Hillel leads battle against US boycotters

By Ellen Tumposky, January 13, 2011

Hillel is fighting back against the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that is sweeping US campuses.

The student support organisation has set out new guidelines to bar people who back the BDS movement from its campus events. "We will not allow our resources to be used to support the BDS movement," said Jeff Rubin, spokesman for Hillel, which has chapters at more than 500 universities.

The new policy has angered Jewish advocates of BDS activities.

"It's a shame that Hillel is excluding a certain segment of its own community because of its political beliefs," said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. "All the money in the world can't stop people from having these opinions based on Jewish values."

"What the Jewish establishment is trying to do is to go on college campuses and try and cut off this conversation," said Hannah Schwarzchild of Philly BDS, which spearheaded the recent move to boycott Sabra hummus on campuses. But Mr Rubin said Hillel is not cutting off debate. "We're just saying our resources won't be used in those debates." Hillel, he said, follows a "big tent" policy: "On Friday morning we may disagree with a student who is running an anti-Israel table on campus. That night, we want that student to be joining us in Shabbat dinner."

The Hillel move is part of a wider drive to fight the boycott movement, which includes the JFNA Israel Action Network, a multi-million-dollar initiative from the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Martin Raffel, director of the network, says it is fighting assaults on Israel's legitimacy. Criticism of Israeli policy is fair game, Mr Raffel said, but "the feeling is there has to be some kind of boundary. The global BDS movement is one that falls into that category of being on the other side of the line."

The task for Jewish organisations, says Mr Raffel, is bigger than combating BDS on campus. "Our challenge is to have our young people embrace their Jewish identity and Israel as part of that identity."

Last updated: 1:01pm, January 13 2011