An Ohio State LGBT Jewish student organization has been cut off from Ohio State Hillel, a Jewish student center which is part of the larger Hillel International network, after co-sponsoring an event with another organization which Hillel takes issue with, Jewish Voice for Peace.
Jewish LGBT student organization B’nai Keshet and 15 other student and community organizations collaborated with OSU’s chapter of JVP to put on a Purim Drag show fundraiser for LGBT refugees on March 3. JVP supports boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel because of its military occupation of Palestinian territories. Supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions strategy have compared the movement to the actions taken against apartheid-era South Africa, though its critics have accused it and some of its supporters of anti-Semitism.
B’nai Keshet was warned prior to the event that the partnership would result in its expulsion from Hillel. According to Hillel International’s website, Hillel-affiliated organizations are prohibited from partnering with organizations that “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.”
B’nai Keshet ultimately decided to continue with the co-sponsorship of the event.
“We as B’Nai Keshet didn’t really feel as if that was an adequate justification as to not be allowed to organize with the LGBT community on an issue of such importance, so we voted and it was almost unanimous to continue with the fundraiser,” said Elaine Cleary, vice president of B’Nai Keshet and president of Jewish Voice for Peace.
B’nai Keshet, as an organization, will no longer be eligible for funding, advertising, access to staff and other resources through OSU Hillel. The news was picked up by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, on Monday.
The move to oust B’nai Keshet resulted from its violation of the Hillel International guidelines, according to a statement from OSU Hillel.
“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,” the statement read, though there is no action being taken against specific members of B’nai Keshet regarding their participation in the OSU Hillel community, or using OSU Hillel’s building on East 16th Avenue or its resources.
“OSU Hillel made every effort to seek alternative ways to engage with B’nai Keshet on the LGBTQ refugee issue, including sponsoring its own programming,” the statement continued. “But B’nai Keshet rebuked these efforts.”
Cleary, however, refuted that statement.
“No one in (B’nai Keshet) has received any contact from Hillel about that, and actually I, as an individual, have tried many times to do refugee advocacy work with Hillel and it has never worked out because of issues with staff,” Cleary said.
There is now no other LGBT group affiliated with OSU Hillel, and Cleary said this will limit OSU Hillel’s ability to support LGBT members of the OSU Jewish community.
“Because of our access to staff, we were able to consistently advocate for LGBT issues in order to build an inclusive community like teaching staff to ask for pronouns, assigning a gender-neutral bathroom within Hillel, teaching people within Hillel how to use correct language and be respectful of how out people want to be,” Cleary said. “Things like that were conversations that were not happening at all before B’Nai Keshet started.”
The move to oust B’nai Keshet also has broader implications for the student groups that other Hillel organizations are able to partner with, Cleary said.
“The issue here is a lot of groups support BDS against Israel, which means that Jewish student organizations affiliated with Hillel are effectively prevented from working with most marginalized student groups and other faith-based groups in an organized way, which to me is un-Jewish as well as unjust,” Cleary said.