Hillel Ontario, the Jewish group that operates on university campuses, says it has the right to regulate which speakers it hosts, following allegations that two activists from Israel were “barred” from the University of Waterloo’s Hillel branch.
The speakers, Daniel Roth and Karen Isaacs, co-founders of Achvat Amim (Solidarity of Nations), an Israeli group that advances co-existence and peace-building between Jews and Arabs, were slated to address Hillel at the University of Waterloo on Nov. 12. Instead they spoke at Holy Blossom Temple that evening.
Open Hillel, an American group founded in 2012, alleged that Roth and Isaacs were “barred” from speaking by Hillel Ontario because Achvat Amim “violates” Hillel International’s “standards of partnership for Israel activities.”
The standards “have barred countless speakers and organizations from the Jewish community on campus on the basis of their Israel politics,” Open Hillel alleged in a Nov. 8 statement.
The statement quoted Ethan Sabourin, a second-year student at the University of Waterloo and Hillel student board member, as saying that he was “shocked and disappointed that Hillel is barring a Jewish, Israeli, social-justice focused organization.”
He charged that Hillel Ontario’s decision to “censor this discussion violates a core principle of Jewish tradition – a commitment to open discourse.”
In an email to The CJN, Sabourin said that after he proposed the event, the Hillel director at Waterloo said that Achvat Amim did not fall within Hillel’s “Israel guidelines.”
Sabourin said he then took the matter to Hillel Ontario and was told that the Israeli group fell outside Hillel’s “standards of partnership.”
Achvat Amim brings up to a dozen young adults between the ages of 21 and 30 to Jerusalem for five months of communal living and volunteering. According to its website, it partners with other groups “that aim to end racism, violence and inequality.”
Roth and Isaacs are Canadians who moved to Israel and founded Achvat Amim in 2014, through Hashomer Hatzair, a left-leaning secular youth movement.
The groups says it believes “in self-determination for the Jewish People and for all peoples.”
In September, the Jewish Agency for Israel cut funding to Achvat Amim, following a report by a non-profit watchdog that accused its participants of provoking Israeli soldiers at a site in the West Bank where anti-occupation protesters had set up camp.
‘Censoring this discussion violates a core principle of Jewish tradition.’
Haaretz reported that Roth and Isaacs “were present during a clash between protestors and the Israeli army.” Roth said that no participants in Achvat Amim ever clashed with Israeli soldiers, while Hashomer Hatzair denied that participants were ever near the site of clashes.
Achvat Amim had been receiving about $3,000 for every participant in the program, according to Haaretz. Typically, seven or eight participants are accepted to each session.
The funding had come through Masa, a Jewish Agency project that brings Diaspora Jews to Israel on some 200 educational, volunteer and internship programs.
Upon learning the reason that Masa cut funding to Achvat Amim, “we felt that an event focused on inter-agency conflict would not be appropriate or beneficial to our students,” Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario, told The CJN via email.
“If anything, this would only distract from the important topic of Jewish-Arab bridge-building – something that Hillel Ontario strongly supports.”
Masa “is a valued partner of Hillel Ontario,” Newburgh said.
He said that Hillel Waterloo offered to explore an alternative event on the same themes, and that, “This offer stands.”
Hillel Ontario, Newburgh added, “has not, and cannot, bar anyone, or any organization, from any campus.” Achvat Amim is welcome at the University of Waterloo, but “this does not mean that Hillel Ontario is required to host or fund the event.”
Jewish students “should not have to leave their communities to organize Israel programming,” said Sabourin.