Hillel International

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Hillel International is a pro-Israel student organisation based in the US and originally founded by B'nai B'rith International. It maintains branches on hundreds of US campuses and claims to have 850 branches worldwide. In 2017 it merged with the David Project.[1]

Adam Lehman, Hillel International’s president and CEO, has called his organization "radically pluralistic, inclusive, egalitarian home for Jewish students coming from all different backgrounds".[2]

The organization imposes restrictions on activities; Hillel takes a firm stance in opposing certain types of views on Israel, such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, and those who hold them.[3]

Hillel International and local Hillels play a role to fight anti-Semitism on college campuses.[4] Hillel provides security training to local Hillels[5] and engages in dialogue with university administrations about how to recognize and confront anti-Semitism on campus.[6] Hillel has extensive pro-Israel programming and employs post-graduate fellows from Israel from the Jewish Agency for Israel.[7] Hillel is a major partner of the Birthright Israel program.[8]

Hillel describes themselves as "steadfastedly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders."[9] Their Standards of Partnership forbid campus Hillels to "partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers" that adopt an anti-Zionist orientation or express support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.[10] Jewish members and leaders of Hillels have criticized the organization's use use of the motto "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel" for alienating Jewish students critical of Israeli policies, as well as for attaching a political ideology to an otherwise apolitical religious and cultural organization.[11][12] Hillel had also been criticized for its use of monopolistic tactics to assume control over the Jewish campus scene.[13][14]

Open Hillel

In an effort to be more inclusive to a greater diversity of Jewish perspectives in addition to Zionism, Swarthmore College Hillel adopted an "Open Hillel" stance in 2013,[15][16][17] saying that "all are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist."[18][19] By 2016, the campus Hillels of Guilford College, Vassar College, and Wesleyan University had joined Swarthmore Hillel in declaring themselves "open." Part of this involved a rejection of Hillel International's Standards of Partnership that they alleged to limit open dialogue and freedom of speech.[20]

In March of 2015, Swarthmore Hillel held an event called "From Mississippi to Jerusalem: A Conversation with Civil Rights Veterans" in which they brought three Jewish veterans of the Civil Rights Movement to discuss their efforts to promote civil rights in the American South and in Israel-Palestine. Because the speakers had voiced support for BDS,[21] the event violated Hillel International's Standards of Partnership. As such, Hillel International threatened legal action against Swarthmore Hillel, with the Hillel International President and Chief Executive Officer at the time Eric Fingerhut saying that it was "not acceptable" to host certain speakers under the Hillel banner, and that "anti-Zionists will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances." The student group removed the word "Hillel" from its title so it could proceed with the planned event,[22] and subsequently adopted the name "Swarthmore Kehilah", severing its association with Hillel.[23]

In February 2014, the Vassar College Jewish Union, an affiliate of Hillel, joined Swarthmore Hillel in declaring themselves to be an Open Hillel, and Wesleyan University's Hillel followed suit. Alumni at the University of California, Berkeley have also created a petition calling upon their school to do the same.[24] In response to Open Hillel, a group of students formed Safe Hillel in 2014 to preserve the pro-Israel agenda of the original Hillel organization. According to its founder Raphael Fils, "Hillel should not have to change its mission in order to accommodate those who don't agree with it. Hillel is the one place students are supposed to feel entirely comfortable in their support of Israel. If that makes some people uncomfortable, there are plenty of other places to go just to hear attacks on Israel."[25][26]

While Hillels at Vassar and Guildford Colleges sought to distance themselves from the explicit Zionism of Hillel International, with Guildford Hillel renaming itself to Guildford Chavurah ("group of friends" in Hebrew)[27] and Vassar Jewish Union placing an emphasis on pluralism and diversity, they did not go as far as the Swarthmore and Wesleyan Hillels did in choosing to fully split from the organization.[28] Both Guildford and Vassar are still listed as "Hillel colleges."[29][30]

See also




  1. Hillel History of Hillel. Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 11 October 2021.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named IHE 22
  3. Members of Jewish Student Group Test Permissible Discussion on Israel. NY Times
  4. Here's how Hillel's new CEO says they're fighting anti-Semitism on campus. February 6, 2020.  The Forward
  5. Preparing Students for Anti-Semitism in College. August 21, 2019.  Baltimore Jewish Times
  6. Hillels of Georgia Seeks Anti-Semitism Probe of Georgia Tech. January 12, 2020.  Atlanta Jewish Times
  7. Campus Israel Fellows.  Jewish Agency for Israel
  8. Find Your Tribe.  Hillel International Taglit Birthright.
  9. Hillel Israel Guidelines.
  10. Dain Sharon, Alina. "Hillel at 90: The Jewish campus umbrella's past, present, and future". The American Israelite (Cincinnati, Ohio). November 13, 2013.
  11. Was University of Richmond's student Hillel leader fired for her political beliefs?.  The Jewish Week.
  12. Jewish student sacked for having mind of her own Alberta Arab News, June 10, 2004
  13. New Voices: Lights Inactive - The death of a Jewish student organization.
  14. Hillel.org: 'Student Presidents Represent Hillel at WUJS Congress'.
  15. 'Open Hillel' Is a Much Bigger Problem Than You Think. November 2014.  The Tower
  16. Home.  Open Hillel.
  17. Op-Ed: Pluralism in Hillel must extend to Israel.
  18. Hillel warns Swarthmore chapter over rejection of Israel guidelines.
  19. "Swarthmore Hillel rejects Hillel Israel guidelines", JTA, December 10, 2013
  20. "Despite Withdrawal of Hillel Support, Jewish Students Hold Nakba Commemoration Event". The Forward, May 11, 2016.
  21. Jewish civil rights activists use legacy to promote BDS.
  22. "Swarthmore Hillel votes to drop 'Hillel' from name" The Swarthmore Phoenix, 19 March 2015
  23. "Swarthmore Hillel Votes to Rename Itself 'KehilahTemplate:'". The Jewish Daily Forward, 23 March 2015
  24. "Berkeley Hillel Urged To Go 'Open' on Israel by Alumni", By Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, February 25, 2014.
  25. Template:"'Safe Hillel' Wants the Jewish Campus Group to be Safe for All", By Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, February 25, 2014.
  26. Safe Hillel Template:Webarchive
  27. How Guilford Hillel Became Guilford Chavurah. May 5, 2015.  New Voices
  28. Why Doesn't Hillel List Swarthmore Or Wesleyan In Its College Guide?. August 11, 2017. 
  29. Guilford College.
  30. Vassar College.