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August 27, 2016 / 23 Av, 5776
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Why Hillel is Failing in the Fight for Israel on Campus


Perhaps it’s only fitting that we should end 2013 with the dumbest Jewish debate of the year, namely whether Swarthmore College’s Hillel should be allowed to have an open policy of bringing anti-Zionists and other Israel haters to lecture under its banner.

Firstly, Swarthmore’s announcement of their “Open Hillel” policy is wildly hypocritical. Really? You’re that open to free speech? Then why only on Israel? Jesus is arguably the most famous Jew who ever lived. Allow Christian evangelists to lecture to the Hillel students as well, not to mention anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists who espouse Jewish dominance of the media and finance to advocate their positions as well. In fact, why have an “Open Hillel” at all, which is far too limiting. Excise the word Hillel and just make it “Open”, open to all ideas, all persuasions, all religions, all philosophies. Why limit it to things Jewish at all, which is about the most closed thing I’ve ever heard of.

Asking Hillel to open itself to anti-Israel advocates is like asking the Democratic National Convention to have Ted Cruise take a night to speak about the virtues of the Republican party. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, except that it contravenes the entire idea of having a Democratic party in the first place.

So how could we have this debate at all? Who would condemn Hillel – and its brave new Chief Executive Eric Fingerhut – for insisting on Hillel’s pro-Israel posture when no other campus club dedicated to a specific proposition would be asked to shoot itself in the mouth by giving a platform to its most ardent detractors? No one’s going to ask the pro-Democracy club to give speaking slots to communists, or human rights organizations to have North Korean representatives speak about the glory of dictatorship.

It’s rather a sign of how badly Israel is losing on campus, and how delegitimized Israel has become in the halls of academia, that this debate is happening at all.

Twenty-five years ago last Friday, the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent me and my wife to the University of Oxford to promote Judaism on campus. It was 1988 and Yasser Arafat had just proclaimed the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, which was interpreted as a kind of de facto recognition the State of Israel, thereby grating him and the PLO legitimacy. I was 22 years old when I founded the Oxford L’Chaim Society and hadn’t anticipated an immediate and constant need to defend Israel from vicious attacks.

The tipping point for me occurred that first year when members of the PLO appeared at the Oxford Union and had an open forum to spew overtly inflammatory hate speech against Israel. Following that event I had to immediately confront additional unexpected philosophical battles pertaining to the Jewish State at every turn.

The model that I used to defend Israel through the Oxford L’Chaim Society was to establish a middle ground between allowing an open assault on Israel by its most ardent critics in my Jewish student center, and outright banning them from our activities. We chose to debate them instead. Not in our student facility – that was a place for teaching people to love Israel – but in the leading halls of the University where thousands of students who were not part of our organization gathered. We would engage our critics head on and welcome organized, rules-based debates, pitting two clearly defined sides on Israel, in the University’s main venues. We operated in the confidence that Israel’s cause was just and that the Jewish state could win arguments in the marketplace of ideas.

We organized thousand-student debates on the justice of Israel’s cause, its treatment of its Arab citizens and Palestinians, and Israel’s ongoing fight for survival. We proved in open arguments that Israel had the most humane rules-of-engagement of any country at war in the world. We proved that Israel’s Arab citizens had more rights than any country in the Middle East.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

About the Author: Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and the international bestselling author of 30 books, including “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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22 Responses to “Why Hillel is Failing in the Fight for Israel on Campus”

  1. That stupid chicken thing must be stopped it’s like some pagan custom of cutting meat from living animals.

  2. It is inherently Jewish to attempt to view the world through the eyes of the “other.”

    That’s all well and good, but not very strategic if the worldview of the “other” is to be Jew free

  3. God Bless the Jewish people.

  4. Yashir koach. I continue to advocate for the goodness of Israel, Jewishness, and Jews, many decades after my Presidency of the Hillel at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. See my website at http://bostonwalks.tripod.com
    Michael Alan Ross

  5. Yashir koach. I continue to advocate for the goodness of Israel, Jewishness, and Jews, many decades after my Presidency of the Hillel at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. See my website at http://bostonwalks.tripod.com
    Michael Alan Ross

  6. Rabbi Boteach, you are insulting the memories of the Frierdiger Rebbe and the Rebbe Rashab of Lubavitch zya – both of them would be banned by Hillel under current policies – since both were ardent anti-Zionists – even the last Rebbe ztl had some anti-Zionist leanings

  7. Robin Rosenblatt says:

    Shalom Michael, I need help with this:

    “It’s Time to Stand Up for Israel”
    Please Share

    The longer it takes to fund the Israel Longhorn Project, the more ranch land will be stolen, the more farmers and ranchers will go bankrupt and more families and ranchers will be murdered. Once the land is stolen it is almost impossible to get it back, once a life is taken it is impossible to get it back; this is the very land that you bought for Israel through the JNF.


    Israeli Ranches are being attacked, their land being stolen and their passive European cattle are being mutilated and killed by local Arabs and by natural predators, wolves and jackals. Israeli European beef cattle are incompatible with Israel’s desert environment. This has resulted in many problems including high calf losses, (as high as 30%). Israel needs desert cattle that fits its environment and can defend it's self and it's calves. That breed of cattle is Texas Longhorn.

    I like guns but for me they are just tools, a tool to protect the cattle and myself. But these cattle have something better, sharp horns. Texas Longhorn cattle can kill and it takes a lot less explaining afterwards then it does if I shoot the SOB.

    Project supports: The Israeli Border Police, the New Shomerim, Israel’s Agriculture Department and the Prime Minister’s office.

    Checks deposited directly into the nonprofit account at Wells Fargo Bank, Belmont, California.

    Israel Longhorn Project
    Robin Rosenblatt, M.Sc. Ex Israeli Soldier, past anti terrorist Agent
    Director – The Longhorn Project
    Nonprofit 501(c) 3 #74-3177354
    Tel: 650.631.9270
    Address: 815 Hill Street, # 5
    Belmont, CA 94002

  8. You don't invite the arsonist into your home and debate which room he should burn first. Meet him outside and let the marketplace of unwanted ideas win the day.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Open Hillel” should be renamed "Open Hitler" or “Open Season on Jews." The soft Jewish leftists are inviting their own self-destruction. At least have the sense to not help your persecutors. The left has has learned its lessons from the experts: leaders who gather huge salaries as they counsel students and activists to remain quiet and to give everyone's opinion equal hearing and consideration. With that kind of JSpace approach, who needs the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Al Qaeda to finish us off?

  10. Hayim Curiel says:

    Happy new year for you and allmankind

  11. At least part of the reason that Hillel is failing to defend Israel is that Hillel has avoided telling the truth about the nature of the conflict over Israel. The truth is that we are not dealing with a "Palestinian-Israeli" conflict, or even an "Arab-Israeli" conflict, as it used to be called. We are not dealing with a territorial conflict which can be resolved by drawing new lines on old maps. And, the conflict has nothing to do with settlements because the conflict arose long before there were any "settlements". If you read the Hamas Charter (Google it!), you will see that we are dealing with an Islamic holy war (jihad) against the Jews. This Islamic holy war is based on Islam's sacred texts, the Koran and the sayings of Muhammad, which command all Moslems to make war on the Jews and either subjugate them or kill them. That explains why no Moslem-Majority country is willing to recognize Israel's right to exist. That explains why the Islamic Republic of Iran is Israel's deadliest enemy, whereby the Iranians are not even Arabs. Hillel has been totally remiss in explaining this bitter truth to their own members, not to mention other students on campus. It is just not enough to say that they support Israel. They must be truthful about who Israel's enemies are.

  12. as times and situations change ,so has also the measure of application be adopted to these . we are not anymore living in russia or poland in ghettos but baruch Hashem living in a free world where we can apply judaism into our daily lives by our own free will. for some people this is a Bracha and for others that are scared that their emunah isn`t that strong try to hold on to the old (calling shtetls …. the Torah of our forefathers) .this new situation has made it necessary to adopt other measures adequate for these special needs. there is a state of israel ,there are gyom surrounding us and many more problems to cope with and it is no option to let those poor assimilated jewish children be lost …… what we have to understand and learn is how to make this bridge between politics-israel and the non-jews. otherwise we are not better than those that hate us

  13. Anonymous says:

    Shame on Hillel especially Swarthmore Hillel. Our worst enemies are the supposedly Liberal young Jewish boys and girls who know little to nothing about Jewish History and the history of Israel.

  14. Rabbi Shmuley Bothech should and could the only person to put some brain in these lightheaded Jewish students and their Chief executive Eric Fingerhut why he shouldn't lower himself to the point that he chose to invite anti- Israel to give a lecture to Jews. He probably never visited Israel or learn about the History of the Jews who lived in Arab countries for century to find themselves murdered or harassed or expelled after 2000 years and in some places before Islam. He should be worried about the terrorists who kill innocent civilians because they are too coward to fight the army. Shame on him and all his followers.

  15. Good read. Shame on the idiots at Swathmore Hillel. While I’m somewhat liberal in my beliefs, this shows what political correctness is doing to our society. What next? Inviting skinheads to speak to them?

  16. Hillel sucks as a Jewish organization, and so does the ADL. They do no good whatsoever for the Jews nor for Israel. All the leadership of both organizations do is line their own pockets. Why any Jew would give either a dime is beyond me.

  17. These students are not saying that anybody can come to the Hillel and lecture willy nilly on anything. All they are saying is that the students who are the members of the Hillel on any particular campus ought to be able to invite the speakers they choose for themselves. Some of those speakers may by critical of Israel, but I see nothing wrong in having a thought provoking discussion. If they want to invite a member of "Jews for Jesus" they should be able to do that as well, but I doubt that this would occur.

  18. Hillel was not founded to "defend Israel." It was, in fact, founded 25 years before modern Israel even existed as a Jewish state. Israel's mission is not to defend Israel or Judaism. As enunciated in its own mission statement its mission is "to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world". Though I am not sure that a political speech critical of Israel enriches the lives of Jewish students all that much, some may feel their lives are enriched by a challenging political discussion. Also, a apolitical speech uncritically praising Israel does not necessarily benefit Jewish students either. Let's face it, Jews, even in Israel, differ among themselves regarding their opinions and understanding of these issues. Broadening the discussion seems likely to be beneficial.

  19. Should they invite some Neo-Nazis, too, for a thought-provoking discussion? Actually, they should have the right to do that, despite it being in horrible taste, but it should not be done under the auspices of Hillel.

  20. Arie Arazi says:

    Mr. Marwan Jabbar has defined well the core problem of the “conflict” between the Muslim countries in the Middle East and Israel. The problem of Open Hillel is in that some innocent Jewish students believe that inviting those who hate Israel and the Jews to use Hillel as another stage for them to express their hatred would bring about an intellectual debate . The Arab Palestinians have been brain washed to believe their leaders’ political propaganda that all their sufferings stem from the existence of the State of Israel. If it weren’t the case, why then have they accepted living as refugees under sub-standard conditions for 65 years since the 1948 war with Israel? With Arab oil money these Palestinians refugees could have been settled and subsequently lived in self respect instead of accepting, during 65 years, the handout money from the U.N. for food and shelter for themselves and their off-springs? Why can’t they see that their own leaders, for 65 years, have been playing them as their peons in their Jewish hating game? Why cannot they distinguish between the evil of their leaders with which they have dealt them and the plight of Israel to live in peace with them and change their sufferings to a better and happier life? Why do they accept the stupid notion that if they get a larger tract of land all their problems would vanish over night? Why do they believe that someday they would conquer the entire modern State of Israel and take over all that the Jewish people have achieved? Our Hillel students should realize that they would never have the chance to ask their guests these questions and surely would not receive any coherent answers from them, this is because those guests are themselves brain washed and have never thought about the issue from a point of view different from the doctrines of their leaders. “The fish stinks first from the head’ says a proverb. Our children in the universities should be taught how to identify a problem and deal with it in a way other than artificially resorting to ‘democracy’, ‘freedom of speech’ and the like that often are emptied from their philosophical intention.

  21. Who inserted that picture into Rabbi Shmuely's article? It doesn't appear on his Facebook page nor has it yet been archived as a recent post at his thisworld website. Rabbi Shmuley doesn't comment here about the stereotype kapparus shlugging Yeshivish type being able to advocate Israel's legitimacy, which would be an interesting discussion. The Jewish Press may want to commission someone to write about how and why there are divisions within Jewish college student age in particular and Jews in general and incorporate that photo, but appears to be pusing its own agenda on Rabbi Shmuley's back.

  22. Yosef Shomron says:

    Actually, the "non religious" in the picture are fulfulling the mitzva of tzar baalei chayim – learning the proper care of animals while the "religious man" in the picture is violating the mitzva by inflicting abuse on the rooster. And how does this relate to hasbara strategies on American campuses????

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