Last week, Columbia/Barnard Hillel pressured Just Peace, a Hillel-affiliated group, to cancel its sponsorship a talk by a UN representative in Gaza. We are asking Hillel to give space for affiliated groups to bring speakers representing a range of positions on the political situation. When you sign this petition, please put titles such as Rabbi or Cantor before your name in the "first name" slot, and please add your school and year after your last name in the "last name" slot.
Congratulations on the tenth anniversary of the Kraft Center. It sounds like some wonderful things are going on there.
While much of what is happening at Columbia/Barnard Hillel calls for celebration, we do want to express dismay at the reports that Hillel put pressure on Just Peace, the campus affiliate of JStreet, to cancel its sponsorship of a talk by John Ging, the leader of UNRWA in Gaza.
The Forward newspaper reports that Hillel opposed this event because there would be no moderator who represented the other side of the Israel debate. The paper quotes you as saying, that is simply standing up at a podium, lecturing for an hour, and answering questions if there is time, is not conducive or compatible to a learning experience in which students can have real exchange of ideas
We are rabbis, Jewish communal professionals, and involved members of the Jewish community who may, personally, differ on the specifics of Israeli policy. However, we remain committed to encouraging an open discussion on Israel within the Jewish community. We owe much of this commitment to open dialogue to the lessons we learned at Columbia.
We chose to attend Columbia in order to be in an environment that encourages a real exchange of ideas. The Core Curriculum and other courses, the extraordinary diversity of the student body, and the wide range of speakers who visited campus all contributed to this rich exchange of ideas that makes the university so special. We experienced Columbia as a place where faculty and staff guided, advised, and sometimes criticized student initiative, but where such initiative would not be limited.
Encouraging an exchange of ideas does not require that every opinionated speaker be countered with a speaker representing the other side. Indeed, in the past, Hillel or its affiliated groups have hosted Israel speakers including Khaled Abu Toameh, a controversial Palestinian figure who is associated with the conservative Hudson Institute; Jonathan Adelman, a spokesperson for AIPAC; and several official representatives of the Israeli Defense Forces. As far as we know, Hillel made no similar demand that these speakers be balanced by representatives of the left.
Not every speaker has the right to speak on campus. Certainly, speakers who incite violence or encourage harassment should not be offered a platform to speak. In this case, though, there were no allegations in this regard. Rather, the stated objection by Hillel concerns the potential speaker views on a political issue.
Fifteen years ago, the major debate within Columbia/Barnard Hillel concerned the question of whether Gayava, the LGBTQ Jewish group could be part of the Hillel umbrella. Many representatives of the more traditional Jewish community argued that homosexuality could never be consistent with Judaism, and that Gayava would delegitimize the entire Hillel organization. Today, this group is accepted as a full member of Hillel, with no residual controversy. We only hope that a few years from now, Hillel students similarly cannot remember a time when certain perspectives on Israel could not be tolerated within the organization.
We are writing to ask you for a commitment that Hillel will, in the future, respect the initiative of students from the left, right, and center to host speakers who represent a range of viewpoints on Israel. We look forward to your response.
Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving,
Dr. Mark Bunin Benor, CC97
Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor, CC97
Rabbi Sharon Brous, CC95
Dr. Steven M. Cohen, CC70
Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg, CC97
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CC97
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, BC01
Sarah Katz, CC97
Rabbi Jason Klein, CC97
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, BC81
Annie Lainer, CC'01, Law06
Dr. Dan Lainer-Vos, GSAS08
Jesse Lainer-Vos, SSW05
Shawn Landres, CC94
Dr. Paul Lerner, GSAS96
David Light, CC95
Hon. Howard Matz, CC65
Jonathan Rafi Matz, CC02
Dr. Ilana Nossel, CC98
Jeff Rake, CC90
Rabbi Shira Stutman, CC95
Beth Packman Weinman, CC97