Yesterday’s post about Hillel’s new Israel policy (now almost 3 years old) generated a lot of discussion. Some are clearly uncomfortable with the current policy, worrying that it is an infringement on the free speech rights of students. Others believe the policy makes sense and in fact is necessary to ensure a strong and safe Israel. Hillel’s president, Eric Fingerhut, posted a response to the Times article that is a strong defense of the current policy and that challenges the facts as reported. You can read his response at this link: http://www.hillel.org/about/news-views/news-views—blog/news-and-views/2013/12/29/president-fingerhuts-response-to-new-york-times-article
Also, if you are interested in reading the actual policy itself, it is on the Hillel website at this link: http://www.hillel.org/jewish/hillel-israel/hillel-israel-guidelines
First of all, I don’t really see this as a free speech issue (one of the few times Alan Derschowitz and I agree!). An organization can certainly decide who can and cannot be part of its programming. A shul is a perfect example. There are certain speakers we just wouldn’t invite, and that is our right – what goes on in our building programmatically is up to us. And along the same lines I believe that each Hillel should be able to decide which programs and speakers are appropriate, and which are not.
What troubles me is the need the national Hillel felt to create a policy that would apply across the board, to all chapters, about this issue. The fact that they felt a need to create the policy leads me to believe they were increasingly uncomfortable with programs and speakers that were being chosen by students – otherwise, why create a policy? My preference would be that they trust the students and let them decide for themselves on a case by case and chapter by chapter basis. Again, the example of a shul. If the Conservative Movement decided that Conservative synagogues must take a particular approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum I would be very uncomfortable. There are some speakers I might invite to my shul that other rabbis wouldn’t want in their buildings, and vice-versa, but I respect their right to make that decision for their congregation.
My overarching concern about this is less about Hillel specifically and more about a trend that can be seen in our community when you link this with the Beinart incident in Atlanta and AIPAC’s policy of not appearing at a program where a speaker will not express support for the policies of the Israeli government. My question for Hillel would be where is that line for them? If it isn’t JStreet, is it Rabbis for Human Rights? Is it a specifically pro-Palestnian group? I also would be curious to know who makes that ultimate decision? Is it a national decision?
It doesn’t need to be said that Hillel is a fabulous organization that does phenomenal work and contributes to the Jewish world in more ways that I can count. In many cases the leaders of today’s Jewish community were ‘Hillelnicks’ when they were in college. Maybe it is time for those leaders to help the community they serve begin a discussion about the big picture – when Jews disagree about Israel, how do we handle that so that all points of view are respected, and can be expressed?