Open Hillel Condemns Hillel’s Censorship of Breaking the Silence at Washington University in St. Louis and Princeton University
Open Hillel Calls on Hillel International to End Partnership with Mosaic United
May 10, 2017
Open Hillel condemns Hillel’s censorship of Breaking the Silence at Washington University in St. Louis and Princeton University. At both universities, Hillel barred J Street U events with Breaking the Silence, an Israeli human rights organization comprised of former IDF soldiers who speak out about conditions in the Occupied Territories.
Hillel’s recent decisions to bar Breaking the Silence indicate a shift in Hillel policy and practice. Students have faced challenges in bringing Breaking the Silence to Hillel in the past; yet campus Hillels hosted Breaking the Silence as recently as the spring of 2016. However, ever since Hillel launched its partnership with the Israeli Diaspora Ministry’s Mosaic United program in August 2016, not a single Hillel has agreed to host Breaking the Silence.
Mosaic United is an Israeli Diaspora Ministry initiative led by Naftali Bennett, an Israeli Cabinet Minister and prominent advocate for the settler movement. The program aims to combat “critical discourse” on Israel and Israeli policy in the Jewish diaspora and particularly on American college campuses.
In recent years, Bennett and the Israeli government have worked to censor Breaking the Silence and other human rights organizations. As Minister of Education, Bennett barred Breaking the Silence from Israel’s schools. Most recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu snubbed the German foreign minister for meeting with Breaking the Silence.
These events suggest that through Mosaic, Bennett and the Israeli Diaspora ministry are extending their censorship of human rights organizations into the Jewish diaspora.
Students expressed concern regarding the impact of Hillel’s actions on their campus Jewish communities and the wider Israel-Palestine conversation.
“It is deeply important for us to be a part of the Hillel community at Wash U,” said Aitan Groener, the co-chair of Wash U’s J Street U chapter. “We appreciated Hillel’s co-sponsorship of our Shabbat to save Susya in November and their hosting of our Jewish Community Leadership Panel last April. Yet when Hillel decided not to host Breaking the Silence’s photo exhibit, they sent a troubling sign that they are using their power to keep left wing voices out of the Jewish community. Breaking the Silence brought a powerful voice to campus, showing students that supporting Israel and ending the occupation go hand in hand. We hope Hillel can do more in the future to show those students that they are still welcome and wanted in the Jewish community.”
In response to these events, students at Princeton, WashU, and around the country are calling on Hillel International to change course and open itself to critical perspectives on Israel.
“We cannot remain idle when anti-occupation voices are threatened in this way,” said Dylan Mittag, the president of J Street U at Princeton. “Hillel could have chosen to be true to the values of diversity, political openness, and serious intellectual engagement. Instead, they chose to follow a path that censors and excludes members of our campus community, and that silences Israeli advocates for peace and for human rights. In the spirit of critical engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the challenges faced by Israel today, we will continue to push Hillel to open itself to anti-occupation voices and foster this critical engagement with the issue.”
Hillel’s censorship of Breaking the Silence demonstrates that Hillel International must end its partnership with Mosaic United, a program that aims to silence crucial conversations in the American Jewish community. These events further demonstrate that Hillel International must end its exclusionary Standards of Partnership for Campus Israel Activities, which serve to bar Breaking the Silence and a range of other individuals and organizations from speaking in the Jewish community on campus.
Open Hillel is a movement of Jewish students and community members working to promote pluralism and open discourse in the Jewish community on campus and beyond. Open Hillel has urged Hillel to drop its Standards of Partnership since 2012. Open Hillel has urged Hillel to end its partnership with Mosaic since November 2016.