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Haaretz

Wellesley is safe for Jewish students

In response to ‘Wellesley College fires Hillel staff as Jewish students face upped anti-Israel activity,’ Nov. 21, and ‘Wellesley Jewish alums stop donations after Hillel firings,’ Nov. 24, both by Debra Nussbaum Cohen

In recent articles, ‘Wellesley College fires Hillel staff as Jewish students face upped anti-Israel activity’ (Nov 21) and ‘Wellesley Jewish alums stop donations after Hillel firings’ (Nov 24) by Debra Nussbaum Cohen, it was erroneously claimed that Wellesley College’s firing of Hillel staff and student criticism of Israeli policy present an unsafe atmosphere for Jewish students. This is far from the case.

The staff cut was purely administrative and independent of Wellesley Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)’s activism. It was suggested Jewish students are now without support. In actuality, even after the terminations, Wellesley Hillel still has staff on campus; SJP has none. Across the country, Hillels are heavily resourced and SJPs scramble. Hillel, an international Israel-aligned organization, employs over 800 people and receives millions for campus work. They boast 65 paid Jewish Agency fellows (former Israeli soldiers) on North American campuses alone.

In comparison, SJPs across the country have no paid staff. Even National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP), composed strictly of students and recent graduates, has no paid staff, and local SJPs are autonomously run by student members.

In the article, it was incorrectly claimed NSJP has an anti-normalization policy forbidding discussions with Jewish groups. While no such policy exists, we want to clarify that anti-normalization isn’t based on religion. It discourages collaboration with groups that do not support equality and justice for the Palestinian people. For this reason, SJPs frequently work with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and other rights-based groups. Unlike NSJP, Hillel does have firm policies preventing their chapters from engaging with SJPs and JVP.

Unconditional support for Israel’s well-documented human rights abuses stifles debate and intellectual growth, making any claim for honest dialogue disingenuous. Moreover, Hillel’s own president admitted the organization is “not representative”; this is the very reason young Jews are moving toward SJPs, JVP and Open Hillel.

This struggle is not about distinct communities in discord; it is about us all coming together to advocate for the incontestable: Palestinians must be equal and free.

Izzy Mustafa, Member of National Students for Justice in Palestine based in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Julia Wedgle, Tufts University student and member of Boston Jewish Voice for Peace

Legitimate criticism of Israel

The college’s decision to dismiss two Hillel employees has no relation to Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) speech activities critical of Zionism and Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.

Israel advocacy groups have been increasingly pressuring universities to condemn SJP’s political positions, to monitor student activism, and to censor or punish students and faculty who are supportive of Palestinian rights. These aggressive campaigns disguise efforts to stifle constitutionally protected speech by mislabeling speech that criticizes Israel’s policies as hateful and anti-Semitic, or “uncivil,” and therefore subject to suppression.

The Nov. 24 report in Haaretz misrepresented SJP’s activity when it suggested that criticism of Israeli state policy “crossed a line ... to anti-Semitism.”

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has emphatically rejected all complaints alleging that criticizing Israel is “harassment” or “intimidation” that “targets” and creates a “hostile educational environment” for Jewish students. In this regard, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear: “[A] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute.”

Palestine Solidarity Legal Support has responded to over 220 requests for legal assistance and reports of repression in 2014. This is the real suppression that news media too frequently disregard.

Radhika Sainath, Staff Attorney, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, New York City

Commitment to Jewish life on campus

As President of Wellesley College, the safety of our students, faculty and staff is always my top priority. I am acutely aware of concerns about the vulnerability of Jewish students on our campus and on campuses across the nation, (especially in light of rising anti-Semitism around the world). I am also on the record about our unequivocal opposition to any and all movements to boycott scholars and teachers who live and work in the state of Israel.

An article posted in the Nov. 21 edition of Haaretz mistakenly cites recent changes to the staffing model of our Jewish Chaplaincy as evidence that Wellesley has reduced its commitment to its Jewish students and to Jewish life on campus. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are committed to a vibrant community for our Jewish students – and an inclusive and respectful community for all our students.

We believe that the strongest, best possible Jewish Chaplaincy must be anchored by a dedicated rabbi to serve as the center of the community. This will provide the highest level of literacy in Jewish learning and ritual as well as a consistent presence on campus to offer support, perspective and resources to students seeking guidance.

It’s understandable that without proper context and explanation, these administrative changes might raise some concerns, and I recognize the discomfort caused by the resulting uncertainty. However, these changes have been made in the spirit of renewal – reorganizing our administrative structure will allow the college to move forward with an immediate search for a full-time rabbi. We are dedicated to the welfare of our Jewish students and this is an important step toward creating a community that enables them to thrive during their time on campus.

In moving forward, I have appointed a multi-constituency committee to conduct a search for the new rabbi made up of thought-leading faculty, student leaders and representatives from the Wellesley Hillel Alumnae Board. Hillel International is our partner in this process and will be giving strong input.

I am committed to providing our Jewish students – as well as their non-Jewish friends – with a leader who will promote fellowship and open dialogue and who will integrate Jewish wisdom and learning into their daily lives.

H. Kim Bottomly, President, Wellesley College

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