Recently, University of Michigan Hillel — the largest pluralistic Jewish communal organization on this campus — denied sponsorship for a Palestinian Solidarity Shabbat. The stated reason, according to the students who tried to organize it, was that Hillel felt that the term “Palestinian solidarity” was exclusive. The suggested event, organized by individuals associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, but not sponsored by JVP explicitly, was suggested as a moment in which to bring a conversation about Palestinian lives into Hillel as part of the ShabUM program.
However, Hillel International, the umbrella organization for all Hillels globally, has guidelines about what kinds of Israel programming they will host or sponsor. According to the guidelines, Hillel-affiliated institutions will not partner with or host anyone that, among other things, supports the movement to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel, companies that operate in Israel or companies that operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. JVP supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and so the organization falls outside those guidelines. Yet, regardless of how we feel about BDS, JVP or Hillel and its guidelines, the conversation here has been about the title of the program, Palestinian Solidarity Shabbat. But our Hillel says they support a two-state solution, and that must mean standing in solidarity with Palestinians.
We at J Street UMich want to see our institutions better grapple with what it means to care for and about Palestinians. Supporting Palestinian sovereignty is not anti-Israel. Because the University of Michigan Hillel has publicly declared support for a two-state solution, supporting Palestinian sovereignty is well within our Hillel’s values. We have seen Hillel demonstrate its commitment to two states in the past — including when they hosted Americans for Peace Now last year. We value our Hillel for this, and for its willingness to take a stand on one of the most vital issues facing the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Yet, if we believe in a two-state solution, we cannot care only for the Jewish state and disregard our future Palestinian neighbor. A two-state solution means what it says: a Jewish and democratic Israel alongside a viable Palestine. We cannot support one without supporting the other. To do so only pays lip service to our common cause.
As pro-Israel students, we are deeply concerned about the security of Israel and the risks the occupation poses to it. We too think deeply about our values of Zionism and the safety of the Jewish homeland, and we applaud Michigan Hillel for its public support for a two-state solution. But we have also grown up in communities that claim support for a two-state solution and then devalue or disregard the people who will live in that second state. This is a challenge facing the entire Jewish community — and one that inhibits public support for two states into action. To ensure that this public support leads to a sustainable future for Israelis and Palestinians, we must have more conversations about what it means to support Palestinian futures.
We understand that having a deep conversation about Palestinians and Palestinian sovereignty will be a challenge for the Jewish community, and for this campus at large, because many of us have been taught that to be active in this conversation, you must pick one side or the other. But we at J Street UMich think there is a better path. As a dedicated pro-Israel student group, J Street UMich is a proud member of Hillel’s Israel Cohort — a body of self-identifying pro-Israel student organizations on campus. Our support for Palestinian statehood does not preclude our membership. On the contrary, it makes us the best pro-Israel advocates we can be — ones who are willing to wrestle with what it means to support two states, and what it means to care for the long-term sustainability of both peoples. Michigan Hillel will fully act on its values when it opens spaces that include deep discussion about Palestinian sovereignty — and they can, and should, create space for this conversation. In fact, they must, because being pro-Israel and pro-Palestine are mutually interdependent.
Michigan Hillel can lead the charge for a two-state solution — in many ways, it has already taken decisive steps by supporting the two-state solution publicly. This is why we are excited that today, J Street UMich is hosting Rabbi Arik Ascherman, an outspoken Jewish advocate for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the president and senior rabbi of Rabbis for Human Rights, at Hillel. By welcoming Rabbi Ascherman into its building, Hillel has taken this moment to demonstrate its values. But he is not Palestinian, and we must have Palestinian voices within Hillel. Given the events of the last few weeks and months, it is even more important for us to understand each other’s narratives.
We at J Street UMich are proud to be part of a Hillel that has afforded us the ability to have such programming in the face of a Jewish community that often does not, and even more proud to be part of a Hillel that understands the necessity of a two-state solution to ensure Israel’s future. And, we want our visible support for Palestinian sovereignty to be as unequivocal as we say it is. “Palestinian self-determination” is not an exclusive term that shuts out Israeli self-determination, and breaking down such stereotypes is necessary for promoting two states. We know our Hillel is dedicated to the two-state solution, so we would like to see our Hillel invite Palestinian speakers in the future. If we support the autonomy of both Israelis and Palestinians, advocating for Palestinian self-determination is essential. It can start here at the University. We are eager for Hillel to join us.
J Street UMich will be hosting Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights today Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. at Hillel.
Micah Nelson is a Public Policy junior and an executive board member of J Street UMich.