Democracy in Action

by Hannah Meyers | 5/29/02 5:00am

Gary Weissman's May 22 op-ed, "An Un-democratic Statement,"makes several mistakes. The most glaring are related to the process by which Hillel forms and passes resolutions and the relationship of the campus Hillel to the Hillel International organization.

First, the steps taken by Hillel in passing last week's resolution to print "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel" in The Dartmouth were the very definition of a democratic process. They were as follows:

The executive board discussed in depth the possibility of passing a resolution. Next, the board came up with a resolution upon which to vote. The board then sent out an email to all 450 Hillel members several days before any vote was taken informing people of the discussion and the upcoming vote on the resolution. At the meeting, each and every person who wanted to talk had an opportunity to do so. No one's voice went unheard, and even a blitz sent in by a member who could not attend was read aloud to the group. Finally, after the lengthy debate, a vote was taken on the resolution and it passed by a majority.

If Jewish students on campus feel that they were misrepresented during the procedure, it is probably because they failed to attend the meeting. If they had attended they would have had ample opportunities to express their views.

For those who did participate but were unhappy with the outcome of the vote, unfortunately, this is how democracy works. Democracy does not mean that your side of the debate wins -- it means that there is a debate and that a vote decides.

The meeting itself was something of which many of us in attendance felt very proud. The level of order and the respectfulness shown to speakers during their allotted time were exemplary. Members voiced opinions from all sides of the issue. The back-and-forth format helped everyone present to consider the issues involved in the resolution and to form their own opinions. The discussion period lasted until an almost unanimous majority voted to move to a final vote.

One student at the meeting described his impression of the meeting's procedure before the final vote: standing up, Peter Augello told the group how proud he was of the conduct of those assembled, and how he supported Hillel, its members and the democratic way in which Hillel ran the meeting regardless of the outcome.

As for Hillel's relationship to Hillel International, the following information may clarify any confusion. The Dartmouth Hillel is an affiliate of a larger organization known as "Hillel International: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life." Hillel International coordinates North American Hillels and provides guidance and funding for events. Hillel International backs Israel's "right to exist behind secure borders," and its right to self-defense. Dartmouth Hillel could not disagree with these statements while simultaneously maintaining its affiliation with Hillel International.

Currently, the statement, "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel" is the official slogan of Hillel International. It is meant to convey, simply, that although many Jewish people disagree over policies and specific government actions, one thing that unites us all is that we support Israel and its right to defensible borders.

We would like to remind the entire Dartmouth community that Hillel's statement tries to encompass many political views. It states that no matter what a student's location on the political spectrum is, in the end we are all united by our support for Israel's right to exist. We may criticize policy, we may dislike certain actions the government takes, but ultimately, wherever we stand, we stand with Israel.

The frustrations of those who desired to issue a statement to the campus but not the one in question went unresolved because no other statements were suggested that gained any general interest or support.

Mr. Weissman's labeling of the procedure as "undemocratic" reflects ignorance of the procedure Hillel employed. Contacting the Hillel Executive Board in order to ascertain the methods used in forming and passing the resolution and voicing concerns to that board would have been an appropriate move for a concerned member. It should also be a necessary prerequisite to publishing a statement about the Hillel to the general and understandably less familiar public yet this step was not taken.

On a final note, we would like to add that the statement Hillel passed is one that the active Jews of the Dartmouth community chose to make. All reading the statement are invited to talk with Hillel members about where they stand on Israeli policy and their thoughts about the actions of the Israeli government.

To reiterate the words of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, when he addressed the Hillel community last month, Jews must criticize, argue and debate the policies of the Israeli government constantly. The strength of our people and of our democratic country comes from willingness to question the actions of the group, to be vocal with disapproval or praise and to seek individually desired ends democratically.

We trust that the Jewish students of the Dartmouth community will continue in their discussions and in sharing and developing their unique personal views. As individuals, we should make it known where we stand on specific policies -- and if we disapprove of something we should be vocal in our dissent -- but as a group, we should also make it known that, at the end of the day, wherever we stand personally, collectively we stand with Israel.