Hillel Threatens Its Swarthmore Chapter With Expulsion Over Israel Dispute

College Becomes First To Associate With 'Open Hillel' Movement

Wikicommons

By Derek Kwait

Published December 11, 2013, issue of December 20, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

In his letter to Wolfsun, Fingerhut said that the guidelines were drafted and agreed to by a “broad coalition” of Hillel students, staff, and other stakeholders. “Hillel welcomes a diversity of student perspectives on Israel and strives to create an inclusive, pluralistic community where students can discuss” Israel-related issues, the guidelines state.

But in its resolution, the Swarthmore student board cited a recent decision by the Hillel center at Harvard University to bar Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency, from giving a talk under its roof as an immediate cause for its decision. The Harvard Hillel objected to the fact that Burg’s talk was cosponsored by Harvard College’s Palestinian Solidarity Committee, along with several Jewish groups, including Harvard Students for Israel.

The board’s resolution also noted that some campus Hillels had barred the group Breaking the Silence, an organization composed of Israeli army veterans that promotes discussion of the ways in which it says the demands of military service in the Israeli-occupied West Bank corrode soldiers’ moral standards, and those of the Israeli Army itself.

Wolfsun told the Forward his Hillel is not worried about losing funding from donors unhappy with its stance since it is funded entirely by an endowment and has no board of overseers. But Rabbi Howard Alpert, executive director of the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, under whose umbrella the Swarthmore Hillel sits, said that it is up to the Jewish community and the board of his Greater Philadelphia group to decide where Hillel of Greater Philadelphia’s funding goes.

The Swarthmore Hillel has not yet invited speakers to campus that might be subject to prohibition under Hillel International’s guidelines. But according to Wolfsun, what is important is that the center can now do so if and when there is a student demand to hear the views of such speakers.

The student board gave a signal of some of the individuals it might consider inviting in a statement accompanying its resolution. The statement cited several figures whom board members said the guidelines currently bar, including liberal Zionist Peter Beinart, who has written in support of a limited boycott of products produced on exclusively Jewish Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank; linguist Noam Chomsky, a scathing Jewish critic of Israel who nevertheless supports a two-state solution to end its occupation of the West Bank, and Jewish philosopher Judith Butler, author of a radical critique of Zionism that rejects its moral legitimacy.

In declaring itself free of Hillel’s Israel Guidelines, Swarthmore Hillel’s board became the first to declare itself affiliated with the nascent Open Hillel movement. Founded by student activists in late 2012, Open Hillel bills itself as a “student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels,” specifically in regard to changing the “standards of partnership” enumerated in Hillel’s Israel Guidelines.

Lex Rofes, an Open Hillel organizer, said Swarthmore contacted his group before it made its decision. “They said they liked what we were doing and wanted to be a model for what this could look like,” he said. “We are incredibly excited for this.” Rofes said his group had not heard from any other Hillel chapters but added that many individuals affiliated with Hillel chapters had privately expressed interest in Open Hillel.

Jacob Plitman, president of J Street U, the campus arm of the dovish pro-Israel lobby J Street, said his group has taken no position on the Swarthmore Hillel’s decision but supports efforts to open the conversation to voices beyond the current boundaries. “We think the health of Israel and the Jewish community requires a diverse conversation, and we must accept that this will include Palestinians and anti-Zionists,” he said.

Beinart has voiced support for Open Hillel, calling it “a deeply important effort to ensure that Jews on campus can ask the hard questions and have the open debates that they deserve, and which Israel needs.”

Wulfson admitted that the Swarthmore Hillel student board was concerned that its decision could alienate more conservative students. But he said, on a campus as liberal as Swarthmore, the board wanted to “create a conversation where everyone can take part, and this will help us to reach out to students who might otherwise feel left out.”

Derek Kwait is the editor in chief of New Voices Magazine, a publication of the Jewish Student Press Service.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.