There is a petition going around that takes issue with International Hillel's position challenging the decision of Swathmore Hillel to allow dialogue with anti-Israel advocates. Critics say that Hillel is interfering with the "free speech" of students. International Hillel President Eric Fingerhut said that the Jewish student group at the Quaker school may not continue to allow anti Israel activists to use its rostrum and still use the Hillel name.
Question: Would any of our pulpit rabbis allow members to use the synagogue photocopy machine to reproduce material urging people to eat pork or to work on Shabbat? Probably not. Do people have a right to use our facilities to, say, promote apostasy to another religion? Of course not.
A few points about terms that are being misused:
*Freedom of speech. This isn't a matter of free speech. Students have free speech. They can say what they want. They simply cannot use the facilities of Hillel to promote or allow others to promote anti Israel positions.
*Academic freedom. Just to clarify. I have been told by a friend, a retired professor who is an expert on the subject of academic freedom, that although students are part of the community of scholars, they do not, in point of fact, have academic freedom. Academic freedom is for faculty. What is or is not acceptable for students to write or present in a classroom is under the control of faculty. They can speak or publish, of course, but that isn't "academic freedom." That is free speech. They have that.
As a former Hillel director (American University) I can now frame my response in a manner which officials in Hillel cannot. The move to "support" Swathmore Hillel will hurt it and all of Hillel - perhaps badly. Why so? Think. Why do donors support Hillel? Largely, to prevent assimilation and to support Israel in the "campus wars." The donors do not want their dollars to be used to promote anti Israel activity and will stop donating if that happens. This is donor driven.
No doubt some of you will respond to the effect that it is somehow illegitimate to put money above "principle." This is seriously misguided, naive and simply wrong. There really is no principle. This is not a free speech issue.
Hillel is not a mini AIPAC. Views are regularly expressed by students that are to the right and left of the Jewish establishment on Israel. It is a very big tent. Leftist critiques of Israel happen all the time, but the theme is " wherever we stand, we stand with Israel." As a private and privately funded organization, Hillel has a right to define the limits of the tent. It is a Zionist group. Perhaps, at times, non Zionist or even Post Zionist positions may be presented, but most certainly it is not anti Zionist. Critics opine about the freedom of students. What about the freedom of the organization to define itself and how its facilities may be used? Is that not also a matter of freedom? Would you have the Newman Society allow abortion advocacy? Would the Quaker groups at Swathmore allow their photocopy machines to be used to advocate war and denounce pacifism? To promote racism? Probably not.
Students do not have a "right" to determine how Hillel money is spent.
I once found a student using our photocopy facilities to reproduce very anti Israel material. I immediately stopped it. That was a misuse of our facilities and a misuse of my considerable efforts to keep our Hillel afloat. We have a right to determine our agenda. That's what freedom is all about.