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Wesleyan Jewish students reject Hillel’s Israel guidelines

JNS.org with the Jewish Ledger


Pioneer Hall, Wesleyan University

Pioneer Hall, Wesleyan University

A group of 12 current and former Jewish student leaders at Wesleyan University in Middletown announced that the Hillel International-affiliated Wesleyan Jewish Community has rejected the Jewish campus umbrella’s Israel guidelines.

Hillel’s standards of partnership state that it “will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

The Wesleyan students rejected those standards.

“We reject the idea implicit in Hillel’s guidelines that Jewish plurality gives way to Zionist unanimity, and are acutely aware that many individuals have formed robust, meaningful Jewish identities that do not comport with traditional Zionist ideas,” the students stated in their letter.

“We are committed to a conversation around Judaism and Israel that reflects the values of the members of our community, rather than the political preferences of the leaders of Hillel International,” they wrote.

The Wesleyan students are aligning with the “Open Hillel” movement, which rejects Hillel’s Israel guidelines, following the same move by Swarthmore Hillel and the Vassar College Jewish Union.

“There are many ways to express Jewish identity and many of them do not fall within the boundaries that Hillel International has constructed for discourse within Hillels,” said Danny Blinderman (’14), the organizer of Open Hillel’s movement on Wesleyan’s campus. “If our mission is to build a fully inclusive Jewish community, it is important in a community as diverse as ours to affirm that all viewpoints and Jewish identities are equally welcomed and valued.”

The Jewish Community at Wesleyan/Havurah is run by the university’s. The group was considered an HPC (Hillel Programming Center) with Hillel’s International Center in Washington D.C., allowing students to attend Hillel conferences and giving them access to programming.

Daniel Mael, co-founder of “Safe Hillel”—a group created as an alternative to Open Hillel—told JNS.org, “Unfortunately these [Wesleyan] students are opening the door to anti-Semitic and/or anti-Zionist speakers to have a forum in Hillel. I think it is inappropriate and adds to the atmosphere of intimidation that pro-Israel students face on campus from anti-Israel bullies.”

In a separate development, Hillel International President and CEO Eric Fingerhut on Wednesday, April 2 announced the appointment of Tracy Turoff as the organization’s first general legal counsel. Turoff will advise the Hillel umbrella organization, its campus affiliations, and its external partnerships on all legal and compliance issues. Hillel’s work spans 550 organizations across five continents.

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