Leaders of Hillel at Binghamton asked Benjamin Sheridan to resign from two Hillel-related positions after he violated a national Hillel policy — which Hillel believes to preserve pro-Israeli pluralism, but that others say prevents a holistic discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — by bringing a Palestinian activist to speak on campus earlier this semester.
Sheridan organized an open screening of “5 Broken Cameras,” a documentary about non-violent Palestinian activism, and a talk on campus by Iyad Burnat, the brother of the filmmaker who is featured in the film, for Dorm Room Diplomacy (DRD), an apolitical international student organization that coordinates weekly teleconferences between American and Middle Eastern students.
The discord between Sheridan, the president of the Binghamton University chapter of DRD, and Hillel stemmed from Burnat’s support of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel, his proposal for a one-state solution, and his two-year imprisonment in Israel for possibly inciting violence as a college student during the first Intifada — all stances Hillel firmly opposes.
Hillel at Binghamton’s “Israel Policy and Guidelines”, which was ratified by the Hillel Board of Directors in 2011, prevents Hillel from partnering with any “organizations, groups, or speakers” that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish … state with secure and recognized borders” or supporting the boycotts and sanctions Burnat advocates.
Leaders of Hillel at Binghamton contested that Sheridan, as the vice president of Bearcats for Israel (BC4I) and a MASA intern, violated his obligations as a representative of Hillel, which extended beyond his direct involvement with Hillel, and asked him to resign from both positions.
“It goes without saying an [executive board] member of ours can’t bring a speaker like that,” said Maya Yair, president of BC4I and a junior majoring in political science.
Sheridan, who openly disagrees with Burnat and prefaced the talk by saying Burnat’s views do not reflect the views of DRD, said Hillel’s policy represents a “myopia” that limits the scope of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I still fundamentally disagree with Iyad Burnat, but the monopoly on political discourse that Hillel at Binghamton conveys is infinitely more dangerous than anything Iyad said in his presentation,” said Sheridan, a junior majoring in political science, in a written statement to Pipe Dream. “In all, I knew there was little chance I could convince Mr. Burnat to accept Israel as a Jewish state, but that was not the point of the event. Maybe one day, I could apply what I learned by listening to him towards a revamped peace process.”
But Yair said staunch attitudes against Israel, such as Bernat’s, limit dialogue rather than contribute to it.
“Boycotting, divesting and sanctions of a country are not dialogue,” she said. “That’s not open dialogue, that’s not conversation. It’s exactly the opposite.”
She added that she supports having a variety of perspectives represented on campus, but insisted that Sheridan’s positions as a leader, not merely a member, of Hillel was the point of conflict.
However, the national president of DRD, Zachary Levine, called Hillel’s policy “ridiculous.”
“The fact that Ben, as a member of Hillel, can’t bring in somebody from the other side to share his opinion, to share his ideas, is just absolutely absurd to me,” said Levine, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania who admitted he tends to associate with Israel. “This type of action is really unprecedented and is unlike anything that I’ve ever actually seen, just in terms of the closed-mindedness and the stubbornness that really seems to be occurring.”
Clarification: Sheridan stepped down after he was asked to resign.