Hillel president: Israel guidelines will be ‘applied across the political spectrum’

Hillel International’s president, Eric Fingerhut, called me back after JTA had already published my article about his standoff with the Hillel at Swarthmore College. At issue is the Swarthmore Hillel student board’s rejection of the international Jewish campus group’s 2010 Israel guidelines.

In our conversation, Fingerhut betrayed no doubts about his strict upholding of the Israel guidelines, although he refused to discuss how he might go about enforcing them with regard to Swarthmore. (He has agreed to meet with the Swarthmore Hillel students in the new year.)

Asked if he is worried the Israel guidelines might drive lefty Jewish students away from Hillel, Fingerhut insisted that the guidelines are actually “going to attract Jewish students, because they are going to have the absolutely best talented leaders and programs that help people develop their understanding of Israel in all of its complexity as part of a Jewish homeland.”

He also indicated that the disagreement with Swarthmore is a result of the students just not understanding why “these are the right boundaries.”

He declined to identify specific organizations that are prohibited from campus Hillels. When I asked about Breaking The Silence — a group of Israeli veterans who speak out critically about Israeli military actions in the West Bank and whose campus appearances have occasionally caused consternation — Fingerhut said the group needs to be looked at in light of the Israel guidelines but can be hosted under the right circumstances.

“We had one example of one campus that, after a long period of study and discussion, did decide to craft a program they felt was more balanced and put the information Breaking the Silence wanted to present in the proper context,” he said. “That’s a very challenging thing to be able to do, so we don’t have a blanket policy on that or any organization.”

Will the guidelines, which insist that partners and speakers accept “the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state,” be used to bar far-right speakers who promote the deportation of Palestinians or argue that it is more important that Israel be Jewish than that it be democratic? Fingerhut answered that the guidelines will be “applied across the political spectrum and has been applied,” but he declined to discuss specifics.

He also emphasized that this is about programs and organizations, not human beings.

“We’re not picking and choosing Jewish students based on their views,” he said. “Everyone is welcome. We’re picking and choosing what organizations we partner with and what programs we choose to sponsor or not.”

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