Attacking Hillel in Court, Open Hillel Takes Aim at Campus Jews and Anti-Discrimination Law

This is taking place in California, but if Open Hillel has their way, it will affect other universities around the country.

Open Hillel’s view is that these attempts to shut out and shut down Hillel cannot be considered anti-Semitism because, well, #NotAllJews are represented by Hillel. But most Jews have little trouble understanding how sweeping exclusion of preeminent Jewish institutions from campus life functions as a form of anti-Semitism even if a few stray corners here and there emerge unscathed. That Open Hillel either doesn’t realize this or, worse, doesn’t care about it suggests its raw antipathy towards the broader establishment structure of contemporary Jewish life runs deeper than many realized. It’s unsurprising, then, that upon reading the brief even one of Open Hillel’s own academic advisory board members ruefully concluded that the organization had “jumped the shark.” It has moved from a group seeking to reform Hillel to one that has all but declared war on it—and if most campus Jews are caught in the cross-fire, so be it.

All of this is intramural to debates occurring inside the Jewish community. But there’s something to be said about Open Hillel’s legal argument as well, and what it signifies for anti-discrimination law more broadly. “Legal,” to be fair, is being used here somewhat advisedly: Open Hillel’s brief cites precisely zero cases, statutes, or regulations (it is more an outlet for a general airing of grievances against Hillel International than it is a cohesive legal argument). Still, Open Hillel’s claim is relatively straightforward. It asserts that Hillel, because of the standards of partnership, does not “represent all Jews.” Consequently, because Hillel does not enjoy the uniform support and backing of the entire Jewish community, acts that deliberately target it for exclusion cannot serve as evidence of anti-Semitism.

The intellectual tradition that created the Talmud and thousands of years of Jewish wisdom is now being used as a club to silence campus Jews. Not that Hillel International doesn't have its faults, but this is can only make things worse.