By Eli Davis
Although it may not be as prevalent on this campus compared to others around the country, the Open Hillel policy is a controversy that is impacting the University of Maryland along with a number of other colleges and universities.
Open Hillel is a student-run organization that is seeking to change “Hillel’s International guidelines, which exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel,” according to their website.
Their mission statement continues, “they [Hillel’s International guidelines] prevent campus Hillels from inviting co-sponsorship or dialogue with Palestinians, as almost all Palestinian campus groups support the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel.”
Swarthmore College became the first school to rebel against Hillel International and install the Open Hillel policy, meaning they no longer recognize the guidelines lay out by Hillel. Since, Vassar College and Wesleyan College have joined.
“Open Hillel represents a true and inclusive pluralism that isn’t just based on religious pluralism,” said Molly Bernstein, a senior at the University of Maryland double majoring in Arabic studies and government and politics.
Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, responded to Swarthmore’s Hillel student board in a letter calling their actions “not acceptable.”
He reiterated Hillel’s guidelines, which support Israel as a democratic state while also welcoming different perspectives on Israel, but does not support the partnership with groups who “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders.”
Although University of Maryland’s Hillel has not released an official statement regarding its stance on Open Hillel, “we [Hillel staff] are aware of what is happening at other schools,” said Yael Gertel, the Jewish agency Israel fellow for University of Maryland’s Hillel. “It is encouraging us to go deeper into the conversation of what it means to be pro-Israel.”
Hillel should cater to their respective schools by working with their environment and students on their campus, said Jessica Lott, associate director for Jewish life and learning for University of Maryland’s Hillel.
“There hasn’t been an accusation that our Hillel isn’t open,” Lott said. “We want to have a diverse, pluralistic community that is open to everyone. We want to foster a healthy, civil, respectful conversation about Israel on campus.”
Gertel said she would be welcoming to have conversations with pro-Palestinian groups while still following the guidelines set by Hillel International.
“If someone wants to work with us, we will do it,” she said. “Partnering means that you value other people’s opinions, you may not agree with them…it is open to dialogue.”
“Pro-Palestinian Jews are welcome in Hillel as long as they are not talking about
politics,” Bernstein said. “What could come of it that would be positive for their organization?”
Bernstein admitted that sometimes, as a Jewish student, she feels marginalized within Hillel so does not understand how a pro-Palestinian student would feel comfortable.
“I’m here to demand more of our community,” she said.