.
Q4: Why is Open Hillel working on issues of gender, sexuality, and interfaith inclusion?
A: Open Hillel works to promote pluralism, open discourse, and inclusivity in the Jewish community. In the past, we have found that Hillel is genuinely pluralistic with regards to most issues, such as gender and sexuality, interfaith partnerships and families, religious denomination, or political views on US domestic policy. Hillel’s Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities, which exclude individuals and organizations from the Jewish community on campus based on their views on Israel-Palestine, presented an exception to Hillel’s general culture of pluralism and openness. However, Hillel’s new partnership with Mosaic shows that sadly, Hillel is moving away from pluralism not just with regards to the Israel-Palestine conversation, but also with regards to so many other issues. Therefore, we urge Hillel to reject its partnership with Mosaic and affirm its commitment to pluralism.
Q5: If Open Hillel doesn’t take a position on Israel/Palestine, why are you talking about Naftali Bennett?
A: Naftali Bennett is an elected member of the Israeli Parliament; and Open Hillel does not take a view on his actions and policies within Israel. However, when Bennett uses his position in Israel to suppress open discourse on Israel-Palestine in the Jewish campus community in the United States; and when he uses his position to impose a singular vision of the Jewish family in our Jewish campus communities; we call upon Hillel to cut ties with his program.