Last Friday’s Jerusalem Post had an article concerning a Hillel House hosting a speaker calling for boycotting Israeli goods and divesting, due to the plight of the Palestinians.
Essentially, Swarthmore College’s Hillel House passed a policy stating that they would allow and sponsor any and all organizations and people be they “Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist”. See here. They now intend inviting a speaker who is calling on BDS – boycotting, Divesting and calling on sanctions against Israel because of the Palestinian Issue.
Hillel International has called on Swarthmore College’s Hillel House not to host the event under the auspices of Hillel.
Obviously the issue raises questions of freedom of speech, Antisemitism, anti-Zionism and racism. It occurred to me that there are also trademark issues involved. A quick look at the USPTO trademark register shows that B’nai B’rith DBA B’nai B’rith International CORPORATION D.C. 2020 K Street, N.W. 7th Floor Washington D.C. 20006 has a trademark for Hillel. See here. (There is also a delightful trademark registration for Hillel’s Angels, for an Association of Motorcyclists, primarily of the Jewish faith that was filed by Wyckoff/Franklin Lakes Synagogue of NEW JERSEY, which has unfortunately, been allowed to lapse).
If Swarthmore College’s Hillel House is affiliated to B’nai B’rith International, presumably the umbrella organization can define what type of events and speakers are kosher.
Hillel International’s policy states:
Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:
• Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders;
• Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel;
• Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; or
• Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior toward campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.
Presumably Hillel International can force Swarthmore College’s Hillel House to abide by the policy or not to use the name Hillel.
Compared to friends at City University, South Bank Poly (University of Greenwich) and elsewhere, I was fortunate to do my undergraduate studies at Imperial College, then a relatively non-political campus. We did have some trouble with the Just Peace in The Middle East Society, the Socialist Workers, and others, but mostly things were calm. In my first year, I ran for the post of religious affairs officer of the Student Union, and, in addition to the Jewish Society, garnered support from the Christian, Moslems and atheist (Huxley) societies, although lost to a candidate supported by the political societies, the largest of which, ConSoc, was the Conservative Society.
Students tend to be political animals, generally irresponsible and immature. I certainly got up to a couple of stunts that with the benefit of hindsight, would consider irresponsible.
I see Swarthmore Hillel’s position as fairly reprehensible. Since Israel is anyway engaging with the Palestinian leadership, the timing of this is also unfortunate. A Hillel House should try to cater to the Jewish student mainstream. It should be inclusive. I think food should be Kosher. There should be a mehitza for prayers, but it should be minimalist. Let everyone be made welcome. I don’t think that a Hillel House should invite a disciple of Meir Kahanne or a Far Left speaker. I do think that a calm and reasoned debate on settlement and security, democracy and Palestinian self-determination is valuable, but note that it doesn’t happen in Israel, so why should it happen in the US? In general, I think that there are more than enough non-Jewish organizations that are vehemently anti-Israel, without Jewish student organizations joining the bandwagon.
If any students of Swarthmore College (or any Jewish students studying anywhere) are interested in seeing a West Bank settlement and talking to the residents, I’d be happy to host them.