Vassar College Jewish Union breaks from Hillel’s Israel guidelines

Vassar College, whose Jewish Union has officially called itself an "open Hillel" Tuesday. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

( The Vassar College Jewish Union officially called itself an "Open Hillel" on Tuesday, disassociating itself from the Jewish campus umbrella's guidelines on Israel. The Hillel International-affiliated institution is the second campus organization to do so, following Swarthmore Hillel. 

Hillel’s official guidelines state that the organization will not “partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel.” The "Open Hillel" campaign was recently founded by students who say they feel excluded from Hillel because they believe their criticism of Israel is not accepted.

“The mission statement of the Vassar Jewish Union calls on us to commit to strengthening our pluralistic Jewish community. We recognize that identification with Israel is not necessarily an integral part of every individual’s Jewish identity. We commit to providing a spiritual and cultural home for Jewish expression in any form," the Vassar Jewish Union said in a statement.

“VJU will support individual members’ expressions of their own political views, and will seek to represent this diversity with its programming. We welcome open discourse concerning Israel, Palestine, and any other relevant and critical issues, and will not exclude on the basis of political opinion,” the statement added.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs, told that the Vassar College Jewish Union "will have to read the letter to Swarthmore Hillel written by [Hillel President and CEO] Eric Fingerhut, which expresses Hillel's new red line and prohibits anti-Zionists from being invited to speak under the auspices of Hillel."

"We once again commend Eric for sticking to Hillel's established guidelines and implementing them across the country," Rothstein said.

Fingerhut wrote to Swarthmore Hillel in December 2013, "I hope you will inform your colleagues on the Student Board of Swarthmore Hillel that Hillel International expects all campus organizations that use the Hillel name to adhere to these guidelines. No organization that uses the Hillel name may choose to do otherwise."

Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, told, "'Open Hillel' is a misnomer because Hillel is already the most open and pluralistic campus organization on the planet."     

Fingerhut said in a statement Thursday, "We have seen the release from the Jewish Student Union at Vassar College. We agree that Hillel should and will always provide students with an open and pluralistic forum where they can explore issues and opinions related to their Jewish identity. We thank the Vassar students for their commitment to this value and accept their invitation for further conversation."

But Hillel will not "give a platform to groups or individuals to attack the Jewish people, Jewish values or the Jewish state’s right to exist," Fingerhut said, reiterating the group's Israel guidelines.

"Our expectation is that all Hillel affiliates will continue to uphold these standards for partners and co-sponsors," he said. "We look forward to helping every Hillel meet the goals of Jewish student exploration, education and identity."

Posted on February 19, 2014 .