By Ben Shaprior’s Truth Revolt
A former member of a radical fringe campus organization demonizing the organized Jewish community exposed the group for misrepresenting its agenda and goals.
Holly Bicerano, who used to serve as Campus Outreach Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel took to the Times of Israel to clarify what the organization is really about.
“While Open Hillel’s stated aims are open dialogue and inclusiveness—worthy goals—the organization in actuality has something else in mind. “she wrote. “The people who claim that Open Hillel’s main objective is to garner support for the BDS movement may not realize just how right they are.”
Bicerano detailed that the organization refused to allow her to extend an event invitation to Holocaust survivor and scholar Elie Wiesel. Some members of the group went as far as to curse him:
“Many Open Hillel leaders have no problem with advocating exclusion and alienation within Open Hillel, even as they preach the virtue of inclusiveness to the Jewish community. While demanding that the pro-Israel community tolerate pro-BDS groups that they find offensive, many Open Hillel leaders are intolerant of pro-Israel voices that they dislike.
This became apparent when I was helping Open Hillel prepare for their first-ever conference at Harvard University. I wanted to invite Dr. Elie Wiesel to be on a panel that I was organizing for the conference. What ensued marked the beginning of my disillusionment with the organization.
Upon hearing that I wished to invite Dr. Wiesel to the conference, several Open Hillel leaders took this as an opportunity to demonize and reject him. They felt that they could not make their point without resorting to name-calling and using curse words against Wiesel. That is not surprising given that making disparaging remarks against Hillel International’s leaders, particularly Mr. Eric Fingerhut, is par for the course in Open Hillel.
She also highlighted that the organization, which claims to support free and open dialogue, features a secret “ad hoc anti-normalization committee”:
“Then came the ad hoc anti-normalization committee following the conference. In an 8-1 vote, Open Hillel leaders decided—shamefully—to form a committee in order to address the issue of anti-normalization in Open Hillel. The anti-normalization campaign strives to end joint discussions and programs between Jews and Palestinians unless they subscribe to the BDS movement.
Though proponents of the committee said that the goal would be to educate people about the issue and have an open discussion about its role in Open Hillel, the two “experts” they brought to talk about BDS and anti-normalization were both from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). By presenting the topic from only this ideological standpoint, the committee actually indoctrinated people to hate Israel, rather offering a balance of views – from which people could decide for themselves what to believe.
Unaccountably, Open Hillel never decided to publicly announce the formation of this committee, even though it had received a nearly unanimous vote and was holding meetings. Open Hillel leaders claim that they value transparency, and they have even accused Hillel International of not having the level of transparency that would meet their standards. Yet, they choose not to be transparent, themselves.
Bicerano then explains that most of the leaders of Open Hillel support a boycott of Israel and that the organization dishonestly markets itself as inclusive:
“First, it should be recognized that this argument is not a negation of the fact that Open Hillel leaders wish to exclude or restrict pro-Israel voices or that they voted to form an anti-normalization committee. That issue still stands: Most of the people in the organization subscribe to BDS, and many want to advance that as part and parcel of the Open Hillel agenda. Consequently, Open Hillel has become a vessel for the BDS agenda.
In reality, it is yet another way that Open Hillel dishonestly markets itself. The fact is that the few token voices in Open Hillel who are not supportive of BDS remain there because they still think it is unfair to keep out pro-BDS groups. They are well-intentioned and genuinely feel bad that some Jews are unwelcome in their community. As a result, they seem willing to withstand the hypocrisy in Open Hillel.
She also offers a critique of leftist anti-Israel commentators, such as Peter Beinart, who have attempted to advocate on Open Hillel’s behalf:
“This is not about beliefs. People who advocate the use of the settlement boycott—what is often called ‘Zionist BDS’—are already allowed to speak in Hillel. As an example, Mr. Peter Beinart is a regular guest at many Hillels, and that is a good thing because students should hear different perspectives. But Mr. Beinart and other liberal Zionists are misguided in their support for Open Hillel because they think the group encourages inclusiveness and open dialogue, when it does not.
One thing that liberal Zionists should consider is that there is no evidence indicating that Open Hillel has made a substantial difference in opening the conversation at most Hillels. That progress can instead be attributed to liberal Zionist groups becoming part of the conversation at Hillel. While Hillel is becoming more inclusive of different voices, Open Hillel has fallen into the hands of anti-normalization activists. You do not create open dialogue by empowering people who are against it.
It is hard to feel bad for a group that complains of being alienated when they have joined forces with those who make campuses hostile to many Jewish students. Moreover, it is pretty clear that empowering these groups in a major Jewish institution like Hillel would estrange many more people.
“The Standards of Partnership exist in order to ensure that the majority of people in the Jewish community feel safe,” she writes. “Open Hillel, in its refusal to acknowledge why the standards are there in the first place, continues to promote the inclusion of groups whose actions are a threat to a viable and cohesive community.”