Swarthmore Hillel Gets Boost From Controversy Over Israel Critics

Openness to Debate on Jewish State Lures New Members

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By Hody Nemes

Published December 23, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
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The move to restart Hillel conversations about Israel also allowed Cohen to publicly display her pro-Israel identity. “This is the first time I’ve felt comfortable wearing an IDF dog tag,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve felt comfortable telling people about my views.”

But other conservatives on campus remain skeptical that the move will benefit them. The call for open dialogue is a familiar one at Swarthmore, according to Nat Frum, a Jewish sophomore who writes for the conservative Swarthmore Independent magazine. (He is also the son of noted conservative commentator David Frum.)

“It’s kind of become a trigger that if you hear that ‘we’re doing this to promote discourse and dissent,’ that’s a sign that the opposite is going on,” he said. “We get so much of a one-sided discussion at Swarthmore, which is very anti-Israel.”

Frum is not involved in Hillel but said he has conservative friends who were open to joining Hillel but are now steering clear of the organization. “They were trying to feel it out and this kind of sealed the deal,” he said.

Hillel board members were taken aback by the ferocity of the response to their vote. “No one anticipated the kind of media response that this would [cause],” said Wolfsun, who serves as communications coordinator for Swarthmore’s Hillel board and has been widely quoted in coverage of the controversy. “Suddenly communications coordinator takes on a whole new meaning,” he said, laughing. Wolfsun has received hate mail in his email inbox, but said it has been far outweighed by expressions of support.

Wolfsun and his fellow board members appeared eager for a rapprochement with Hillel International. They are working with Fingerhut, to plan a tentative January visit to campus, according to Adenbaum.

Board members also chose their words carefully when speaking about the organization. “It is a unanimous sentiment on the board that we want to continue to remain affiliated with Hillel International and Hillel of Greater Philadelphia,” Adenbaum said.

A delegation of Swarthmore students met with Hillel of Greater Philadelphia on December 16 to discuss the controversy, Adenbaum said. He was tight-lipped about the meeting’s outcome. “They seem to be really interested in dialogue,” he said. “I’m hopeful about the future.”

At the moment, Swarthmore Hillel has no concrete plans to invite anti-Israel speakers in violation of Hillel International’s guidelines. But that could change in the coming semester.

“Let’s get through finals,” Wolfsun said. “And next semester we’ll come back and have slept and have some new ideas hopefully to work from.”

Contact Hody Nemes at nemes@forward.com


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