The president of the Hillel International Jewish campus organization, Eric Fingerhut, responded to inflammatory and anti-Zionist statements by the Hillel at Swarthmore College Tuesday, warning that anti-Zionist activities cannot continue under the Hillel name.
The Swarthmore Hillel Student Board's vote to allow anti-Zionist speakers at Hillel-funded events, and its declaration that it publicly defies Hillel International's policy under the banner of "open-mindedness," made headlines earlier this week when it published an open letter with its views in online newspaper The Beacon.
Hillel International, which organizes centers for Jewish life on campuses across the US and globally, publishes guidelines allowing for pluralistic interpretations of Judaism, but also stating that it is strictly pro-Israel. Discussion about Israel issues is allowed at events - but not from noted anti-Zionists, who campaign against Israel's right to exist.
In response to Swarthmore's declaration, Fingerhut has sent a carefully-worded email to Joshua Wolfsun, Swarthmore Hillel's communications director, which was also published on the Hillel International website.
Fingerhut notes that the open defiance of the umbrella movement's Israel guidelines is "unacceptable," crossing a "red line" and that anti-Zionists "will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances."
He also makes clear to Wolfsun that the organization understands that university campuses may invite those speakers through their doors - but that partnering it with a Hillel name is antithetical to the organization's message.
Wolfsun had cited the legacy of Talmudic sage Rabbi Hillel - whose acceptance of others, scholarship, and simple roots are often cited as essential parts of the Hillel International philosophy - in the Swarthmore declaration. Wolfsun had claimed that the moral justification for the move to allow anti-Zionists on the Hillel grounds is found in the Talmudic sage's teachings, and that by opening its doors to anti-Zionism, the Swarthmore branch was also encouraging free thinking.
Fingerhut combats these claims. "Rabbi Hillel was famed for his openness to others," Fingerhut writes, "but Rabbi Hillel is perhaps more famous for his saying in Pirkei Avot, 'If I am not for myself, who will be for me?'"
As such, the Jewish people also needs to defend itself, Fingerhut states. "We encourage debate and dissent, but we draw the line at hosting groups who would deny the right of the State of Israel to exist," he concludes.
In the midst of the hoopla, The Daily Beast noted later Tuesday that the Swarthmore Hillel's announcement is nothing new to Hillel members; the branch had been openly engaging in anti-Zionist activities for more than two years.
The article notes that guest speakers have included anti-IDF Breaking the Silence and Noam Chomsky; they also allegedly held a "march for peace" with leftist group J Street and Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine.