Swarthmore Hillel drops ‘Hillel’ name after disagreement on pro-BDS speakers

The Swarthmore College campus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS.org) The Hillel chapter at Swarthmore College voted to drop “Hillel” from its name this week due to a disagreement with Hillel International over a speaker series that includes individuals who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

In 2013, Swarthmore’s Hillel had aligned itself with the "Open Hillel" movement, which calls for a diversity of opinions on Israel at Hillel and has been criticized for promoting anti-Israel views. In December of that year, Hilel International CEO Eric Fingerhut wrote a letter to Hillel’s Swarthmore College chapter that criticized the decision by its student board to disavow the Jewish campus umbrella’s guidelines forbidding engagement with groups or speakers that “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel.” 

This February, Swarthmore’s Hillel opened a speaker series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that included Palestinian activists such as Ali Abu Awwad and Israeli activists such as the co-founder of Israeli Jewish-Arab education center Yad B’Yad (Hand in Hand), Lee Gordon. Another event scheduled for next week will reportedly include civil rights organizers Ira Grupper, Mark Levy, Larry Rubin, and Dorothy Zellner, all of whom openly support BDS.

“If the students or speakers intend for this program to be a discussion in which the speakers present or proselytize their known anti-Israel and pro-BDS agenda,” Hillel International legal counsel Tracy Turoff wrote in a letter to the college that was obtained by the Huffington Post. “This would cross the clear line for programs that violate Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership and could be reason for Hillel International to seek to protect its guidelines, name, and reputation.”

"Hillel International cares about Jewish life on campus at Swarthmore and together with Hillel of Greater Philadelphia will continue to look for opportunities to serve Jewish students on the Swarthmore campus," Turoff told the Huffington Post.

Posted on March 18, 2015 .