Hillel Must Re-Admit B'nai Keshet at Ohio State, end Standards of Partnership

March 20, 2017

Columbus, Ohio -- B’nai Keshet, the Jewish LGBTQ student group at The Ohio State University, has been expelled from Ohio State Hillel over its participation in a fundraiser for LGBTQ refugees.

B’nai Keshet co-sponsored the fundraiser alongside fifteen other student and community-based organizations. The event raised funds for the Stonewall Columbus LGBTQ Refugee Community Initiative, which works to provide housing and other basic needs for LGBTQ refugees.

Hillel staff stated that because OSU Jewish Voice for Peace was one of the fundraiser’s co-sponsors, the entire event violated Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities.

Following pressure from Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut, OSU Hillel staff notified B'nai Keshet that due to its co-sponsorship of the fundraiser, they could no longer be part of the Jewish community on campus.

Upon expelling B’nai Keshet, Hillel administrators withdrew all material support for LGBTQ Jewish students at OSU. Hillel pulled staff advising, funding, access to the Hillel building and student list-serve, and subsidized kosher food for meetings from the group. Hillel also withdrew a paid internship for a B’nai Keshet club leader.  

B’nai Keshet members expressed frustration and sadness at being pushed out of Hillel.

One member, who asked not to be named due to safety concerns, noted, “Hillel made us choose between the LGBTQ community and the Jewish community, but we can’t choose. I’m always going to be queer AND Jewish. I just wish I could be queer and Jewish inside Hillel.”

OSU Hillel’s decision to expel its only LGBTQ Jewish student group has raised concerns over the treatment of LGBTQ Jews at Ohio State Hillel.

“I find it disturbing that Hillel is losing its only LGBTQ organization due to its restrictive ‘Standards of Partnership,’” said Ben Winter, a graduate student in social work and an active member of OSU Hillel. “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.”

A representative from OSU’s Multicultural Center also told Hillel leadership that expelling B’nai Keshet would make Jewish LGBTQ students feel unwelcome in the Jewish community.

Students have also expressed concern that Hillel’s Standards are preventing students from leading authentic Jewish lives.

B’nai Keshet Vice President Elaine Cleary, a fourth year student at OSU, said, “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.”

B’nai Keshet member Roni L. added, “B’nai Keshet is a group that celebrates differences and fosters growth,” expressing concern that the Standards of Partnership pushed Hillel to do the opposite.

Since 2012, Open Hillel, a national student movement working to promote pluralism and open discourse in Hillel and the wider Jewish community, has called on Hillel International to end its Standards of Partnership.

Open Hillel also recently called on Hillel International to end its $22 million partnership with Mosaic United, a program that seeks to promote “the Jewish foundations of the family unit” in campus Jewish communities. Mosaic founder Naftali Bennett, who serves as Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs in the Israeli government, opposes same-sex marriage on the grounds that it violates his understanding of Jewish family law. This semester, OSU Hillel received $73,000 from Mosaic United.

“As long as donor priorities dictate Hillel policy, Hillel will continue to marginalize and exclude countless Jewish students,” said Sonya Levine, the national student chair of Open Hillel. “Hillel must end its discriminatory policies and practices and recommit to building inclusive Jewish communities that are genuinely engaged with issues of social justice.”

B’nai Keshet and Open Hillel are calling on Hillel International and OSU Hillel to drop the Standards of Partnership and re-admit B’nai Keshet into the OSU Jewish community.