The Swarthmore Hillel organization is changing its name and its identity in response to a long conflict with its parent organization. Hillel is decidedly anti BDS which is the Boycott, Sanction, and Divestment movement in protest of Israel’s policies and human rights violations towards Palestinians. Any event or person representing a pro-BDS perspective is not welcome by Hillel. The Swarthmore organization took issue with this and will sever its association with Hillel.
Open Hillel “is a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels. We seek to change the “standards for partnership” in Hillel International’s guidelines, which exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel. In addition, we encourage local campus Hillels to adopt policies that are more open and inclusive than Hillel International’s, and that allow for free discourse on all subjects within the Hillel community.”
Rather than empower young Jews who are working to create meaningful programming, Hillel International has tried to bully them into silence,” the Open Hillel movement said in a statement. “As students involved in our Hillels around the country, we demand an immediate halt to any attempts to legally blackmail our peers and ask that supporters of openness in the American Jewish community join us in actively expressing our shame in Hillel International’s actions. via Swarthmore Hillel breaks with parent organization over Israel issues @insidehighered.
Hillel’s position conflates of the idea of delegitimizing Israel as a state with the argument that the way that Israel is enforcing its legitimacy as a state has serious and fundamental human rights issues. This is absolutist thinking in its finest form. Hillel has its own standard for when criticism becomes delegitimization and they do not appear to make much of a valuable distinction. It’s not a sound argument at all.
Criticism becomes anti-Semitism, however, when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.
When politics and religion are so related, it becomes difficult to criticize one set of policies without receiving condemnation for somehow delegitimating or rejecting not only the Jewish people, but their religion. Of course, the same can be said of Islamic states where critiquing the policy entails disrespecting the religion.
Why can’t Hillel hold in tension the fact that faithful Jews can also hold Israel in condemnation for its actions? Was that not what the judges and prophets did so long ago?