Open Hillel Defector Holly Bicerano tells all

By BY DEREK M. KWAIT, New Voices

HollyHolly Bicerano, a student at Boston University and the former Campus Outreach Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel, made waves in the Jewish world after publishing an op-ed in the Times of Israel called “Standing athwart lies,” explaining why she decided to leave the organization. Chief among her complaints are that, far from promoting true open dialogue and inclusiveness in Jewish spaces, one the organization’s main goals is to foster support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel; that Open Hillel is, ironically, no less guilty than Hillel itself in muzzling voices it does not like; and that it formed an “anti-normalization committee.” New Voices editor Derek Kwait approached Holly shortly after she published her op-ed to find out more..

You mentioned the nasty language some in the movement had for Dr. Elie Wiesel as being what first made you question the Open Hillel movement. Can you go into a little more detail about what happened from there until you published the op-ed?

The treatment of the issue of inviting Dr. Wiesel to the conference served as a wake-up call for me. But the issue was dropped when I found out that Dr. Wiesel would not be able to make it. At the conference, I moderated the BDS panel with Dr. Sa’ed Atshan of Tufts University and Ms. Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). During the panel, Dr. Atshan proclaimed that all Zionists are racists. While he is entitled to say what he wants, I do not think that welcoming someone like him to berate the Jewish community would benefit us.

After the conference, I began paying attention to what SJP chapters were doing on campuses — that is, harassing and marginalizing pro-Israel students. I gradually realized that the actual effects of Open Hillel’s policies would be to harm and divide the Jewish community. The last straw was when Open Hillel formed the anti-normalization committee. I quit several weeks ago and took time to gather my thoughts before deciding to write an article in the Times of Israel.‘

How have you “come to understand” that the right-wing leaders were invited to the conference as a token gesture? In the article you say that some organizational leaders emphasized to those who didn’t want them there that they were invited out of political necessity, but is it possible they said that just to placate those people?

I came to understand this because they were only willing to go through with bringing right-wing speakers after lengthy debates about how this would help further their agenda. How can someone who is pro-Israel feel welcome in Open Hillel, given that several organizers want to keep out leading voices in the pro-Israel community? Many people involved with Open Hillel do not want open dialogue. They just want a platform for BDS..

Was this anti-Israel sentiment a major part of Open Hillel from the beginning, or did it come in later after the movement became more well-known?

It came out later as we were planning the conference.

Besides the “anti-normalization committee” and alleged pro-BDS bias, what else is Open Hillel not transparent about?  

They constantly state that they do not have any political agenda. That is nonsense. As a former steering committee member, I can tell you with absolute certainty that there are several organizers who want anti-normalization to be taught and implemented in Open Hillel. While they chastise Hillel for not wanting to give a platform for BDS, they reject some of the Jewish community’s most illustrious speakers, like Dr. Wiesel.

The recent eavesdropping scandal was noticeably absent in your op-ed. Was that at all a factor in your decision to leave?

I left before that happened.‘

Are there others in the movement or who have recently left who share your sentiment?

One person left because he did not like the direction that Open Hillel was going in. Another person is planning on leaving soon because he shares some of the same sentiments as I do.‘

What do you see as the future for Open Hillel?

I do not think much is going to change. They will certainly continue to attack Hillel International, but with little success. I do see hope for change among liberal Zionists, like those in J Street who have been supporting Open Hillel. I believe it is incumbent on Mr. Peter Beinart, who has become the patron saint of liberal Zionism, to renounce his support for Open Hillel.‘

Would you continue to support Open Hillel if it did a better job of living up to its stated ideals?

There is a curious paradox about Open Hillel. On one hand, they claim that they want open dialogue. On the other hand, many of them belong to organizations like JVP and SJP. These groups regularly disrupt pro-Israel events, try to cancel pro-Israel speakers on campuses, and use guerrilla tactics such as obstructing Birthright tables. That is why there is no way that Open Hillel can live up to their ostensible principles.‘

Your point about how there is no evidence that Open Hillel has made any substantial difference came to mind when I read the press release they sent less than 24 hours after your announcement, with the headline, “Hillel International’s policies are crumbling” because of events that are not at Open Hillels. I am curious to know your thoughts on this.

It is dishonest advertising. They mention the fact that a J Street U chapter brought Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights to speak in Hillel at the University of Michigan. But supporting the settlement boycott, as he does, does not violate the Standards of Partnership. What does actually violate the standards is support for the BDS movement against Israel, which Ascherman opposes.

Have your thoughts on the Conflict changed along with your feelings towards Open Hillel?

It depends on the issue. My views on BDS have changed immensely. I try to portray Israel in a more positive light now to counter those who demonize and delegitimize it. I also criticize Palestinian actions more often. I am still against the illegal settlement enterprise, home demolitions, and the occupation.

Have any misconceptions arisen around your leaving that you would like to clarify?

Some people believe that I had a sudden change of heart. But I actually quit Open Hillel several weeks ago after months of fighting against anti-normalization and censorship within Open Hillel. I want people to understand that it was a gradual process based on rational considerations.

J.E. Dyer

O’Sullivan’s Law.  If an organization doesn’t have an explicit and determinedly conservative (or classically liberal) purpose, it will inevitably trend left (“progressive,” socialist, whatever you want to call it) over time.
If an organization is not explicitly and determinedly Zionist, it will inevitably trend anti-Zionist over time.
O’Sullivan’s Law applies only to certain philosophies and beliefs – and they are the philosophies and beliefs that in our modern era cluster together, around: freedom of religion and intellectual inquiry; Judaism; Christianity; Western classical liberalism, with all that implies about individual dignity, economic liberty, and peaceful intramural dispute; Zionism; and American and Israeli exceptionalism (i.e., that both nations have distinctive establishmentarian missions and hold themselves to special standards).  There are a few others, but these are the big features of the cluster.  The older I get, the more clearly I see that these goods in the earth are never a pattern that humans just settle into.  They have to be established, proclaimed, pursued, and guarded.  If they are not, they will inevitably be encroached on and undone by whatever undermining influences they stand passive for.
December 22, 2014 | 4 Comments »

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4 Comments / 4 Comments

  1. Extreme join extreme, therefore it is natural that open h is allied to Islamists.
    What baffles me is the lack of support from the IL gvt for a organization like Shurat HaDin unless it is non-official.
    Those who call U with name are guilty of extremism.
    It looks like the Alinsky model for violent revolution is progressing according to script. See what is going on in NY and everywhere in the Western world. It is an anti western democracy process to bring a 3rd far left revolution with the support of the Islamists. Stalin, Mao and who is next? The Jews of the left are once again on the wrong side!

  2. Israel and the global Jewish Community should not only throw these anti-Israel/Jewish, pro terrorist organizations out of the tent it should hold them responsible for being supporters of terrorism, enablers of terrorism and study/assess whether lawsuits can be successfully brought under the terrorism act or other applicable statutes such as the pioneering work of Nitzana Darshan Leitner and her organization Shurat HaDin. They should be monitored closely for ties to terrorist organizations.

  3. Open Hillel is not what it claims to be. It takes advantage of the Jewish affinity for tolerance, pluralism and diversity to promote hate of Jews, undermine Zionism and attack Israel. They do not allow Zionist and pro Israel Jews to participate because they do not want genuine dialogue. They simply want to trick Jews into not supporting Israel. Liberal Jews are waking up and realize they’re being used by Israel’s enemies. One cannot be a Zionist and love Israel and work with those who seek its destruction. That should be an absolute red line for the organized American Jewish Community. A “big tent” has its clear limits.

  4. I know that perhaps I am too focused or focused in a fashion that irritates the Jews hopelessly dedicated to dialog and not self defense.
    Still, This has been and will always be my line of thinking.
    Our first priority is to severely let go of organizations and individuals that consistently conspire to harm our religion, state and heritage. Enemies must be identified as such and acted upon as such.
    By sternly addressing such elements the “world” will understand that we mean business with enemies there as well.
    Unless if we do so, we will always be seen and weak of character and resolution.