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Wesleyan Flouts Hillel Ban on Pro-BDS Speakers

The Wesleyan Jewish Community, in an act of open defiance against its parent-organization Hillel International, hosted a “Jewish Voice for Peace Shabbat” on February 27, according to a statement issued by Wesleyan’s “Open Hillel” chapter.

The group Jewish Voice for Peace advocates for the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, and therefore is barred from all Hillel-affiliated events or institutions under the Hillel International “Standards of Partnership.”

The Wesleyan Jewish Community flouted the ban by hosting JVP in what the statement called “an unprecedented event.”

The Shabbat took place only two days after Harvard Hillel welcomed pro-BDS advocate Dorothy Zellner to speak on a panel about her civil rights activism in the 1960s. Some saw this invitation as a break from Hillel’s policy of excluding any pro-BDS speakers. But Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, director of Harvard Hillel, explained that he believed he was within the guidelines since Zellner was speaking primarily about her civil rights work, only mentioning her BDS support in passing.

These events are the latest in a series of confrontations between Hillel International and a growing cluster of dissenters operating under the umbrella “Open Hillel,” which launched in 2013. At the heart of the debate is whether anti-Zionists should be given voice within Hillel’s walls.

The Open Hillel activists claim that Hillel’s Standards of Partnership render dialogue with Palestinians and their sympathizers impossible, which is “detrimental to the goal of encouraging mutual understanding, cooperation, and peace.” Hillel International dismisses this idea, arguing that anti-Zionist views don’t lack avenues of exposure yet Hillel need not be one of them.

Fittingly, both sides cite support from their namesake, the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Hillel. In a resolution passed in December 2013 by the Swarthmore College Hillel chapter declaring itself an Open Hillel, the students portrayed themselves as following the example of “Rabbi Hillel, who was famed for encouraging debate in contrast with Rabbi Shammai.” Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of Hillel International, responded with another maxim of Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

Hillel International did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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