Wednesday, December 03, 2008

OPIRG Snubs Hillel

Many universities across North America have branches of "PIRG" (Public Interest Research Group) -- college based progressive grassroots organization. My girlfriend, for example, did a lot of work for Carleton's chapter of MPIRG (Minnesota-PIRG). They often team up with other campus-based organizations on various projects related to human rights and social justice.

At the University of Ottawa, the local Hillel (Jewish students group) thought it had just such an event: a speaker from the African Jewish community coming to talk about sustainable development projects and interfaith schooling for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children. But when it asked OPIRG for funds, it received a shocking rebuke:
Hillel organizers didn't get a response to their request before the event, but later received an e-mail from the board of directors at the research group, saying it had researched Hillel and decided that though the event "seems very interesting," the board of directors had decided not to endorse or promote it.

"This decision was made because your organization (Hillel) and its relationship to apartheid Israel," said the e-mail. "Zionist Ideology does not fit within OPIRG's mandate of human right's (sic), social justice."

Pressed by the Ottawa Citizen, the organization refused to even identify who made the decision, but affirmed that "Our position is outlined in that e-mail you have." Given the attenuated relationship Hillel has to Israeli policies (it does generically support "Zionism" as the Jewish right of self-determination -- a far cry from any reasonable definition of apartheid), I'd say that there is a name for OPIRG's position: anti-Semitism.

Via The Z-Word. And I should note that MPIRG is entirely independent from the broader PIRG structure.


Adam said...

I should also point out that Ontario PIRG (OPIRG) as well as the rest of the Canadian PIRGs are not only separate from the federation of State PIRGs but often hold radically different politics.

Barry Deutsch said...

Hillel co-runs the Israel on Campus Coalition, which seems to be solidly pro-Israel. Looking through the ICC website's "advocacy" section, they link to some fairly apolitical stuff, but also to stuff defending Israel's right to exist outside the green line, etc.. I don't see a single link there criticizing Israel for its treatment of Palestinians or its human rights record.

Nothing wrong with that, of course -- Hillel has every right to take whatever political position it wants. But it's not unfair to consider Hillel an organization that defends not just the abstract idea of a Jewish state, but also defends Israel as it currently exists, including defending current Israeli policies. As such, I don't think it's self-evidently anti-Semitic for organizations critical of Israel's human rights record to choose not to ally with organizations that support and defend Israel's policies.

David Schraub said...

I think holding Ottawa-Hillel sufficiently responsible for a few resources (I saw some of the stuff I'm guessing you're referring to, and I agree it hardly is stuff that I'm a fan of) linked to by a group that their parent organization cosponsors with yet another group (and arguments omitted by the site, sins of omission being even more nebulous) is pushing guilt by association a bit far, particularly given that the ICC seems to be an umbrella organization (the UPZ is in its ambit, is are Americans for Peace Now). It is, to say the least, far too attenuated (from Hillel's actual mission and practice, among other things) to justify blanket exclusion of aiding in its inter-faith peace efforts based on a "relationship with apartheid Israel".

I don't even want to know what we could pin on PIRG under this standard, or nearly any other progressive organization. It would, at the very least, justify whatever retaliatory action one thinks is due to those who would accuse Hillel of being in a "relationship with apartheid Israel" to be directed against not just OPIRG, but every other PIRG organization in North America. And God help what can be pinned on my old crew at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights through having the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee on its executive board (who haven't come under criticism directly but -- attenuation again! -- has come under fire from the ADL [also an LCCR member -- this guilt by association business is complicated!] for regional groups working with Free Palestine Alliance, A.N.S.W.E.R. and Al-Awda).

Barry Deutsch said...

Hillel's relationship with the ICC is clearly closer than that of the ICC with the groups in its umbrella sponsorship list. The ICC is a group co-created by Hillel to advocate for Hillel's views on Israel-related issues; it's not unfair to think that the ICC's views represent Hillel's, unless Hillel itself publicly disassociates from ICC.

But even if you're right, and that connection is logically weak and shouldn't be made, then so what? Surely you're not claiming that the only reason these people could make an illogical leap (if it is illogical) is anti-semitism.

FTR, I disagree with Ontario PIRG on this issue -- I think it often makes sense to join in alliances for particular issues, even with groups that you disagree with on other issues. Making a stand in this way strikes me as silly and self-indulgent.

But it's not necessarily anti-Semitic; it might be just a statement from someone who has nothing against Jews, but who is strongly opposed to Israeli policy.

David Schraub said...

My sources tell me that Hillel and ICC are operationally distinct at Ottawa -- you can be a member of one and not the other, and Hillel specifically separates itself from Israel advocacy (though of course I suspect there is plenty of overlapping membership). I do think that Hillel : ICC :: AAADC : LCCR, which, at the very least, indicts all other members of the LCCR's executive committee (assuming, of course, one has something to indict about the AAADC).

As to why this sort of leap is anti-Semitic, two things.

(1) Even operating off your intent framework (implicit in focusing the analysis on the motives -- "why" one would make such a leap; people who theoretically have "nothing against Jews"), at some point of overbreadth the putative reasoning becomes pretextual. There is virtually no way to communicate with Jews-qua-Jews on college campuses if you refuse to work with Hillel. When the disjuncture between the nominal reason and the class affected is large enough, and the class that ends up being covered is essentially cotemperous with "Jew" (or "Black" or "women"), or solely effects said group, I think one can reasonably allege anti-Semitism (cf., South Carolina's ruling on whether peremptory strike of jurors for wearing dreadlocks is impermissibly race-based).

(2) As you know, I don't buy intent-based standards as the be-all of anti-subordination analysis anyway (nor, if I'm not mistaken, do you normally). Effects matter. In this case, the effect is to exile the Jewish community away from otherwise amenable progressive political action. Outside exceptionally compelling justification on the part of OPIRG -- far more than can be brought to bear here -- I feel legitimate calling anti-Semitism out.

Anonymous said...

The Canadian PIRGs are not associated with any PIRGs in the U.S. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Canadian PIRGs aren't even associated with each other, they're just individual student groups. There are a number of student groups that have adopted the name PIRG (including some in India) which comes from the founding manual Action for A Change written back in the 1970s. But the manual wasn't about certain issues, it was about a new type of new structure for student groups (students imposing a fee on themselves at campus so they could raise enough money to hire permanent policy and lobbying staff to represent their interests in government). So while a lot of student groups have adopted the name PIRG over the years, they don't necessarily work on the same issues or have similar ideologies.

The exception is in the United States, where the initial PIRG student groups that were founded in the 1970's, then started consolidating first into state groups and then into a national structure. Most state PIRGs are closely related, using the same central administrative departments, training programs, etc. A few states are not part of the central PIRG structure (namely Vermont, New York, and Alaska PIRG), but are still represented on federal level by U.S. PIRG. Minnesota PIRG (or MPIRG) is completely separate. U.S. PIRG's work is solely focused on domestic consumer protection, environmental issues, domestic democracy concerns (voting rights, campaign finance, etc), and student tuition/college access issues.

Anyway, I thought I'd map that out, as I worked with U.S. PIRG for nearly a decade, and nobody in the organization would approve of OPIRG's actions on this.

Barry Deutsch said...

Dan, thanks for than info.

David, I'm looking for where, on ADC's website, it says that LCCR is "ADC's primary advocacy partner." Or where the LCCR's website says that it is created by the ADC and one other organization. Or where, to find information on an LCCR grant, you go to the ADC's website. Not seeing it.

The relationship between ICC and Hillel is a lot closer than you're allowing. Plus, Hillel in general (judging by its website, as well as from my own experiences on campus when I was a student) is clearly an Israel advocacy organization, albeit a sedate one. If your case is that it's unfair to see Hillel as an organization which advocates for Israel as part of it's mission, then I think you're pulling wool over your own eyes.

I don't think intent is the be-all and end-all; I also don't think it's completely irrelevant in all cases, as you seem to.

There is virtually no way to communicate with Jews-qua-Jews on college campuses if you refuse to work with Hillel. When the disjuncture between the nominal reason and the class affected is large enough, and the class that ends up being covered is essentially cotemperous with "Jew" (or "Black" or "women"), or solely effects said group, I think one can reasonably allege anti-Semitism.

So no matter what positions Hillel took, as long as there is no other expressly Jewish organization on campus, it would be anti-semitic to refuse to deal with Hillel. What if Hillel came out in favor of proposition 8 [*] -- by your logic, any campus group refusing to collaborate with Hillel would be anti-semitic.

Also, just because Hillel is a Jewish org, doesn't make "Hillel" and "Jews on campus" interchangable concepts. Most of the Jews I knew on campus were active in ways other than with Hillel; the Hillel Jews, who as a group are more comfortable with Israel advocacy and less critical of Israel, are not somehow more Jewish than Jewish students working with the women's center, or the LGBTQ group, etc..

([*]Just a hypothetical, I'm sure Hillel wouldn't do such a thing.)