We were disturbed to learn that Hillel at Ohio State University – backed by Hillel International – expelled B’nai Keshet, a safe space for LGBTQ students and their allies, for working in coalition to fundraise for queer refugees with a different organization that supports BDS. B’nai Keshet was one of 15 groups collaborating in this effort. Ha’aretz reported that following their expulsion, B’nai Keshet will be denied subsidized kosher meals and access to Hillel funds and services.
Hillel’s ejection of B’nai Keshet for supporting refugees as part of a broad coalition demonstrates a disturbing disregard for the critical issues underlying the fundraiser. It also sets a worrying precedent about the limits Hillel seeks to impose on Jewish students who want to take part in critical social justice projects on campus.
As their campus work demonstrates, Hillel is committed to building Jewish identity through a wide array of initiatives – including social justice. Given that, we would have expected Hillel to welcome B’nai Keshet’s participation in the fundraiser. It is shocking that it led to B’nai Keshet’s ejection instead. This sends exactly the wrong message to campus activists – including pro-Israel advocates – committed to building broad coalitions to advance social change.
Imposing such a radical litmus test on organizational affiliation undermines important efforts to build coalitions to advocate for common goals. Jews are a small minority in the United States. We advance our core values by partnering with a broad array of other individuals and groups — even those with whom we, sometimes strongly, disagree. Working across political and ideological lines is also part and parcel of campus and communal activism. Hillel International, which prides itself on a commitment to diversity and pluralism, should know this.
Furthermore, there is no contradiction between vocally opposing BDS and selectively partnering on other issues with groups who may support it. J Street U opposes and works against the Global BDS movement. We do so publicly and in conversations with our coalition partners. This does not prevent us from working in broad coalitions to advance refugee rights or combat Islamophobia, even if we strongly disagree with some of our partners on other issues. We and other American Jewish and pro-Israel groups must have the space on campus to do this work effectively without fear of retribution from Hillel.
Hillel is meant to be a home for all Jewish students on campus. Something has gone seriously wrong if LGBTQ Jewish students are being forced to choose between forming working coalitions with organizations outside the Jewish community and being a part of Hillel. That Jewish students are being put in this impossible position should prompt a serious interrogation of the Hillel’s restrictions on programming and partnerships.
While we applaud the Hillels across the country that have encouraged students to stand up for Muslims and refugees, we call on Hillel International to reinstate B’nai Keshet and reexamine their policies that discourage critical coalition building.
J Street U has proudly worked in diverse coalitions to stand up for our most vulnerable peers, and will continue to do so going forward. We know that other Jewish students will do the same.
J Street U