Vassar Jewish Union declares itself an ‘Open Hillel’


(JTA) — Vassar College’s Jewish Union declared itself an “Open Hillel,”  repudiating international Hillel guidelines rejecting partnerships with groups deemed hostile toward Israel.

The Vassar Jewish Union, a Hillel-affiliated student group, made the announcement Tuesday on its website.

It is the second campus Hillel organization to designate itself an Open Hillel. Swarthmore College Hillel voted to reject the Hillel guidelines for campus Israel activities in December.

The guidelines forbid individual Hillel chapters from hosting groups or speakers that among other things deny Israel’s right to exist or support boycott or divestment from the Jewish state.

“We believe that this policy censors and delegitimizes the diverse range of personal and political opinions held by Jewish students,” the Vassar Jewish Union said in its statement.  “We believe that fostering a pluralistic community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be achieved with Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines in place,” the statement also said.

The college is located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. According to the Hillel College guide, about 500 of the college’s 2,400 undergraduates are Jewish.

“As an Open Hillel, the Vassar Jewish Union will not endorse any particular political view. The Vassar Jewish Union will not exclude organizations, groups, speakers, individuals, or events on the basis of political opinion. Rather, we seek to represent the diverse views held by our members and to provide a space for meaningful and respectful debate and discussion. This position is in accordance with our desire to enrich our political, spiritual, and cultural lives at Vassar through free and open discourse,” the statement concluded.

Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut issued a statement in response, agreeing that  “Hillel should and will always provide students with an open and pluralistic forum where they can explore issues and opinions related to their Jewish identity.” However, the statement said, Hillel will not “give a platform to groups or individuals to attack the Jewish people, Jewish values or the Jewish state’s right to exist. This includes groups or individuals that support and advance the BDS movement, which represents a vicious attack on the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Our expectation is that all Hillel affiliates will continue to uphold these standards for partners and co-sponsors.”

Following the Swarthmore announcement, Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut responded with a similar letter.

He was set to meet with the Swarthmore Hillel leadership early this year.

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