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Students Angered by Hillel’s Pro-Israel Standards

Some Hillel students reject Hillel's standards and partners. But they still want Hillel funds for their (anti-Israel) activities.

The "Open Hillel" movement chafes at Hillel's guidelines

The "Open Hillel" movement chafes at Hillel's guidelines
Photo Credit: Lori Lowenthal Marcus

Hillel, which self-defines as the “center of Jewish life on campus,” and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are calling attention to their frequent collaboration in an op-ed penned by national Hillel’s new president and chief executive officer, Eric Fingerhut, and Jonathan Kessler, AIPAC’s leadership development director, in this week’s issue of the New York Jewish Week .

The two acknowledge the Jewish community’s concern about this country’s campus environment “that is too often hostile to Israel. Public demonstrations, inflammatory language and personal attacks by anti-Israel organizations seek to exploit the spirit of open debate and public action central to American academic life.”

The article gives examples of the efficacy of their collaboration to “strategically and proactively empower, train and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists on and beyond the campus.”

In theory, it is a good idea, and there is anecdotal evidence of success.


However, some students were alarmed by what seemed to be a formalizing of the relationship between Hillel and AIPAC.  These are students and adult mentors who are trying to create a movement known as “Open Hillel.”

This movement started earlier this year at Harvard – although it has not yet been successful there. However, it is cropping up on other campuses. In fact, this Sunday, Dec. 8, the Swarthmore College Hillel student board unanimously voted to declare itself an Open Hillel.

The activists behind Open Hillel are opponents of Hillel’s national guidelines. Those guidelines, crafted several years ago, discuss the many ways in which Hillel is an inclusive institution, but places outside its boundaries those entities that seek to “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel,” or which advocate the economic and political warfare known as the Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) movement.

What’s wrong with that standard?  Well, there are college students who are put out by such rules.  They say:

These guidelines are counterproductive to creating real conversations about Israel on campus. They prevent campus Hillels from inviting co-sponsorship or dialogue with Palestinians, as almost all Palestinian campus groups support the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel. They also exclude certain Jewish groups because of their political views. Although individual campus Hillels are not obligated to follow the guidelines, they have been used to pressure Hillels into shutting down open discourse on Israel.

Mind you, these students still want to benefit from the goodies they get from Hillel donors, such as the meeting space, the opportunity (i.e. funds) to bring in (anti-Israel) speakers, communication networks and lots of other goods and services for which the Hillel donors pay.  Those guidelines certainly could not stop any independent student groups from engaging in whatever anti-Israel activities they desire.  But the advocates for an Open Hillel want their tent and the right to blow it up, also.

Perhaps there will be a movement by Hillel donors demanding that the money provided to the Hillel foundation not be used for activities that are contrary to the organization’s stated guidelines.  Maybe an open door will be shown to those who want an Open Hillel.

However, in response to this newly formalized collaboration between Hillel and AIPAC, the Open Hillel advocates are lovingly supportive of the high priority Hillel places on inclusiveness. This time it is the “hawkish AIPAC” they resent.


Because, according to this group, AIPAC’s definition of “pro-Israel” cannot be the benchmark for what is and is not acceptable within the Jewish community on campus. The example of an unacceptable AIPAC position provided in the Open Hillel Response to Fingerhut and Kessler’s celebration of collaboration is “the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.” Why is that unacceptable? “Because the Palestinian Arabs also claim Jerusalem as their capital.”

Again, this is not a question of whether any group can bring anti-Israel speakers or activities to campus, the only question is whether Hillel donors should be required to pay for it.

A quote comes to mind from Cong. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) when talking about the “open-mindedness” of J Street with respect to Israel positions. He said “an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”

There is another direction from which the Hillel/AIPAC relationship may receive criticism. But these students don’t demand that Hillel changes, these students seek out other organizations on campus with which to work.

For these pro-Israel students on campus, the Hillel method of dealing with anti-Israel activity, rather than being empowering, actually seems to empower the anti-Israel activists.

That is because the “behind-the-scenes” diplomacy and interfaith gestures Hillels generally favor seem, some believe, to result in pro-Israel students simply remaining silent and ignoring lies and distortions and the painting of Israel as an evil occupier. A preferred method for responding to, for example, BDS conferences is to host inclusive Shabbat dinners. Those are nice, but do nothing to counter the lies which, when repeated often enough, attain the status of truth to the students who hear them, or who read reports of those events.

For these less passive pro-Israel students, there are the more action-oriented groups such as the CAMERA Campus Activist Project, or StandWithUs or the Chabads on campus.

The students who work with these groups may still utilize Hillel resources for other activities, but turn to other sources of guidance, and resources, in order to pursue their version of Israel advocacy.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.

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51 Responses to “Students Angered by Hillel’s Pro-Israel Standards”

  1. Lex Rofes says:

    We understand that students are welcome to go elsewhere. As invested leaders in our Jewish communities, though, we deeply hope and pray for the success of Hillel, and we recognize that having many students choose to go elsewhere is bad for the Jewish present and future. We want Hillel to succeed in its work to engage all Jewish students. That, and not Israel advocacy, is Hillel's bottom line. Guidelines stating that various Jewish groups and that many Jewish speakers are not welcome to partner with Hillels stand in the way of the crucial mission of Jewish engagement.

    Sincerely, Lex Rofes
    Hillel International Board Member, 2011-2013
    Hillel International Conference Coordinator Intern, summer 2012
    Brown RISD Hillel President, 2012
    Brown Class of 2013

  2. Lex Rofes says:

    Also…Open Hillel organizer.

  3. Lori Solomon Moshe says:

    Judiasm and support for Israel are one.Enough with the liberal nonsense.Stand with our Jewish nation always, they sacrifice for all Jews freedom worldwide

  4. Anonymous says:

    How can you have "open discourse" with someone who has publicly sworn to eradicate you from the face of the earth and spreads nothing but lies about you around the world, with the liberal news media in cahoots?

  5. Anonymous says:

    "Jewish engagement" SHOULD mean that Jews such as you, Lex, and organizations such as Hillel have the cajones to do what's right, not what's p.c., and stand up to liberal b.s. on campus and attempts to eradicate us, the way the Maccabees stood up to the Greeks! Didn't you get Hashem's message from the Chanukah story?

  6. "Jewish" anti-Israel groups such as Independent Jewish Voices or J Street are no more "Jewish" than the Muslim Student Association. All are in favor of BDS which is designed to lead to the destruction of Israel. No Hillel funds should be allocated to such organizations and Hillels should not partner with any such groups.

  7. Chaiya Eitan says:

    It would be like some wanting an 'open Catholic church' where pro-abortion policies and atheism could be discussed. Go start your own organization. Leave Hillel alone!

  8. Chaiya Eitan says:

    It was at Hillel, Univ. of Maryland, where I first started to learn about Israel and Judaism.

  9. Lex Rofes says:

    uunlisted Uunlisted: I did not get Hashem's message from the Chanukah story, because the Chanukah story is not part of Tanakh, the document where we find Hashem's messages. It is a Rabbinically-created holiday. There are many different Rabbinic messages, many of which I gain a great deal from spiritually and personally, and many of which I do not. The Maccabees were a complicated bunch. Sure, they stood up to the Greeks. But they also were viciously violent towards fellow Jews who they thought were not acting the right kind of Jewish. Would you advocate for forced circumcision of males (1 Macc. 2:45-46)? I would not. I gain a lot from Chanukah's focus on light, on pirsumei nisa (proclaiming our Jewish identity through public displays), and on gathering together as a family, every night, for 8 nights. I gain a lot from its daily recitation of the "she-asah nisim" blessing, which thanks God for miracles that we too often forget. But I do not believe that focusing on the Maccabees' brutal form of Jewish leadership as a positive would be a good thing to do.

    And bringing in a former speaker of Knesset to speak at Hillel (Avraham Burg) is not tantamount to an "attempt to eradicate us." And yet that is being censored. Same with Israeli soldiers who want to speak about their experiences through Breaking the Silence. We shouldn't be silencing Jewish voices in the name of Judaism.

  10. Lex Rofes says:

    Harold Pomerantz J Street is not in favor of BDS. That is a false statement on the most basic level. Never has J Street endorsed BDS, and it has actually been quite actively opposed to it since its inception.

  11. Harold Pomerantz Did sanctions lead to the destruction of South Africa? No, they did not. Can Israel be improved? Yes, it can. Will closing Hillel to differing opinions among Jews improve anything? No, it will not.

  12. Gil Gilman says:

    Why do palestinians need a voice through some Hillel event? Their lies, sloganeering, and outright chicanery receive plenty of exposure as it is. It is extremely difficult for me to believe that there are Jews on college campuses anywhere, who are that behind times. If so, things have greatly changed since my day. More likely these students want to give voice to a movement with which they already agree. Any one who thinks that the cesspool of palestinian life is the fault of Israel is an intentional fool, disregarding all facts to the contrary. And these are academics?

  13. Ethan Perks says:

    But some (not many but some) Hillel's have been supportive of ant Zionist speakers a la Chapel Hill.

  14. Lex Rofes says:

    It's not just Palestinians whose voices are being silenced. As I have mentioned in other comments, numerous Jewish speakers have been silenced. These include a Former Speaker of Knesset and dozens of IDF veterans hoping to discuss their experiences in the military.

  15. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    are there not enough goyishe anti israel groups on campus what is with the bipolar compulsion of these jews to argue against their interests internally. This is why jewish philanthropists need to educate themselves and divest from groups that are simply wolves in sheeps clothing and give only to legitimate jewish outreach groups that are more capaple and clearly much happier about providing authentic jewish leadership on campus.

  16. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    lex im sorry but your lengthy and self agrandizing signature does not make an absurd position less absurd. Hillel as an organization has little goals besides self preservation. They jave never stood for any authentic jewish cause and so it is little suprise they dont all desire to stand with Israel. The student run hillel groups that choose to promote jewish values do so of their own merit, history has proven that whenever where ever hillel the organization takes over, any and all Kedusha goes down the drain.

  17. Lex Rofes says:

    Gil Gilman You're not understanding. This isn't about achieving success for my views on Israel. My views on Israel are generally accepted at Hillel — though not always. This is about making sure Hillel can achieve its mission of reaching all Jewish students. We want Hillel to succeed, and in order for it to do so, we believe it must welcome in a wider group of voices.

  18. Gil Gilman says:

    Well, I could go on here, but I won't, except to say that during my day the Hillel mission was to enrich the lives of Jewish students who would in turn enrich the lives of other Jews and the world, including a commitment to Israel. I personally trust the Hillel leadership to do just that. Many in this wider group of voices want nothing but to damage or even destroy Israel, and Jerusalem as it's capital. Thus, if there are divergent opinions among the leadership, then that is where those disagreements should be ironed out, and conclusions accepted.

  19. In fact, Hillel has been much too passive in opposing and exposing the leftists and the Moslems who want Israel destroyed. If Hillel really wants to support Israel, it has to start raising the consciousness of Jews on campus about the true nature of the conflict over Israel, namely, Islamic anti-Semitism. We are not dealing with a war over territory or "settlements". The conflict will not be solved by drawing new lines on old maps, because it is not a territorial conflict. We are dealing with an Islamic holy war against the Jews, just like the Hamas Charter says. Hillel should be educating campus Jews about this instead of avoiding the issue.

  20. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    Lex Rofes That would be the same Knesset where arab members shout out their desire to overthrow they state they claim to represent, the same knesset that refuses to allow jews to pray at the temple mount and the same knesset that voted to expel gazan jews from their homes to create a launchpad for missiles that israelis have suffered under ever since. To say that every opinion of any member of the knesset has a legitimate place in jewish discourse requires a level of cognitive dissidence that would make the worst sufferers of mental disorders feel better about their lot. Im afraid it is you that fail to understand, you say you want to reach all jews, but to what end? If your goal is not to keep and bring all jews into the fold of Judaism then you are clearly in the wrong business.

  21. Yechiel Baum says:

    If Hillel policy is pro-Israel and pro-Judaism, those who do not want to follow have option NOT to join or attend their functions. It is that simple.

    Rather than turn it around, they can start their own organization, using their own funds and platforms. Once they need to spend their own money, they will fizzle away.

  22. Ron Kall says:

    Just decided not to fulfill my $ pledge to Hillel. Fact is, even Jewish groups that are good for Jewish causes an Israel are pussycats compared to the opposition, bringing their normal Jewish views on the goodness of most people to be steamrolled by muslim?palestinian student groups! There are no palestinian?muslim groups that demand a fair view of Israel!

  23. Ron Kall says:

    Lex Rofes What world are you living in, being concerned about arab voices being silenced?! What an absurd comment! Go to a college campus and try to express a fair view of Israel and the arab students and their allies shout you down, never the other way around. If you are talking about letting Israel?Jew haters have a forum in Hillels etc, what for Let them invite Jews first to their meetings who have good to say about Israel, then we can talk about your issue!

  24. Ron Kall says:

    There are enough Jew haters to go around without the plethora of self hating Jews helping them! Jews need to stop being so "morally elevated" and being open to hearing and supporting those that want them dead! Where is the chance for dialogue to work with those that want nothing more that you dead!?

  25. AC Stubbs says:

    Sadly, this is a common practise. People attend Notre Dame and are shocked and protest that Catholics are running things.

  26. AC Stubbs says:

    Lex Rofes He understands You want Jews to pay for anti-semitics to call for the destruction of Israel Go away

  27. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    Frankly, as to paraphrase our sages, for a jew who rejects the torah it would have been better that his afterbirth been turned over, that they had never been born. It is hard to have anything but pity for jews who rebel against and indeed endanger themselves and their own people, but those of us that have the sense Hashem gave a walnut, what is left for us to do but expose and roundly condemn these people… We do not as a matter of custom anylonger do much in the way of excommunication but we cannot keep pretending these people represent judaism or the voice of the jewish people

  28. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    Ron you should give to Chabad, they have great on campus emissaries that will represent your voice and instill jewish students with jewish values

  29. Anonymous says:

    Well, if Hillel is only for whatever the donors want, then it is not an center for Jewish life as such, but a center for donors to express themselves. It would be good news if the donors do not recognize "Open Hillel" because it will make clear that Hillel cannot continue be the center it pretends to be any more than Israel speaks for all Jews, despit e the government 's claims. A different open space will arise and Hillel will be history. It's like ADL which doesn't monitor and protect Jews against anti-semitism but actively defames people as "anti-semites" for political purposes. It is not opposed to defamation at all, but actually practiced in this art. Once one knows this, ADL is just another political hack marching with the Zionists in their effort to control the ME. So, we are on the very edge of "outing" Hillel. Donors — give your money to other phoney baloney groups like "Stand With Us."

  30. Anonymous says:

    That's an unfortunate consequence of freedom: FREEDOM !

  31. Anonymous says:

    The goodness of Zionists? Wow.

  32. Anonymous says:

    But Hillel purports to be a center for Jewish life, not a center for Zionism. It can't be a center for campus Jewish life because a lot of Jews are anti-Zionists and others prefer free speech in any case. Is this hard to understand?

  33. Anonymous says:

    The truth is "Islamic anti-semitism" not perhaps Jewish anti-Islamism, yes? How so?

  34. Anonymous says:

    Lex Rofes No kidding.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Of course, what 's wrong with discussing abortion etc.??

  36. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    Take your meds and have a nap ok, if you aren't willing to comment outside of anonymity it says a lot about the legitimacy of your point.

  37. Anonymous says:

    How about "open discourse" with people who have IN FACT stolen your land, terrorized your children, imprisoned, tortured and killed your people, moved them out and regularly rain bombs down of them? How ever can you talk with such people? It defies reason.

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