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As Hillel prepares to hire new CEO, debating how open its ‘tent’ should be

By Maxine Dovere/

Click photo to download. A Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protest against Israel in Melbourne, Australia, on June 5, 2010. How to deal with the challenge posed by the BDS movement on North American campuses will be a task for the next CEO of Hillel:
The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Credit: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

For 90 years, Hillel:
The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life has provided what many call a “tent”
welcoming students of every Jewish background and denomination on campus. But
as Hillel prepares to nominate its next president and CEO, questions persist
over how open that tent should be when it comes to views on Israel.

Hillel was created
in 1923 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and was adopted by
B’nai B’rith International in 1924 until the 1990s. The organization has grown
to more than 500 campuses across North America.

In a search process characterized
as “wide-ranging and open,” Hillel has considered candidates with academic,
corporate and/or Jewish community leadership experience to replace outgoing
President and CEO Wayne Firestone. Published reports detailing the search
process indicate that 325 individuals have been considered, and that more than 200
were personally contacted. The official announcement of Firestone’s replacement
is anticipated to come on July 29 during the 2013 Hillel Institute, Hillel’s
annual student and professional gathering, to be held this year at Washington
University in St. Louis.

National Hillel guidelines
state that Hillel will not “partner with, house or host organizations, groups
or speakers that delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel.” But leading up to the hiring of a new
chief executive at Hillel, activist Natan Nestel has been voicing concern about
how open Hillel’s tent is.

The former chairman
of the Israeli
Students Organization in North America (which he founded as a student at the University of California, Berkeley), Nestel is concerned that Hillel has allowed proponents
of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to gather
under Hillel’s tent. Nestel has created a documentary he said details the
activities of pro-BDS groups on the UC Berkeley campus.

Nestel told that groups that demonize Israel
should be outside of the ‘big tent’ on campus.

“Nominally Jewish
groups, including those who assist anti-Israel groups and speakers to come to campuses,
should not be included [in the tent],” Nestel said. Nestel cited the
self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group J Street, which he said sponsored the
appearance at Berkeley of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group that defames
the Israeli army for “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic
cleansing” and “violations of human rights.”

Larry Sternberg,
executive director of Hillel at Brandeis University, responded to Nestel’s
criticism of Hillel by saying, “Unless he has specifics about how many people
ascribe to specific movements, his broad statements are not necessarily factual.”

But Sternberg
acknowledged that at a campus like UC Berkeley, “a student may feel besieged.”

“Nestel may feel
that the battle is the center focus on campus,” Sternberg told

Sternberg, however, said
the opposite is true on most campuses. “While BDS must be fought, it is not
center stage,” he said.

Sternberg asked, “What is the reality check on
rhetoric that says Hillel should be forbidding something? Even if Nestel wants
to say Hillel should enforce its tent, suggesting that …read more

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Posted by on July 8, 2013. Filed under Breaking News,Jewish News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.