Hillel’s Standards of Partnership are Divisive and Wrong: A Joint Statement by the JVP Student Network and the JVP Academic Council
Ohio State University’s Hillel has expelled B’nai Keshet, the only Jewish LGBTQ student group, because they participated in a fundraiser for LGBTQ refugees. The reason? The fundraiser was co-sponsored by the campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, along with fifteen other campus groups, which made the entire event in violation of Hillel’s “Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities” outlined by Hillel International. Jewish Voice for Peace’s Student Network and Academic Council call on OSU Hillel to readmit B’nai Keshet and drop the “Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities.”
Through these actions, OSU Hillel has not only alienated queer and trans Jews from their organization, they have made a statement, intended or not, that LGBTQ Jews are not welcome at Hillel. Instead of supporting LGBTQ students, OSU Hillel has chosen to prioritize Hillel International’s policing of opinions on Israel and strategies (like BDS) to end the illegal occupation. Since when is complete ideological obedience a Jewish value? Jewish Voice for Peace is a Jewish organization, and continually ostracizing its members and students contributes to the notion that because we support BDS, we aren’t truly Jewish.
By condemning a fundraiser for LGBTQ Refugees with Stonewall Columbus, Hillel International has also alienated immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in a time of escalated violence, bigotry, and discriminatory policy. Hillel International cannot continue to draw the boundaries of acceptable speech and action, especially when countless Jewish academics, religious leaders, and activists have supported BDS. How can Hillel International act as the representative of all American Jews when they alienate queer Jews and Jews who support BDS tactics? Being a space for Jews means being a space for all Jews. Supporting queer students means supporting all queer students. Hillel International cannot pick and choose.
Our Jewishness is broader than our relationship, whatever it may be, to Israel. We are committed to addressing the complexity of our identities and experiences in the diaspora. For those of us who are students, we came to JVP after we couldn’t be our full selves as Jews who care about human rights for Palestinians within the narrow boundaries of Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership.
As JVP details in its 2015 report ‘Stifling Dissent’, Hillel’s Standards of Partnership are part of a larger trend of repression, where across the country, a network of well-funded pro-Israel organizations work overtime to intimidate and harass student critics of Israel, and stifle the movement for Palestinian rights on college campuses. We saw this earlier in the semester at OSU, when, as a broad coalition of student groups campaigned for their university to divest from corporations complicit in Israel’s human rights violations, Hillel staff trained students to oppose the referendum, blanketed campus with paid canvassers, and funded a targeted ad campaign, spending over $10,000 to narrowly defeat the grassroots student initiative. In the era of Trump, Hillel needs to do its part to protect freedom of speech on campuses, and promote a supportive campus climate where all students can access resources, build vibrant communities, and advocate for political issues without fear of intimidation. Instead, Hillel has chosen to impose red lines, exclude controversial viewpoints, and trample the rights of marginalized groups within and beyond the Jewish community.
We are guided by Jewish values that promote aiding, supporting, and fighting for the rights and dignity of all peoples. We encourage all concerned students and faculty to sign Open Hillel’s letter calling on OSU Hillel, and Hillel International, to re-admit B’nai Keshet and end the divisive Standards of Partnership.