Hillel Ousts Jewish LGBTQ Group for Teaming Up With Pro-boycott Organization

B'nai Keshet says that after collaborating with Jewish Voice for Peace, its members are no longer eligible for Hillel funding, counseling services or subsidized kosher food.

File photo: Israelis at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, July, 2016.
Michal Fattal

A Jewish LGBTQ student group at Ohio State University was expelled from the local Hillel branch for participating in a fundraiser for refugees whose sponsors included another Jewish student group that supports boycotting Israel.

B’nai Keshet, the LGBTQ student group, was told by Hillel staff that by collaborating with Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization highly critical of Israel, it had violated the organization’s guidelines and would have to pay a price for its actions.

In a statement, B’nai Keshet said that as a result of this decision, its members would no longer be allowed access to the Hillel building, nor be eligible for funding, counseling services or subsidized kosher food provided by the organization.

“If we cannot organize with the rest of the LGBTQ community and if we are not acting on our Jewish values by supporting refugees, then we are neither a queer nor a Jewish organization,” said Elaine Cleary, a fourth year student at Ohio State who serves as vice president of B’nai Keshet, explaining the decision to defy Hillel’s guidelines.

Rachel Sandalow-Ash, the national organizer of Open Hillel, a movement of Jewish students aiming to promote open discourse about Israel, said she could not recall any previous incidents in which groups were expelled by their campus Hillel for violating what are known as the organization’s “standards of partnerships.” These rules, introduced in recent years, prohibit hosting or partnering with organizations that deny Israel’s right to exist or support a boycott of the country.

B’nai Keshet was one of 15 co-sponsors of a fundraising event in Columbus, Ohio, aimed at providing housing and basic necessities to LGBTQ refugees. The sponsors included student and community-based organizations, among them Jewish Voice for Peace. The fundraiser was held several weeks ago, just before spring break.

“I find it disturbing that Hillel is losing its only LGBTQ organization due to its restrictive ‘Standards of Partnership,’” Ben Winter, a graduate student in social work and an active member of OSU Hillel, said in the statement issued by B’nai Keshet. “The students of B’nai Keshet have already experienced enough discrimination in their lives. And now Hillel has punished them for seeking to aid queer refugees.”

Asked for comment, Matthew Berger, a spokesman for Hillel International, said: “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.”

He noted that Ohio State Hillel and Hillel International have “consistently and proudly” supported the local 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,” said Berger.

Berger said that the Hillel branch at Ohio States had made “every effort” to seek alternative ways for B’nai Keshet to assist LGBTQ refugees, including sponsoring its own programming, but the student group “rebuked these efforts.”

Both B’nai Keshet and Open Hillel on Monday called on Hillel International and the Ohio State Hillel to get rid of their partnership guidelines and readmit the LGBTQ student group.