Much has already been written about the Swarthmore Hillel incident, and now that national attention has died down, most people will forget about it for the time being. However there remain some troubling aspects to what happened that aren’t going away, and still need to be addressed by Swarthmore Hillel.
First, Swarthmore uses the existence of a Swarthmore Hillel to convince prospective Jewish students, and their parents, to come to Swarthmore. During my “ride the tide” year there was an opportunity to bake challah with the members of the group. Seeing the prominence and importance of a Jewish student group on campus was a big factor in my decision to come here. Hillel serves as a useful recruiting tool to both prospective Jewish students and new Jewish students looking for friends on an unfamiliar campus. If the school and the group are so intent on using the brand of Hillel as a means of recruiting, it is not ridiculous to expect Hillel to follow the rules of its national institution. The national Hillel may not be providing the Swarthmore branch much in ways of funding but it lends its name to the group, which is as powerful as any fund. One shouldn’t be surprised then, when the national branch expects Swarthmore to follow a set of guidelines.
Second, there is no shortage of groups willing to bring in anti-Israeli speakers. Recently, the school brought in Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, who both have very negative views on the state of Israel. Both speakers were met with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and no public criticism. There is also no lack of anti-Israel and pro-Palestine rhetoric used on campus. If one is pro-Israel at Swarthmore, one tends to avoid all discussions on Israel. You get outnumbered and outshouted pretty quickly. There is also not even a lack of anti-Israel demonstrations on campus. Last year there was a large wall built in front of Parrish, a building most of us pass through daily, to simulate the experience of Palestinians crossing the border into Israel. Hillel met this highly charged and aggressive protest with silence.
Since I have been here there have been no high profile demonstrations, speakers (although after the schools behavior over Robert Zoellick, I am not surprised), or responses that are even remotely pro-Israel. This is where the Swarthmore Hillel’s decision disappoints me the most. One would think that the only Jewish group on campus would be enthusiastic to show the only Jewish state in a positive light to the student body. One would hope that the group would jump at the chance to show the other side of the argument.
A defense that I have heard is that this resolution does not prohibit the group from bringing in pro-Israel speakers. This is true. However, given the disturbing lack of pro-Israeli speakers brought in before the resolution, I’m skeptical the group has any desire to portray Israel in any positive manner. Furthermore, Hillel’s decision was made independently of any actual speaker invite. It seems that Hillel is desperate to make it clear that they are in no way pro-Israel. This resolution is more of an indication that the group has some ax to grind rather than to promote any notion of open dialogue. If there isn’t a legitimate desire to cohost an event, then why pass the resolution?
The idea that this is to promote “open” dialogue is laughable. There wasn’t an open dialogue before the resolution and after this resolution it will be even more biased. Israel is the world’s only Jewish state and instead of proudly showing its achievements, Swarthmore’s Jewish student group is only interested on jumping on the already crowded, anti-Israel bandwagon. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything different.