Thursday, January 2, 2014

Swarthmore Hillel Tests Lmits of Free Speech

“Free Speech” by Brian Turner is licensed under CC BY 2.0
What are the limits of free speech when it comes to Israel?

Last month,  the Swartmore College campus Hillel organization defied a ban on anti Israel speakers at its meetings.That sparked a big controversy that might make for a good discussion. Here is a review of the events with links to various stories.

Hillel International is a Jewish organization on college campuses all over the world. It attempts to "foster an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel."

In 2011, the international organisation banned speakers and organizations who "deny Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply double standards to Israel; support boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] efforts against Israel; or foster an atmosphere of incivility."

Early in December, Swartmore College's's Hillel organization voted to defy headquarters limits on who could speak at their meetings. Their decision set off a firestorm..  The New York Times picked up the story as did the Huffington Post.

Eric Fingerhut, President and Chief Executive of Hillel International, wrote an opinion piece for the New Times reaffirming the organization's policy on free speech. He said Hillel will continue to reach out  to others who have questions about Israel. But, he says,   "there are some who are simply not interested in any such thing. We will still welcome them for Shabbat dinner and other events, but we cannot and will not let them guide our programming. And we will not, consistent with our guidelines, welcome anti-Zionist speakers or partner with anti-Zionist organizations."

Is he right? Or is Swartmore right?


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