Hillel International, American Jewry’s campus outreach group, appeared headed toward a clash with its Swarthmore College chapter following the Swarthmore Hillel’s decision to allow militant critics of Israel and Zionism to take part in its programming.
The unanimous December 9 vote by Swarthmore Hillel’s student board repudiated Hillel International’s Israel programming guidelines as constrictions on free discourse. Swarthmore Hillel’s new stance will, in the board’s words, enable it to welcome “all…to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist or non-Zionist.”
In a letter to Swarthmore Hillel’s communications coordinator, undergraduate Joshua Wolfsun, Hillel President and CEO Eric Fingerhut termed this “not acceptable.”
“Let me be very clear,” wrote Fingerhut in the December 10 letter, “anti-Zionists will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.”
Fingerhut also reaffirmed Hillel International’s rules prohibiting Hillel campus chapters from hosting programs that include groups or individuals that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized boundaries; delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel,” or that support boycott, divestment or sanction campaigns against Israel.
He appeared to threaten Swarthmore Hillel with expulsion from the Hillel network if it actually allowed programs under its roof that violated these strictures. “Hillel International expects all campus organizations that use the Hillel name to adhere to these guidelines,” he wrote. “No organization that uses the Hillel name may choose to do otherwise.”
In a response, Wolfsun reaffirmed the decision taken by Swarthmore Hillel’s board, but said, “We look forward to a productive and fruitful dialogue with both you and with Hillel of Greater Philadelphia.” He invited Fingerhut to visit Swarthmore in person to discuss the issue, adding, “These are important and hard conversations that we are having within our community, but they are necessary.”
Drafted in 2010, Hillel International’s Israel programming guidelines have been a matter of contention at a number of campus Hillels for some time — condemned by critics as a barrier to open and critical discourse on Israel in a Jewish setting; defended by supporters as a legitimate boundary that allows for ample debate but which draws the line at giving an official imprimatur to enemies of Israel.