Ohio State Hillel drops Jewish LGBT group for co-sponsoring event by pro-BDS group
Mar 20, 2017
(JTA) — Ohio State University’s Hillel cut ties with a Jewish LGBTQ student group for co-sponsoring an event organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The divorce is the latest flare-up in an ongoing dispute among campus Jewish groups over Hillel International guidelines rejecting partnerships with groups deemed hostile toward Israel.
Ohio State Hillel ended its affiliation with the LGBTQ group B’nai Keshet after it decided to co-sponsor a Purim drag show, which took place on March 3 and raised money for a Columbus-based initiative to aid LGBTQ refugees.
In its standards on partnership, Hillel International bans partnerships between its affiliates and groups that deny Israel’s right to exist, delegitimize the Jewish state or support the BDS movement.
B’nai Keshet Vice President Elaine Cleary told JTA on Monday that Hillel dropped funding and support of the group at the end of February, when B’nai Keshet refused to withdraw its co-sponsorship of the JVP event following an overwhelming vote by its 12 members. The event was co-sponsored by 15 student and local groups.
Cleary, a fourth-year student, said the group was upset by the fact that LGBTQ students would no longer have representation in Ohio State Hillel, which includes a range of Jewish groups under its umbrella.
“[N]ot only are we not going to be able to be a visible proud part of the Hillel Jewish community, we’re also not going to be able to reach LGBT Jewish people who go to Hillel anymore,” she said. “If you’re a freshman coming to Shabbos for the first time, you’re not going to see our fliers.”
She added: “I feel now that I have to choose whether I’m going to be going to Hillel or whether I’m going to be going to the [LGBTQ] Pride [events], and I hate feeling that way. It just feels really unnatural.”
Hillel International and Ohio State Hillel emphasized its support for the LGBTQ community in a joint statement to JTA.
“In keeping with the mission and values of Ohio State Hillel and Hillel International, our affiliation with B’nai Keshet (formally Jewish Queers & Allies) has unfortunately ended, as B’nai Keshet has chosen to act outside of our programming guidelines,” the Monday statement said.
“Ohio State Hillel and Hillel International have consistently and proudly supported its LGBTQ community for more than 20 years. We regularly program and co-sponsor events that showcase the experiences of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and queer people on campus, in our country and in Israel, and partner with other LGBTQ groups.”
The Hillel statement said that B’nai Keshet had declined efforts by the OSU Hillel “to seek alternative ways to engage with B’nai Keshet on the LGBTQ refugee issue,” and that it “is actively exploring new ways to engage our active LGBTQ community members.”
Open Hillel — a grassroots movement that promotes open campus dialogue about Israel and that released a joint statement on Monday with B’nai Keshet calling on Hillel to end the standards of partnership — disputed Hillel’s claim that it had suggested alternative programming to the fundraiser.
“They never suggested any sort of alternative event or programming,” Rachel Sandalow-Ash, Open Hillel’s national organizer, wrote to JTA in an email.
Cleary said B’nai Keshet was hoping to rejoin the OSU Hillel, but only if it nixed its standards of partnership. She said the guidelines had made it impossible for B’nai Keshet to partner with many LGBTQ groups on campus, since the majority of those groups had endorsed calls to divest from Israel.
Eric Fingerhut, the president and chief executive of Hillel International, has defended the organization’s Israel guidelines in the past by saying “all Jewish students have a place at Hillel.”
“Hillel’s guidelines on Israel refer explicitly to rejecting partnerships with organizations and speakers who seek to harm or destroy Israel,” he said.