In light of controversies over Celebrate Israel Parade, Open Hillel calls on UJA, New York JCRC, and Hillel International to end policies of censorship and to include dissenting voices
June 9, 2017
Over the past week, we have noted the spirited debate in the Jewish community over last weekend’s Celebrate Israel Parade and protests of this event. Organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York in partnership with the UJA-Federation of New York and the Israeli government, the Celebrate Israel Parade is one of the largest Jewish community events in the country. This year, the Parade included 40,000 marchers and a wide range of Jewish organizations, including Jewish day schools, Jewish Community Centers, and Hillel International.
The Parade also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the start of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories. While some American Jews are happy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military victory, others are troubled by the situation on the ground and are holding discussions, commemorations, and protests calling for an end to the Occupation.
Unfortunately, the organizers of the parade enacted censorship policies which served to stifle many voices in the Jewish community. Under parade guidelines, participants were barred from holding signs expressing “political slogans” or “divisive statements”. This rule sent a clear message that the New York JCRC and Federation only view praise for Israel, its government, and its current policies as acceptable forms of expression.
In the days since the Celebrate Israel Parade, numerous Jewish leaders have condemned Jewish organizations who protested the event. However, just as participating in parades is a legitimate form of political speech, so too is participating in protests. Just as some Jewish community members express their Jewish values by marching in the Celebrate Israel Parade, so do others express their Jewish values by protesting the parade. Sadly, rather than engage with the grievances and issues raised by the protesters -- such as the Occupation and Palestinian human rights -- too many Jewish leader have chosen to write off the protesters completely.
Indeed, leading Jewish institutions regularly ignore and silence the diversity of voices in the Jewish community Censorship -- like that displayed at the Celebrate Israel Parade -- is a feature of many supposedly pluralistic and broad-based Jewish institutions, including Hillel International, the Jewish Federations, Jewish Community Relations Councils and JCCs.
We can do better. Open Hillel envisions a future in which Jewish community members of all views on Israel/Palestine express themselves freely in Hillel and other Jewish communal spaces. We envision a future in which Jewish institutions embrace hard conversations on Israel-Palestine and represent all Jewish community members, not just their wealthiest donors. We reject censorship and exclusion. We call on the UJA, the New York JCRC, and Hillel International to recognize and affirm the diversity of perspectives within our community, to end their practices and policies of censorship and exclusion, and to commit to supporting true pluralism in the American Jewish community.
We call on Hillel International in particular to end its Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities, which bar the Center for Jewish Life on campus from working with individuals and organizations deemed too critical of Israel and Israeli policy or who engage in disruptive protest tactics. Protests from IfNotNow and others demonstrate that Hillel's insistence on uniform support for Israel does not reflect or embrace the wide variety of stances that Jewish students hold on these issues. Hillel must change its policies and practices so as to become, once again, a true home for Jewish students of all backgrounds and political views.