This op-ed was written in response to another op-ed, one in which a long-time Hillel professional, Rabbi Bruce Warshal, announced that he was quitting his position with Hillel because of the organization’s staunch support of its own Israel guidelines.
Rabbi Bruce Warshal sadly announced his departure from the Hillel movement in the Sun Sentinel newspaper on March 4, 2014. As the chairman of the Board of Directors of Hillel International, I join Rabbi Warshal in expressing a heavy heart.
My sadness results from Rabbi Warshal’s decision to leave the remarkable organization I am proud to serve based on a gross mischaracterization of Hillel’s positive values and inclusive policies. It is my hope that a clarification of Hillel’s true values and mission will encourage Rabbi Warshal to remain part of the Hillel family, where he is quite welcome.
Contrary to what Rabbi Warshal claims, no individual is banned from Hillel, and no issue is off limits to our students. Indeed, Hillel encourages students to bring all their ideas, questions, and concerns about Jewish life and identity through our doors and to our dedicated professionals. It is only through such openness that we can fulfill our vision of “inspiring an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.”
Hillel creates opportunities for students to travel to Israel, to learn about Israeli culture, history and current events, to forge relationships with Israelis, and to build a culture of civility on campus where students can engage with Israel and Judaism in a positive and authentic way. Hillel’s tent is big enough to welcome Jews no matter their politics, level of religious observance, or perspectives.
The guidelines Rabbi Warshal deplores clearly articulate a commitment to inclusion and to the fostering of “civil discourse about Israel in a safe and supportive college environment that is fertile for dialogue and learning.” To fulfill this commitment, Hillel proudly partners with many organizations and groups from across the political and religious spectrum.
Within the rich environment of open debate and learning Hillel cultivates, we steadfastly maintain our commitment to support “Israel as a Jewish and democratic state … as a member of the family of nations.” For this reason, Hillel rightly refrains from hosting or partnering with speakers or groups who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish democratic state, delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel, or support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.
Those who advocate the destruction of the Jewish people, Jewish values or the Jewish state will not be offered a platform or partnership. How Rabbi Warshal gets from this legitimate position to the claim that “liberal Jews who love Israel but disagree with the current Netanyahu government” are banned from Hillel is impossible for me to explain. It is a false and outrageous accusation.
The stories Rabbi Warshal tells to condemn Hillel’s Israel guidelines are similarly false. They have been refuted by Hillel time and again, yet live on in the blogs and media stories upon which the rabbi apparently relies. Had Rabbi Warshal checked with Hillel, he would know these stories are inaccurate.
For example, contrary to Rabbi Warshal’s claim, Avrum Burg was, in fact, welcomed to Harvard Hillel where he spoke to students. Yes, Harvard Hillel did decline to co-sponsor a public event later that same evening with an organization that annually has brought “Israel Apartheid Week” to Harvard, and that ceaselessly seeks the alienation and the dissolution of the Jewish State. My colleagues and I on the Hillel International Board of Directors think Harvard Hillel got it right.
Hillel provides a welcoming, open and pluralistic environment for Jewish students of all backgrounds on 550 college and university campuses across North America and in 13 countries on five continents. We offer Jewish students a home away from home, and serve to protect and enrich Jewish life on campus. Hillel is dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. It is a vital and growing organization, to which thousands of volunteers, professionals and student leaders dedicate their time, energy and resources every day. Their work is a credit to the Jewish people, and they deserve our thanks.