The Hillel Jewish student movement is exclusionary of those Jewish students and academics who are not Zionist. It has no constitutional right to do so but it does. This current campaign is in support of Jilian Redford, President of the U. of Richmond Hillel chapter. Another example of Hillel exclusion was in 1994 at the time of the Ibrahimi/Abraham Mosque/synagogue massacre when 27 worshipers were killed. I went down to the Concordia University foyer and distributed copies of my book The End of Zionism: and the liberation of the Jewish People (an anthology of Jewish dissident writings. The point was to demonstrate that there was other Jewish opinion than that of the fascist Baruch Goldstein. Two Hillel students asked for the intervention of the University security to have me arrested even though I accepted no payment for the books. Initially security did nothing since it only a book being handed out in a University after all. However after the Hillel intervention, Security called the police. This is the same Hillel chapter that was found to be promoting recruitment to the Israeli military on its literature table. So the police came and although by this time there were only 3 books left out of the initial 100, I was arrested on the charge of assaulting the police. Fortunately there was a student video team at work in the foyer doing a study of its use and they filmed the arrest thus proving that I had not assaulted anyone and I was acquitted. But if there had not been a video project on at that moment I would have been sent to jail. This is what Hillel has been made into; fascists.
Please forward to Jewish faculty.
Friends and Colleagues,
The student president of the University of Richmond Hillel was dismissed recently because of her critical opinions on Israeli policy and her condemnation of racism against Palestinians. In conjunction with Tikkun Magazine and a Jewish Voice for Peace, I am asking you to sign the following open letter to protest Hillel's silencing of Jewish dissent on campus.
Please forward this letter to sympathetic Jewish faculty. Signatures should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and should contain your name,
title, and affiliation.
An open letter to Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life:
As Jewish faculty, we are writing to express our outrage that Hillel has removed a student president because of her critical opinions about Israel. At issue was her stand against the ongoing Israeli occupation and her refusal to countenance racism against Palestinians. In justifying her dismissal, her Hillel supervisors condemned her principled words and actions as "unprofessional" and "disrespectful."
For the past year, Jilian Redford served as president of the University of Richmond's Hillel chapter. By all accounts - including those of her overseers at the Richmond Jewish Community Center - she was a superlative president, the driving force behind virtually all Hillel programming. It was only when she began to express her views on Israel that the organization called for her ouster.
The facts are the case are as follows: In February 2004, after having received unsolicited emails from the Israeli Embassy for months, she asked the embassy to remove her from its mailing list. In her message, she wrote that the solution to Israel's problems lay in reconciliation with the Palestinians, not with the "radical Zionist propaganda" that the embassy had been sending her. Within 24 hours, she was summoned to meet with her supervisors at the JCC. They told her that the embassy was calling for her dismissal and demanded that she apologize for her "unprofessional [behavior] that demonstrated a total disrespect." Ms. Redford refused. Her supervisors also charged her with failing to provide "balanced" programming on Israel, on the grounds that she had vetoed a speaker they had recommended. Ms. Redford defended her action by explaining that the would-be speaker had told her that Palestinians, unlike Jews, were born with the innate capacity to kill innocent people. Ms. Redford later elaborated: "Racist statements are contrary to Jewish values and beliefs and have no place in a university setting. There is a clear line between 'a different political view' and outright racism, bigotry, promotion of violence, and hatred." Following the meeting, Hillel officials told Ms. Redford that her "statements [were] not in keeping with the mission and goals of Hillel" and asked her to resign. Ms. Redford once again refused, asserting that her actions were consistent with Hillel's mission statement on Israel. Hillel then dismissed her for her refusal to apologize and her "inappropriate [and] inexcusable" accusation of racism.
The charges against Ms. Redford are patently absurd. In terms of Israel programming, her political opinions in no way compromised her commitment to "balanced" programming; shortly before she was dismissed she had brought a speaker from CAMERA, the right-wing media watchdog group, to the Richmond campus. What is really at stake in these spurious allegations is Hillel's attempt to silence dissent within the organization. Hillel's website states that it is "committed to a pluralistic vision of Judaism" but Ms. Redford's dismissal suggests that pluralism extends only so far as the Israeli embassy says it does.
As Jewish faculty, we are appalled that the Hillel Foundation is alienating Jews instead of welcoming them; enforcing an institutional orthodoxy that tramples student autonomy; and serving a foreign government instead of its student members. The coupling of political intimidation with disrespect for student democracy ought to alarm not only those who seek justice and peace, but also those who would defend student prerogatives against high-handed bureaucrats. The University of Richmond's administration, to its credit, expressed concern over Ms. Redford's dismissal, but its mediation came too late.
It is a sad day for Judaism when standing up for one's beliefs is deemed "inappropriate"; when the state of Israel exerts an overwhelming influence over the agenda and institutions of American Jewry; and when racism is normalized to the point that even the accusation of racism - irrespective of its truth - is considered suspect. We applaud Ms. Redford's courageous stand and her refusal to back down. We urge Hillel to offer her an apology and to take proactive measures to ensure a welcoming environment for all Jews regardless of political opinion. Hillel, as the main address for Jewish life on campus, has a special obligation to foster critical discussions of Israeli policy. The Jewish tradition of debate and questioning demands no less.
Department of History
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA 23173