An Undemocratic Statement

by Gary Weissman | 5/22/02 5:00am

Only a small fraction of the Jews at Dartmouth (by Jews I mean those of you who checked the little box as a freshman) attended this past Hillel meeting, and it is important that we are very clear on the discussion and the vote that transpired.

A resolution was put on the table at the last meeting to take out the ad that appeared on May 17 in The Dartmouth. Hillel tried once a few months ago to decide on what official course of action to take concerning the situation in the Middle East. The discussion never got past the question, should Hillel be involved at all? Two weeks ago the topic was broached again for 10 minutes at the end of the meeting after most students had already left. A student mentioned this slogan toward the end of the meeting as one Hillel might adopt. The discussion continued for a few more minutes among the 10 remaining students and no decision was made.

Most who voted for the resolution at this last Hillel meeting stressed the importance of Hillel having a stronger voice on campus. As a Jewish organization, students said it should have a vocal tie to such a significant Jewish issue. Many, though not all, students agreed, though pointedly opposed to this particular statement because of its ambiguity. Other students objected because the statement was not the result of an internal Hillel process, a community process (well needed for a community statement). Instead, the Hillel board took the statement from Hillel International posters and called for a vote. Hillel supports democracy and freedom, it was said, but it does not support community discussion or debate. For the sake of making a statement (as opposed to making a statement reflecting the agreed-upon values of our community), Dartmouth Hillel took another community's words and shoved them through a meeting. But if the Hillel community really opposed the resolution, how did it pass?

Strong arguments were made for and against the resolution during the course of the meeting, and sitting there, I thought for sure it would not pass. But the last few speakers left the Jewish community without a chance. During the last few minutes of the discussion students threw out statements like "There is only one Israel and we've only got once chance," "If Jews don't support Israel, who will?" and (I'll paraphrase the next two) "What would your grandparents say if they knew you were speaking this way about Israel?" and finally, "My relatives who died in the Holocaust would be very disappointed in this discussion." The rhetoric of fear and survival wins every time. I wasn't expecting my own family who died in Nazi concentration camps to be invoked during the course of this discussion -- and certainly not by someone other than me. The lesson, for all you Jews who didn't make the meeting, is that Hillel has proven itself in the last few days not a community of democracy. Though we did vote, the phrasing of this resolution was handed down from a slogan off a wall poster, and never emerged from an engaged group discussion. Hillel did not show itself to be a Jewish community, as there was no talk of our Jewish values, only some obligations to "support Israel." Hillel did, however, show itself to be a community of fear, and this ad in the Dartmouth reflects the desperate attempt of some passionate Hillel members, members with little trust in the Hillel community or willingness to build a consensus, to "stand with Israel."

The simple point is this: There was no process in the creation of this statement. It only passed because some Jews chose to invoke fear of extinction and guilt of our ancestors as tools to create a "you're-either-with-us-or-you're-against-us" kind of atmosphere. This statement in The Dartmouth does not belong to me, and it does not belong to other members of the Jewish community who never had an opportunity to formulate their own ideas and articulate their own values in the public Hillel forum. It does belong to the dozen or so Jews who voted to take out this ad. Some spoke passionately, some quietly and some with words as vulgar as I can imagine. Nonetheless, a Hillel statement has been made. Take it as you will. I hope you'll ask Hillel members what they think they've decided to throw into the public forum under the name of your community and mine.