Swarthmore Hillel’s board voted this week to change their name following an ultimatum from Hillel International, Allison Hrabar reported for the Swarthmore Daily Gazette.
The decision comes more than a year after Swarthmore Hillel declared themselves open, and a week before the group planned to host an event that would break Hillel International’s standards of partnership.
The event, “Social Justice Then and Now: Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement, ” will feature three activists who worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. They will discuss their experiences in the civil rights movement, racial organizing today, and social justice in Israel and Palestine.
Hillel International threatened legal action if Swarthmore Hillel went ahead to sponsor the event using the Hillel name, which is under copyright.
In a letter to Swarthmore Hillel, Hillel International cited concerns that the event would promote an anti-Israel or pro-BDS agenda.
Hillel International threatened that if the program featured a “discussion in which the speakers present or proselytize their known anti-Israel and Pro BDS agenda, this would cross the clear line for programs that violate Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership and could be reason for Hillel International to seek to protect its guidelines, name and reputation.”
In a press release, Swarthmore Hillel said their vote to cease use of the Hillel name affirms their “central Jewish values of openness and inclusion across differences.”
The group plans to choose a new name in the coming weeks, following discussions with the Jewish community and an open submission and voting process.
The board’s vote came after a two-hour meeting, where some thirty students, Zionist and anti-Zionist, said they felt alienated by the discourse surrounding Israel and Palestine within the Swarthmore community. Students voiced concerns about groupthink and exclusion, while others questioned how to reconcile the political, cultural, and religious identities of Jewish students.