Seattle Hillel: Angst in Spades

Rabbi Oren Hayon on fighting BDS “not sure it was worth the sacrifice”
Rabbi Oren Hayon on fighting BDS “not sure it was worth the sacrifice”

University of Washington Hillel director Rabbi Oren Hayon and the students of UW Hillel have garnered well deserved praise over the past two weeks after helping lead the resounding defeat of a BDS inspired divestment resolution at the University of Washington.

In the wake of the Seattle victory many in the Jewish community were stunned by comments recently made by Hayon in the local Jewish newspaper that “The risk that this [BDS divestment] bill carried — I’m not sure it was worth the sacrifice we made to fight it.”

Suggesting that the cost of challenging the anti-Semitic BDS movement takes too high a toll on student activists, Hayon went on to ask “when will the Jewish community acknowledge that there is no such thing as a sustainable ideal whose preservation requires that we sacrifice our young?”

A question for Rabbi Hayon; were these struggles worth the sacrifice?
A question for Rabbi Hayon; were these struggles worth the sacrifice?

In the same article Hayon calls for an expansion of UW Hillel’s well known” big tent” policy towards diverse viewpoints. All Jewish students no matter their views are currently welcomed at UW Hillel, although theoretically activities that promote the elimination or demonization of Judaism or the Jewish state will not be hosted. For Hayon, this is apparently not enough.

“It is clear that changes need to be made” said Hayon. “It is no longer tenable for Jewish communities or Jewish leaders to pretend that young American Jews’ relationships with Israel are unambiguous or uncomplicated. We have to convene conversations with people who make us uncomfortable, and talk about ideas that make us uneasy. I believe Hillel is uniquely positioned to lead the Jewish community forward in this difficult process, and I am hopeful that some brave conclusions will emerge from the reevaluation of Hillel International’s rules of engagement about Israel.”

Hayon  denies he is pursuing an  Open Hillel model that welcomes anti-Israel programming, but it is unclear, outside of an Open Hillel structure, what exactly Hayon is advocating, as the only programming Hillel UW currently restricts are those that demonize or delegitimize the Jewish people or the Jewish state.

Hayon, concludes his treatise pondering why some Jewish students have fled to the BDS movement.

“Do we really wish to distance ourselves from committed, learned Jews who are deeply concerned about Palestinian suffering? Shall we not protest the lie that one cannot fight for another people’s self-determination and still call oneself a Zionist? And isn’t it finally time for us to – find new ways of reaching out to those Jews who, after searching for a legitimate, nonviolent way of raising their voices in protest, have found themselves welcomed more warmly in the BDS community than in our own?”

Perhaps those students who fled into the arms of BDS were disillusioned in some part by the palpable angst and lack of certainty of the Hillel leadership in the justice of the very cause which Rabbi Hayon so successfully championed two very long weeks ago.

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